It’s rare enough when a U.S. president appears on a late-night comedy show, but Tuesday night, President Barack Obama actually participated in an extended comedy bit, and probably won new fans (and thrilled his existing ones).
It was on NBC’s “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” which snared the President of the United States for almost an entire hour — a very special episode and, for host Jimmy Fallon, a watershed moment in the ongoing story of his career.
The Obama booking — the first time Fallon ever hosted a U.S. president — apparently resulted from a small series of coincidences. Fallon was scheduled to do a show from the campus of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. And the president was interested in campaigning in the state — a key battleground in next fall’s election.
With the president and the show both in the state at the same time, the timing was right. And while the president would likely be welcome on the “Fallon” show any old time in New York, we suspect that this particular show, before an audience of enthusiastic college students, was more attractive to the president and his handlers than a show in Jimmy’s New York studio. Moreover, we also surmise that the logistics of securing the venue at UNC, and getting the president and his retinue in and out of the facility, were somewhat easier than they would have been at NBC’s 30 Rockefeller Plaza headquarters in the heart of Manhattan at rush hour.
Whatever the case, the President of the United States was relaxed enough to take part in one of Jimmy’s signature bits — “Slow Jamming the News.” Not only was this spectacle hilarious, but the president used it to get a point across about an upcoming hike in interest rates on student loans — which he would like Congress to prevent.
When you think about it, that performance probably represents the most unique medium for delivering a presidential message that has ever been attempted by a U.S. president in office. By about 11 a.m. (eastern time) on Wednesday, the video had about 28,000 views on Youtube, but we suspect that that figure will increase throughout the day.
Meanwhile, we have the rest of the president’s appearance on “Fallon” here — segment by segment.
And we’re actually going to begin with Segment Five because that’s the portion that contained the president’s headline-making comments about the Secret Service sex scandal and, separately, his probable Republican opponent in the presidential race, Mitt Romney.
Fallon gingerly broached the subject of the Secret Service story, and the president, rightfully, asked that the actions of this group of government agents not be seen as typical of the Secret Service generally.
“Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of them, everyday they’re putting their life on the line. They’re doing a great job,” he said. “So a couple of knuckleheads shouldn’t detract from what they do, but what these guys were thinking, I don’t know. That’s why they’re not there anymore.” The president never broke from his serious expression when discussing the scandal, although the audience laughed — an awkward moment.
On the subject of Romney, Obama made his comment about the Republican while taking Twitter questions recited by Fallon. “If Mitt Romney was in the room right now, what would you say to him?” one questioner asked.
“I’d say, ‘Hey, Mitt, how you are doing?’ ” said the President, who added that he knows Romney only slightly.
“I’ve met him, but we’re not friends,” Obama said.
The President also answered a question from someone who asked: “Are you gonna legalize weed or what?”
The President’s answer: “We’re not going to be legalizing ‘weed or what’ anytime soon!”
President Obama’s visit with Fallon started with softer subjects. Always the politician, the President played to his UNC audience by complimenting the school’s basketball team. He and Jimmy then talked about the President’s tastes in comedy.
In Part Two, the laughs continued as Jimmy advised the President to intentionally choreograph an elaborate pratfall in order to play to omnipresent cameras and Youtube. The President reacted negatively to this idea, to say the least. But it’s clear that President Obama likes to laugh. He said so himself.
In Part Three, Jimmy and the President talked about college-education issues — in particular, the aforementioned topic of college loans and the difficulties young people face in paying them off, just as they’re starting out in life. The President even admitted that he and his wife paid off their own college loans just eight years ago.
The education discussion continued in Part Four. And the two also got into the subject of energy, with the President, as usual, calling for greater investment in cleaner, alternative energy sources, even as domestic oil and gas production chugs away at robust levels, as even he admitted.
In Part Six, their final segment, the Twitter questions continued and the President attempted to answer one of them in a Tweet he dictated to Jimmy.