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Talk show host Conan O'Brien appears on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" at the NBC Studios September 5, 2003 in Burbank, California.

Following the tragic day our country will never forget, late-night television shows Late Show with David Letterman, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and Late Night with Conan O’Brien all struggled with how to return to the airwaves, and how to address the 9/11 attacks while still being funny.

Following the events of September 11, 2001, most couldn’t find the right words to address the situation, but despite this challenge, all the late-night shows had the hardest obstacle to make our country smile during such a somber time.

Below are the opening monologues late show hosts gave following 9/11/2001.

  • Late Show with David Letterman

    Letterman was the first comedian to return to air after the attack, and his opening monologue inspired the country; it’s now considered a legendary moment in talk show history. Letterman said in the closing, “If you didn’t believe it before, you can absolutely believe it now: New York City is the greatest city in the world.”

  • Late Night with Conan O'Brien

    In an effort to lift everyone’s spirits, Conan wanted to include something at the top of the show that had nothing to do with anything at all — with a baby attempting to lift two 6-packs of beer. It was very much in line with O’Brien’s irreverent tone.

  • The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

    Jon Stewart broke down in tears during his opening monologue, “I want to tell you why I grieve, but why I don’t despair,” he said. “The reason I don’t despair is because this attack happened. It’s not a dream, but the aftermath of it — the recovery, is a dream realized.” He spoke about how people were judging others not by the color of their skin, but the contents of their heart during the emotional opening. There was likely not a dry eye in the studio, and the same is true of the millions who watched at home.

    September 11, 2001 - The Daily Show with Jon Stewart | Comedy Central US

    Jon discusses the events of September 11, 2001, and shares his thoughts on New York City's future.

  • The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

    Following the September 11 attacks, The Tonight Show was off the air for about a week, as were most similar programs. The first post-9/11 episode began with the American flag and a subdued opening without the usual opening credits. Leno’s nearly ten-minute monologue paid tribute to those who lost their lives and to firefighters, police and rescue workers. Leno questioned whether a show that regularly poked fun at the government could continue after the attacks, but in his monologue he explained that he also saw the show as a respite from the horrible news in the world. He told a story about himself as a 12-year-old Boy Scout, which Leno said he wasn’t really good at because of his dyslexia. His scoutmaster gave him the task of being the “cheermaster” of the troop, so Leno would tell jokes to the troop to keep their spirits up.

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