Late-night comics adjust to shows without an audience

This Feb. 4, 2020 image released by CBS shows host Stephen Colbert, left, greeting the audience during a taping of "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" in New York. The show, along with other New York-based late night talk shows "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" and "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah" will tape their shows without studio audiences due to the new coronavirus. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness.  (Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via AP)
This Feb. 4, 2020 image released by CBS shows host Stephen Colbert, left, greeting the audience during a taping of "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" in New York. The show, along with other New York-based late night talk shows "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" and "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah" will tape their shows without studio audiences due to the new coronavirus. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness. (Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via AP) (©2020 Scott Kowalchyk/CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Due to the new coronavirus, late-night comedians — Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Pete Buttigieg — are taking to the stage without the affirmation of adoring audiences.

Wait a second. Pete Buttigieg?

The former presidential candidate filled in for Jimmy Kimmel on Thursday night on ABC. It was prearranged, since Kimmel was taping episodes of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” but the timing was unfortunate. Each of the three shows decided only hours before taping on Thursday to go without an audience, save for handfuls of staff members.

“Everyone is spread apart at the CDC-recommended distance,” said Buttigieg, whose husband was sitting among the empty seats.

Buttigieg, a Democrat who sought the presidency, had the chief job qualification of a late-night host, circa 2020. He was more than willing to tell biting jokes about President Donald Trump.

“When you don't have a real audience, you have to fake one,” he said. “Just like Trump's inauguration.”

During his monologue, producers cut to film clips of enthusiastic audiences, from awards shows or the State of the Union address.

As an amateur, Buttigieg was more than willing to blame lame jokes on the writers. Colbert noted when a punchline got a response from his meager audience that he was paying most of them. Questlove of the Roots was the chief arbiter of Fallon's jokes that landed or were fed to a paper shredder.