Hours before Buttigieg filled in on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, the former Democratic presidential candidate's senior advisor Lis Smith tweeted a picture of him preparing, with the caption: "These are unusual times, but the show must go on." Buttigieg did proceed with guest-hosting last night, to a previously unannounced empty studio audience. "When Pete Buttigieg first announced his presidential campaign last spring, he probably could not have imagined that less than a year later he would be guest-hosting Jimmy Kimmel Live! in the middle of a global pandemic," says Matt Wilstein. "The novel idea to have the former South Bend mayor fill in for Jimmy Kimmel, who was off shooting his reboot of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, must have seemed like a better idea a few days ago, before the novel coronavirus shut down much of the United States. Hosting a late-night show is challenging on a regular night, let alone in the middle of a national crisis without a live studio audience." Buttigieg got to interview Patrick Stewart and got to compete against him in Star Trek Trivia, with host LeVar Burton.
Pete Buttigieg proved to be a better talk show interviewer than Jimmy Fallon: "Unsurprisingly, Buttigieg is an attentive interviewer — showing himself in one night to be a better listener and banter-maker, I’d wager, than NBC’s Jimmy Fallon has ever been," says Hank Stuever. "Of course, the show picked a dream guest for Buttigieg, the lifelong nerd: Sir Patrick Stewart....Buttigieg’s ease with the rhythm of a talk show was even more apparent during a short, cheerful interview with Tony Hale, the Emmy-winning actor who played Gary, the pathetic presidential bag man, on HBO’s Veep. Buttigieg, who worked with such an aide on the trail (a female Gary), gave some insight into what it’s like to be the person who needs a bag man. That conversation would have been even more interesting if it could have been longer."
Buttigieg gamely guest-hosted Jimmy Kimmel Live!, but "gameness" is not always a virtue: "Buttigieg seemed vaguely embarrassed as he, late in his monologue, ran through B-level material about his wardrobe, insisting he hadn’t written it," says Daniel D'Addario. "His embarrassment came for the wrong reasons: Because it was prickling at his ego, not because for a man who was a week ago trying to run the country trying to stay in our consciousness in this moment, in this way felt vaguely disgraceful. Otherwise, he seemed preternaturally at home on TV, flexibly melding himself to the material the show wrote for him: He got a little ahead of himself when ranting at guest Patrick Stewart about his Star Trek fandom, but blandly chuckled while listening to Stewart talking about his own socialist leanings."
Colbert's first no-audience show was surreal and comforting: "The comedian sat at his desk, paused for laughs that weren’t there, soaked up the strangeness of it all, and occasionally sipped from a cocktail hidden under his desk," says Matt Patches. "Each time he stepped up to a new bit, he took a deep breath of 'the show must go on.' The gonzo approach worked. Even in what seemed like impromptu moments, like a stretch when Colbert compared the calming qualities of his mixed drink to Batiste’s piano riffs, the agile host (who danced a similar dance on The Colbert Show during the 2008 writers strike) survived the haunting absence of audience gratification. He just knew his bits would work. And they did."