Which Late-Night Show Gets the Most Laughs Per Minute?

There are a variety of metrics that networks and others use to measure the success of a late-night talk show. Fox News is quick to point out that their 10 p.m. late-night style show Gutfeld! actually gets more live-plus-same day viewers than any of the traditional late-night talk shows. But if you factor in delayed viewing, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert takes the lead. And if you count views on digital platforms like YouTube and TikTok, The Tonight  Show Starring Jimmy Fallon is top dog.

Which got us wondering: What other metrics might one use to measure the success of these shows? 

This being late night, naturally we thought of laughter. So we sent our intrepid screen timer Matthew Stewart (the wizard behind our weekly SNL screen time tallies) out to answer the question no one ever asked: Which late-night talk show gets the most laughs per minute?

First the ground rules. For four days last week (Monday April 1 through Thursday April 4), Matthew timed audience laughter on each of the five traditional late night talk shows–The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Daily Show (with Jon Stewart on Monday, and Desi Lydic Tues-Thurs). Only audience laughter was counted; not applause, and not laughter from the hosts or their guests.

And lest anyone draw any broad conclusions from the numbers that follow below, know that this is a study with a small sample–just four days–and no control. Guests on the different shows varied, as do the number of seats in each studio (one presumes the larger the audience, the longer the laugh, but that’s a study for another day). Finally there’s the individual style of each host: Jimmy Kimmel, for example, tends to deliver his monologue jokes rapid-fire, often cutting off his own laughs to begin his next joke.

Those caveats aside, there were some interesting findings: 

Looking at all five shows together, the overall average laughs per minute across all of late night was 5.5 seconds, or roughly 9.2% of each show. Put another way, if you were to string all those laughs together over the course of an hour-long show (40 minutes without commercials), you’d have a full 3 minutes and 40 seconds of laughs per night. That’s 18 minutes and 20 seconds a week–or 16 hours, 4 minutes and 36 seconds a year.

Looking at each show individually, Late Night With Seth Meyers is late night’s laugh leader, with each episode delivering an average LPM of 6.8 seconds, translating to 11.3% of the show’s running time. The others fell behind Meyers in the following order: The Daily Show (6.2; 10.3%), Colbert (5.1; 8.5%), Kimmel (5.0; 8.3%)., and Fallon (4.3; 7.2%).

Measured by LPM, the single funniest episode of the week was Monday’s Daily Show (8.4 seconds). This technically means Stewart was the most laugh-inducing host of the week, with Lydic (5.0 seconds on average) fitting between Colbert and Kimmel. 

Last week’s Monday and Tuesday night shows delivered the greatest LPM averages across all five shows, with Monday coming in at 6.1 seconds, and Tuesday just behind (at 6.0). There was a significant drop in laughter during the second half of the week, as evidenced by Wednesday and Thursday’s LPM rates of 4.9 and 4.7 seconds. 

Three out of four days, Meyers outpaced the pack by an LPM margin of at least 0.5 of a second. (Stewart came out on top Monday.)

Looking at guest interview segments alone, Meyers also towered over his counterparts with an LPM average of 9.0 seconds. Kimmel held his own in this regard with 7.4 seconds, while the others all landed between 4.3 and 4.9 seconds. These guest portions took up 54.1% of the four Meyers episodes combined, 51.4% of Kimmel, 48.3% of Colbert, 43.4% of Fallon and 40.6% of The Daily Show.

The strongest guests of the week as measured by LPM were Tim Robinson (Meyers, Tuesday; 9.2 seconds), Mike Birbiglia (Meyers, Thursday; 8.3) and J.B. Smoove (Kimmel, Monday; 7.1). Those whose interviews made audiences chuckle the least were Sebastian Junger and Ken Harbaugh (Daily Show, Thursday; 0.3), Alison Brie (Fallon, Tuesday; 1.0) and Henry Louis Gates Jr. (Colbert, Thursday; 1.3). Brie reached a much higher LPM rate of 2.5 seconds during her appearance on Wednesday’s Daily Show.

Finally, we’ve got one last award to present, and once again it goes to Late Night With Seth Meyers. Meyers’ monologue and immediate post-monologue LPM averages (12.5 and 9.0 seconds) were also the greatest of the bunch, with Kimmel (7.5) and Fallon (4.0) landing at the bottom of those respective rankings.

Are there other meaningless metrics you’d like to see us investigate? Drop us a line.

1 Comment

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  1. Todd Everett says:

    Seth’s victory doesn’t surprise me. I’m a fan – watch every episode – but much of the audience response sounds to me “sweetened.” It could be the sound mix, of course, or my ears. However…