8 Times Presidential Candidates Borrowed Goodwill From Comedians

Sock it to ME?
8 Times Presidential Candidates Borrowed Goodwill From Comedians

Aspiring two-term President Joe Biden joined Jason Bateman, Will Arnett and Sean Hayes for a taping of the SmartLess podcast this week, to be aired sometime in the presumably near future. It’s just the latest example of presidential candidates borrowing goodwill from popular comedians to drum up votes. Does it work? Who knows, but it’s been a regular part of the campaign game for more than 50 years. Here are eight times candidates tried to convince us that they’re in with the funny crowd… 

John F. Kennedy on The Jack Paar Show

JFK officially broke the seal on the candidate/comedy bottle, and the genie has been out ever since. “By the standards of 1960, a presidential candidate’s appearance on an entertainment program was considered a bit shocking,” wrote Frank Rich in The New York Times. Paar asked for funny stories from the campaign trail, a question which stumped Kennedy.

Richard Nixon on Laugh-In

Nixon turned down his own chance to appear on Paar, but by the end of the decade, he changed his mind about appearing on a comedy show. His weird twist on Laugh-In’s famous catchphrase — “Sock it to me?” — “ranks as probably the most important five-second appearance in the history of political television,” per preeminent TV critic Tom Shales.

Ronald Reagan on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson

After failing to wrestle the Republican nomination for president away from Gerald Ford, Reagan got an early jump on his 1980 campaign with a deadly serious appearance on Johnny Carson

George W. Bush on Late Night With David Letterman 

The man who succeeded Clinton tried to build goodwill by reading a self-deprecating Top Ten list that mostly featured Bush as the punchline.

Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live 

Like Gerald Ford before her, Palin knew that Tina Fey’s brutal impersonation was costing her credibility with voters. So to prove she was in on the joke, Palin showed up to bob her head to Amy Poehler’s vice-presidential rap. Unfortunately for John McCain’s running mate, it was just another “yikes” moment in a campaign full of them.

Donald Trump on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon

It’s hard to remember now, but Fallon was pretty popular when he took over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno in 2014. Fallon’s fall from grace has its share of stumbles, but its start more or less coincides with the moment he playfully tousled Donald Trump’s hair in 2016.

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