President Obama's Guide To Giving Great Late Show Interview


Last night, the sitting president visited the Late Show With David Letterman to promote his health care plan, but as any television-saavy politician knows, talk show segments don't have to be all business. The president demonstrated this point so well and with such ease, that if you suffered retrograde amnesia in the past week and just happened to tune into CBS at midnight, you would have thought Dave's guest was busy promoting his latest Michael Bay flick. The president's keys to great after-hours interviews and video after the jump.

1. Don't Be Afraid To Go There

When Letterman opened the segment by asking about Obama's infamous "Lipstick On a Pig" analogy gone-wrong, the President was game for a little wordplay:

"It's a common expression in at least Illinois. I don't know about New York City. I don't know what you put lipstick on here. [Laughs] In Illinois, the expression connotes the idea that if you have a bad idea, in this case I was talking about John McCain's economic plans...that just calling it change, just calling it something different, that doesn't make it better. [...] Keep in mind that technically, had I meant it this way, [Sarah Palin] would have been the lipstick. The failed policies of John McCain would be the pig."

2. Graciously Accept Any Gifts From Audience Members (No Matter How Bizarre)...On Camera

This endears you to the public! And remember, you don't have to take any presents that won't be captured for millions of Americans to eat up late at night. When a studio audience member showed up to the Ed Sullivan Theater with a heart-shaped potato, Obama said, "This is remarkable" before pocketing the spud on-camera. To drive home this symbolic gift ("This president likes starch-growing, starch-eating, starch-carving middle Americans!"), it even garnered a mention in the night's "Top Ten."

3. Poke Fun At Yourself

Barack transformed a serious question into an opportunity for some good, old-fashioned playing field-leveling self-mockery: "As someone who used to be on the cover of Time and Newsweek, you know...I had a recent offer from Popular Mechanics, centerfold with a wrench."

4. Seamlessly Segue From Joke to Politics

Granted, folks, this is what makes Barack Obama a pro. But Dave's guest last night was able to transform the above Popular Mechanics joke into serious recession talk before the audience even realized that he was finished talking about niche magazines.

5. Aside From the Potato Gift, Avoid Any Props or Late Night Gags

If you've ever watched a Bruce Willis appearance on the Late Show, you know that

pre-planned comedy segments don't always play well. In fact, bits about Starbruce coffee and Donald Trump wigs tend to curiously anger your target audience.

6. Ensure That Your Writers Craft Humorous Soundbites

When asked about Jimmy Carter's speculation that today's poor political decorum is rooted in racism, the president delivered the night's soundbite that would qualify most headlines the next day: "First of all, I think it's important to realize that I was actually black before the election." Your pre-interview will hammer out most of the night's conversation topics so it should be relatively easy to come up with solid phrases that can be woven into any answer.

7. Talk About Politics in Layman's Terms...A Few "Folks" Never Hurt

Deflecting some of his recent criticisms, the president said, "One of the things you sign up for in politics is folks'll yell at you."

8. Work That Je Ne Sais Quoi

You know that coolness, that amazing relaxed demeanor that most humans need a few stiff drinks to achieve? Well just uncork on air and Americans will lap up your startlingly un-politician-like appearance in no time. And at the end of your presidential term, you will always have the back-up career option of becoming a talk show coach.


  • How 'bout, geez, get back to work, Obama ... it's ok to let an hour go by without you on our TV screens.

  • sweetbiscuit says:

    He was working. He was working to shake loose some of the hand-painted images of him with a Hitlerian mustache that the media has been curiously thrilled to show over and over and over again. And thankfully, I think it's working.