March 19, 2009. It was important for three reasons.
First, it was my 15th birthday. So, happy birthday to me and I hope I enjoyed taking my permit test.
Second, Uncle Garth Brooks was on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Being right in the middle of his long seemingly never-ending retirement, it was nice to see the big man on the TV.
Third, probably most importantly, the other guest on The Tonight Show that night was President Barack Obama. That doesn’t seem shocking now as we are knocking on 2015’s door, but back then it was big, big news. This appearance by President Obama was the first ever late night interview given by a sitting president.
I don’t know if I’d remember the date of the first presidential late night interview if it wasn’t for Garth and my birthday, but I do know that I believe it was a major step in late night television and shows how savvy Barack Obama can be.
Forget the politics of Barack Obama. They seriously do not matter in this conversation. This is all about Obama knowing how to attract an audience.
President Obama knows that it does him little to no good for him to go on FOX News and talk to Bill O’Reilly. The viewers of O’Reilly are hardcore Republicans and know it or are so old that they don’t realize that they watch the channel just so they can hear their views said at them in an authoritative way.
The President also knows that he really doesn’t have to go on MSNBC. The viewers of that channel are more than likely going to vote for him anyway, so why waste the time and effort. Everyone’s time is precious and I assume that’s even more so for the ruler of the free world.
President Obama realized and still realizes that he needs the younger generation. The outstanding young people turnout got Obama into the White House, but he still needs their support and he knows where to find the eyeballs of young people: late night television.
Young people eat up late night television and that will continue to grow. Late night television has never been so popular with Jimmy Fallon taking over The Tonight Show and Stephen Colbert soon to take over the Late Show. These shows and their brethren will be a needed stomping ground for all high-profile politicians.
It used to be that the presidential candidates would filter through the cold open on Saturday Night Live, but that’s not enough anymore. President Obama has blown the late night doors wide open.
The President just doesn’t sit down for interviews. He participates in specific comedy bits. When Jimmy Fallon was the host of Late Night, Fallon and Obama slow-jammed the news. Earlier this week when Obama visited The Colbert Report, the President took over Colbert’s popular ‘The Word’ segment and made it his own. Obama made the said the segment needed to be more presidential and turned it into ‘The Decree’.
This simple act shows that the President ‘gets it’. Performing in these comedy sketches shows that the President can take the joke and is comfortable with being the butt of the joke. It’s amazing the respect young people will give to authority figures if us young people think that the authority ‘gets it’.
As a journalism student, it hurts to say that most young people get their news from Comedy Central. A lot of young people have Jon Stewart and The Daily Show and Colbert’s Colbert Report as the only source of ‘news’ that they get. The part of me that would love to someday write for Colbert or Stewart loves the thought of how much power those positions hold.
President Obama is a marketing master, more specifically a master of marketing to young people. He used social media to greatly help him win an election and he’s using the most popular shows with young people to maintain his popularity with the young. Hell, he even went on an internet show that was painfully awkward with Zach Galifianakis. If that’s not trying to attract to young people, I don’t know what is.
The game has been changed. If you want to be a successful president or high profile politician of any sort in this countru from now on, you need to make friends with Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. Meet The Press and 60 Minutes no longer are the desired seat. The Tonight Show, The Late Show and The Daily Show: the three branches to political success.