Before the attention of the nation’s late-night hosts was drawn to the turmoil at “The Tonight Show” this week, one other topic rose above all others.
It was the saga of Justin Bieber’s pet monkey — a Capuchin named Mally — and its confiscation by German customs authorities when the 19-year-old pop star and his pet could present no papers.
The story was a no-brainer for the late-night comedy shows.
It made headlines around the world and conjured images of stern-faced German officials essentially jailing this clueless monkey at the airport because neither Bieber nor anyone on his staff bothered to secure the proper permissions for bringing such an exotic animal into the country.
And it happened last weekend, just after the late-night shows had gone dark for the weekend — which meant they would all take up the topic when they returned on Monday.
And that’s what happened. In fact, while the “Tonight Show” succession plan announced Wednesday by NBC seized centerstage Wednesday night in the late-night monologues, the jokes and comedy bits about Mally the monkey cropped up repeatedly on multiple late-night shows all week long. The story was such a fertile source for the late-night funnymen and their writing staffs that it yielded not only jokes, but at least two specially produced bits on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” plus a commercial spoof (about a law firm that represents monkeys) and one “Top Ten” list on David Letterman’s “Late Show” on CBS.
We love when this happens because, among other things, it reveals just how similar the late-night shows and their hosts really are. For example, on Monday, Letterman and Jimmy Fallon had jokes that both came at the story from the same direction.
“I did not know this,” Letterman said, “that Justin Bieber travels with a monkey. Got himself a monkey, and German authorities didn’t like the looks of the monkey so they confiscated it and the poor little thing was traumatized and spittle and foam and quivering and lashing out at his handlers … And I’m telling you the monkey was also really really upset!” (This punchline was so obvious that Letterman then said, “How many of you saw that one coming down Broadway?”)
In a similar vein, Fallon’s joke went like this: “This is a crazy story,” Fallon said Monday on NBC’s “Late Night.” “Last week, Justin Bieber had to leave his pet monkey with customs officials in Germany after he entered the country without the right paperwork. The officials told him, ‘You gotta leave your little friend behind!’ And the monkey said, ‘Sorry, Justin, I guess you gotta stay!’ “
Meanwhile, on the same night, both Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel were making remarks comparing Bieber’s pet monkey to Bubbles, the chimp that once traveled with Michael Jackson.
“Just when you thought the ghost of Michael Jackson couldn’t love him anymore,” said Kimmel, before introducing a bit in which a camera crew went out to Hollywood Boulevard and asked passersby to give their impersonations of German officials asking for the monkey’s papers.
On “The Tonight Show” that same night, Leno said, “Justin Bieber – his pet monkey named Mally was quarantined in an airport in Germany because Justin didn’t have the right paperwork. So a pop idol who’s been in the news lately for behaving weirdly now travels with a pet monkey named Mally … Today, Bubbles the chimp called Mally and said, ‘Get out! Get out while you can! Run for your life!’ “
On Tuesday night, the monkey jokes continued, with Leno making another reference to Michael Jackson, and Letterman producing a “Top Ten” entitled “Questions to Ask Yourself Before Traveling with Your Monkey.”
“Hey did you hear about this? This is so bizarre,” said Leno in his Tuesday monologue. “While traveling in Germany, Justin Bieber had to leave his monkey in quarantine because he didn’t have the right paperwork. The monkey’s OK. In fact, it was picked up and returned to the United States by Justin’s sister, LaToya Bieber!”
Then Jay said, “They quarantined his monkey! Doesn’t that sound like some sort of a euphemism for an STD?” He then affected a “secretive” tone of voice and said, “Hear about Justin? They had to quarantine his monkey, if you know what I’m talkin’ about!”
On the “Letterman” show, Dave’s “Top Ten” had items such as “No. 9: Would it be easier to FedEx the monkey?” And “No. 5: Isn’t this the premise of every disease-outbreak movie?”
By Thursday night, the monkey story had morphed into a full-blown action-movie spoof seen on the “Kimmel” show. It was a take-off on the Liam Neeson kidnapping movie series “Taken.” This one was “Taken 3: Gimme My Monkey Back.”
Letterman stayed on the monkey story through Friday. In his monologue, he claimed to have videotape of the monkey escaping from German authorities.