Late-night hosts no longer laughing at Caitlyn Jenner

Late-night hosts no longer laughing at Caitlyn Jenner
Annie Leibovitz's photograph of Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair's July 2015 issue. (VANITY FAIR / HANDOUT / EPA)

Since the world was introduced to Caitlyn Jenner on Monday, America's late-night comedians have faced a conundrum: how to talk about the biggest news story of the day without making light of Jenner's challenges as a transgender woman. It's a predicament made all the more acute by the fact that Jenner, while living as Bruce, was a favorite target of late-night punchlines.

In a segment on "The Daily Show" on Tuesday, Jon Stewart used Jenner's Vanity Fair cover story to make a larger statement about the pervasiveness of sexism in the media. 

While he praised Jenner's "especially brave" decision to come out as a transgender woman, Stewart expressed dismay over the speech with which the media began to treat her just as it would any other woman -- that is, by focusing on her appearance above all else.

"You see, Caitlyn," he said, "when you were a man, we could talk about your athleticism, your business acumen. But now you're a woman, and your looks are really the only thing we care about."

As if to prove the point, in his "Tonight Show" monologue Monday, Jimmy Fallon joked that the most shocking thing about Jenner's Vanity Fair cover is "it's only June, and she's already in bathing-suit shape." Meanwhile, his competitor Jimmy Kimmel had some fun with the fact that Jenner shares a first name with the latest "Bachelorette." 

"Late Night's" Seth Meyers opted to keep it earnest: "Mostly I am just so happy. I can't believe we are living in a time when this is happening and people are being so positive about it."

But it wasn't so long ago that Jenner's changing appearance was routinely mocked on late-night TV. In a cringe-inducing clip that appeared in Diane Sawyer's special on Jenner in April, Conan O'Brien once joked that "they’ll assign Bruce Jenner a dance partner [on 'Dancing With the Stars'] just as soon as he assigns himself a gender."

O'Brien has since switched gears, quipping that, as a Republican woman, Jenner "looks forward to bashing Obamacare, as soon as he finishes using it."

And before he was praising Jenner's bravery on Twitter, Fallon made so much fun of the former decathlete's surgically altered face that Jenner famously confronted the host at the London Olympics in 2012 -- then once more, for good measure, on "Late Night" the following year.

As Jenner complained to Fallon at the time, "The late-night comedians ... they certainly have had a lot of fun throughout the years, all of 'em, with the ol' face jokes."

Not anymore.

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