Audio-Visual Cocktail Party

Still from Late Night with Conan O’Brien, 1993

When did late night start to suck? Did straight white guys run out of things to say? And what gave talk shows their edge to begin with? A comedian writes the genre’s eulogy from the front row.

Her speech is so fast, so insistent, so humming with confidence, it suggests someone who’s just snorted three lines of above-average cocaine, then returned to the party to regale her nearest acquaintance with some rapid-fire philosophizing. On Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect (1993–2002) in 1995, Camille Paglia is a tempest of theories, words unloading from her lips at a machine-gun clip. Maher, in his boxy suit, slouches slyly into his armchair. The pair sit surrounded by ruined Grecian columns, his talk show’s set a nod to ancient democracy. He chimes in occasionally, often just giggling, guiding the conversation when he can.

Maher quips that your average red-blooded American male likely views feminism as a “bunch of angry dykes who couldn’t get laid and they ruined for everybody.” Paglia, in the span of exactly twenty-four seconds, responds with this (time yourself – see if you can do it):

“The time for confrontation with men was real, it was there, late 60s early 70s, I was a forerunner, okay? I have kicked men, I have punched men, I have broken my umbrella over the heads of men, and so on, right? I am an open lesbian. I express my anger with men directly. I don’t have to get into a group and whine about men … ”


– This text appears in full in Spike #78 – The Night. You can order your copy in our online shop