The good news is that Barack Obama does it better than most, as his rather hysterical guest spot on Jimmy Fallon’s “Slow Jam the News” segment recently proved (check it out here, if you haven’t seen it already).
It was an effective performance by Obama – appearing on a young, hip show to touch on an issue that would spur college students (an important part of the wave that brought him into office in 2008) to get out and vote. Even better, the video instantly went viral helping to wash away some of the stain of the GSA and Secret Service scandals.
For a lot of politicians, however, appearing on these late-night programs can prove disastrous. While John McCain was actually rather funny as a Saturday Night Live host and more than competent when he appeared during his 2008 run, his running mate Sarah Palin didn’t fare so well, coming off as awkward and passive in the famous “Palin Rap” Weekend Update skit. It’s probably not a good thing when you’re upstaged by an eight-months-pregnant Amy Poehler. Democrats aren’t immune to this, either; witness John Kerry’s awkward “I’m an everyman” motorcycle statement on Jay Leno’s show or his stiff performance on The Daily Show.
Of course, for the original example of this phenomenon, we have to go all the way back to 1968 – when the immortal Richard M. Nixon appeared on Laugh-In to deliver the show’s catchphrase, to the delight of the audience (and the millions watching at home). It proved to the country Nixon, then locked into a tight election battle with Hubert H. Humphrey, could poke fun at his vampire-like image, and Nixon ended up winning.
It’s not necessary for Mitt Romney to have a Laugh-In moment like Nixon did, but a successful appearance on one of these late-night shows would go a long way into combating the popular image of his super stiff persona. In fact, the campaign is actually considering having Romney host the show. Obviously, the whole thing is a tremendous risk; if he echoes his same zzzzzs he’s brought to the trail before, it could be a disaster. However, if Romney is accurately able to poke fun at his image, he might be laughing all the way to the White House.