Why can't late nite hosts use teleprompters

Late nite talk show hosts read their monologue from cue cards. It just occurred to me today: why can’t they use teleprompters? Same for SNL cast members, who I always assumed memorized their lines.

I’m guessing because they do so much writing and rewriting up until broadcast that it’s easier to put each joke on one or two cards. If you want to change the order, remove one joke, add another, it’s easier and less prone to error than editing a teleprompter 50-some times right before you go on the air.

Teleprompters require the camera lens to be right up in your face. That works for newscasters at a desk. It doesn’t work for performers in a big studio with an audience, who must constantly switch between different cameras which are further away. All talk show hosts and SNL sketches make use of cue cards for that reason.

That isn’t at all true.

I’ve seen the studio setups in numerous news rooms as well as for ESPN’s Sportscenter and Olbermann’s show and the camera’s are on the other side of the room. You seem to have this idea that cameras can’t change focus which is ludicrous.

When the monologue is being done the camera stays on the host, there are few if any switches to other camera angles, there’s no point.

It’s not that the jokes are being re-written, it’s that the host spends the last few minutes backstage looking at the jokes on the cue cards one last time and they can discard ones they don’t feel will hit. They showed this in an episode of Larry Sanders Much harder to go back to the teleprompter and remove stuff.

I would imagine cue cards are better as they are usually not reading “word for word” and might actually just have “cues” to remind them which joke, or perhaps certain words in the joke.

This would help keep the spontaneity and ensure they didn’t fall into the rut of “reading” a joke.

When I taught speech classes, I made sure my students ONLY used notes and did not have their speeches written word for word. It is not easy to read complete text and make it sound “natural”, whereas using just notes forced the students to use their own words and cadence.

No the jokes are written out completely, as was shown on Larry Sanders and sometimes on Letterman and Leno when the camera switches to show the view from behind the hosts back.

The cue card holder stands next to the camera that is used for the monologue and ALL the words, complete with punctuation! are written out. If special emphasis is to be placed on a certain word in phrase in a particular joke that word or phrase is usually underlined several times, but quote marks are occasionally used as well.

As I said, remove jokes, add jokes, easier to do at the last minute. As for SNL, I know for a fact changes are made at the last minute, as in, “You’re on in 30. . . we’ve changed the name of the woman, etc etc. . .OK, GO!”


I’m not sure what you mean by cameras changing focus. Teleprompters are mounted directly in front of the camera lens. In order to use them, the camera has to be close enough to the presenter so he can read the prompter while looking directly in the lens. This can be difficult for shows that are done on large stages where the cameras can’t get that close, which is why they are not generally used there.

Actually whoever that 12 year old in the that clip is they say they do sometimes change the cue cards between dress and rehearsal, which is not at all what you are claiming that they write an entirely new joke on a cue card in 30 seconds. It simply can’t be done and be legible. What is being talked about in the clip is the 12 year old deliberately fucking over Hader and trying to get him to corpse on camera because ZOMG SO FUNNY WHEN THEY BREAK CHARACTER!!!:dubious::rolleyes:


Jokes for the monologue are usually dropped not added and if they are added in those last moments behind the curtain, there certainly isn’t time to write them out, they simply bring back the cue card with that particular joke on it.

I can’t write legibly faster than I can type, so I would think it’s faster to re-type something than to re-write it.

The big difference between prompters and cue cards is simply, well, big.

A prompter displays roughly 25 characters across by six lines. That’s easy enough to read when the camera is six feet away in a news studio, but in a Saturday Night Live or Tonight Show sized auditorium, the cameras are several yards away so the audience can see something other than the camera operators’ butts.

Cue cards can be written very large so they are readable at thirty feet or whatever distance.

Today’s trivia - Lucille Ball was one of the first users of the “in the lens” prompters, substantially similar to what’s used today. I Love Lucy creator and producer Jess Oppenheimer figured out how to project text in front of the lens onto an angled piece of glass, saving Lucy from a lot of flubs. Lucy was an outstanding performer, but she was utterly inept at improv and needed everything scripted down to the last comma.

Just like a Republican to try to put some decent union member card holder out of work! :stuck_out_tongue:

I think it was a promo for the new Seth Meyer’s show (but it could have been Fallon), they showed him making decisions and one was “teleprompter versus cue-cards”.

Take a nap, tall child! You look terrible!
Sorry, I’ll see myself out.

When I saw Conan do a live show from the Chicago Theater (I got to see Mr. T, the Masturbating Bear, and Cheap Trick!), he had a large teleprompter screen set up at the back of the theater that he read his monologue and some other bits off of.

Probably because in a venue like that, you can’t have a cue card guy standing on the stage blocking the view. In a TV studio the audience is elevated somewhat so they can see over the floor personnel.

If you could actually read, you would see that it is John Mulaney and he is hardly 12 years old. He’s also a write for SNL and co-created the Stephon character with Bill Hader.

SNL has been famous, notorious even, for almost 40 years for people reading off cue cards, especially some of the guest hosts. It’s a running joke that Christopher Walken has never looked at anyone he’s in a sketch with because he’s always staring away from them and onto a cue card.

Craig Ferguson uses a teleprompter.

Cue cards never write out the complete joke. Letterman constantly jokes with his cue card guy and you can see that only the key words are listed. Have you ever tried writing out a complete joke to see how long it is?

And the character’s name is Stefon.

:rolleyes: “Oh my God. I care so little I almost passed out.”
Percival Cox

It depends on the performer’s preference. Some hosts definitely have the entire joke written word-for-word on the cards. Doesn’t mean they’re necessarily reading them word-for-word, but they’re there.

Well, thanks for your input. Now I have information from a respected SNL writer (the so-called 12-year-old), and some guy on the internet.