By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The White House strategy is to ridicule Kerry every single day of the campaign. And obviously The Tonight Show will be the first to pick up on that. How do you decide if you’re being used to further some political party’s ends?
Nobody from the White House calls or leaks us stuff. You see a picture that appears in the paper, like Kerry at NASA, and you roll with it. If it’s something funny, like Dukakis in a tank, Bush with a sombrero, Kerry in that colonoscopy suit, you use it.
Do you personally think this is a more important election than some of the others?
[Sighs.] Yeah, it is. I remember in college, and up until recently, I could have a political discussion without people walking out of the room, or telling me to screw off. There’s hostility now. I mean, it’s literally brother against brother. I have friends who won’t even speak now because one is a Bush guy and one is a Kerry guy. And I say, “You really think there’s that big a difference between these two parties?” Okay, obviously there is. When it comes to Supreme Court judges, yeah, I really worry. But I’m not sure what Kerry is going to do that much differently in Iraq. He says today he has a plan, but he doesn’t want to say what it is. Hello. I remember Nixon was going to end the war.
What do you read?
Different columnists. I like to read both sides and get everybody’s point of view. What I go for is editorials and commentary. When I was a kid, I used to read everything: Mother Jones, Time, Newsweek and The New Republic.
And TV news?
I watch MSNBC. I watch CNN. And I also go to Fox News to see what their take is. It’s fascinating that they can go a whole year without mentioning Osama bin Laden. You’re aware this is a Republican thing.
Do you think it’s weird that talk radio is all right all the time?
No, it’s not weird. Because liberal people don’t need to hear their view expressed over and over again. I think some people on the right need to hear this constant reinforcement, whereas I don’t find that necessary.
When you interview people for the writing staff, what if somebody comes in and says, “Look, I have to warn you, I’m a proud liberal,” or “I’m a proud conservative”?
They are. I have on my staff a rabbi, I have a number of former speechwriters, and one guy had written comedy before. The others were all professional speechwriters for primarily Democratic candidates. Actually, there are no Republicans. They wrote jokes that were good. And everybody was hired without an interview. It’s based on material.
Were your parents political?
No, not at all. My mother came from the school of, “Well, they must know things that we don’t.” That’s what my mother always used to say.
But I think that’s part of your beliefs.
Let me ask you this. Can you figure out my politics watching the monologue?
You really want to know what I think?
I think that having grown up in Boston, having been in a middle-class family, and having been active on behalf of unions — I know about that — I actually think you’re probably left of center. But I think there’s a fear inside of you that you don’t want to piss off authority. It comes from your mother, this don’t-rock-the-boat mentality.
Is there anything wrong with making authority laugh at themselves?
The current crew in the White House doesn’t seem to laugh much at themselves.
The interesting thing is, I have found that the Republicans respond much more to jokes about themselves than the Democrats do. Democrats take it very, very seriously. You know, when Al Gore was here in 2000, we said we want to do this bit, and then it was, “Can we run it past our people?” “Can we make these changes?” Then the day of the show, “We’re going to pass.” Bush shows up. We had a bit where we’re playing Jeopardy, and he’s going to look kind of stupid. But then, in the end, the joke’s on me. “Yeah, fine, whatever you want.” It couldn’t have been easier.
Here’s my problem with the monologue. You can tell that something’s featured on The Drudge Report, the writers have seen it, and the monologue is playing off that. But there’s a lot of other news that gets ignored. How come there’s no humor made of the fact that Cheney is making people take loyalty oaths before anyone is allowed at his rallies?
I did a Cheney joke tonight. The joke was, “Cheney said terrorism is the perception of weakness. He made it from an undisclosed location.” Let me explain what happens with a joke. You have to repeat information they already know. For example, if it made the headlines today, you go, “Thank you for coming to the show tonight. As you know, you all signed your loyalty oaths.” If they go, “What’s he talking about?” then I’m still talking, and they’re still explaining the joke to each other.
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