Up Late with John McCain

For all the talk about John McCain being too old to run for president, the guy sure seems to stay up awfully late. No four-thirty dinners at Furr's Cafeteria for this guy—that is, unless he's planning on supplementing that diet with a 1 a.m. "fourthmeal" from Taco Bell. This is a guy on the go. And all over late-night TV.

Of course, given the time off that the prolonged Democratic Primary has provided him, it's not like the guy has to spend much time fending off attacks from his opponents. He's just kicking back for now, kissing a few hands, shaking a few babies, and making fun of himself—and contemporary politics in general—on “the TEE-vee” as his generation likes to call it. Some say that McCain has a serious advantage, going into the fall with fresh legs, but then, the same thing was said last season after the Rockies swept the D-backs to head to the World Series early … and, well, we all know how well that turned out.

Whatever and whoever McCain faces in the fall, he's certainly enjoying the position that he's in this spring. Last month, he was on with David Letterman, again. (Letterman was where McCain chose to announce his candidacy in 2007.) He's been on with Jay Leno, too, several times. Last week, he enjoyed his eleventh on-set interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. And just over a week ago, he appeared as a special guest in not one, but two skits on the season finale of Saturday Night Live (a show he actually hosted in 2002). Politics on television has definitely moved past Nixon saying "sock it to me" on Laugh-In. Even Bill Clinton's sax (that's sax with an "a") on Arsenio pales by comparison.

McCain, as he normally does, fares pretty well on these shows. He’s gregarious and funny, even if as a comedian, he makes a good politician. But these are low expectations—the same “strategerie” that allowed George W. Bush to "win" the 2000 debates. But you have to hand it to McCain—he's game for just about anything. In 2002, he sang Streisand. This time around, politics definitely played more of a role in what the presidential candidate was willing to do.

McCain's first sketch was mainly a riff on his age. "What should we be looking for in our next President? Certainly someone who is very, very, very old." It's a safe enough joke, and it’s clear that his handlers were hoping that in making fun of it, the issue might take on less actual weight. After all, it's nothing McCain can ignore or deny, so taking it good-naturedly—actually joining in on the joke—is probably the best way to disarm the criticism.

But McCain's better sketch was his spot on Weekend Update, in which he commented on the ongoing Democratic primary by urging Democrats to take their time in making up their minds. "Do not under any circumstances pick a candidate too soon," McCain said, spurring hosts Amy Poehler and Seth Meyer to start arguing. "That's right, fight amongst yourselves," McCain said. And it went from there, skewering the process a little bit while at the same time poking some fun at the catbird seat in which McCain finds himself sitting.

John McCain does a pretty good job at these public appearances—better than the comparably wooden performances provided by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton earlier in SNL's season—but so did former also-rans like Rev. Jesse Jackson, Al Gore, and others. So all this TV face-time and attempts by McCain to appear as normal-guy-real as possible on a very unreal medium—will they come to anything?

Probably not. What worked for Bill Clinton in 1992 was the novelty of his appearance, not the appearance itself. Now that all three candidates for president have established that the road to the White House leads in part right through the Saturday Night Live set, there's not much left to be gained. It's just keeping up with the political Joneses. And in the end, politics is a lot like comedy. The setup might be important, but it's all about the punchline. And that comes in November. -- Teague Bohlen

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Cory Casciato is a Denver-based writer with a passion for the geeky, from old science fiction movies to brand-new video games.
Contact: Cory Casciato