There was a time when appearing on TV was beneath our political leaders. Oh sure, they might appear in one-on-one interviews or in an address to the nation. But it was a rare and uncommon treat when a politico would dare to venture into that dangerous area known as TV comedy.
Nowadays, all bets are off. In the past year, you couldn’t keep the Republican candidates off of Saturday Night Live. And First Lady Michelle Obama has gone the funny route twice in recent months – racing Jimmy Fallon through the White House and offering up a Top Ten list on Letterman. Heck, Rick Mercer has built his recent career on awkward comedy bits with baffled Canadian politicians.
Television has that power to not only convey a political message, but render our leaders cool. Or at least human. Not to mention self-deprecating, strange, off-putting and, yes, funny.
Here are a few fave funny moments – old and new – when politicians took to the TV to get all goofy-like:
RICHARD NIXON ON LAUGH-IN (1968) – It was a shocker when U.S. President Nixon agreed to appear on this wacky hip comedy series. For one thing, he was in the middle of an election. Plus, he wasn’t hip. Not in the slightest. But he did want to be loved by the people. And how better to accomplish that than with a hit comedy show?
The results are short and awkward. Although he does just the Laugh-In signature line ‘Sock It To Me’, it took several takes before he got it right. Maybe they should have filmed a few more. Nixon later cited his Laugh-In appearance as a major reason why he won the 1968 election:
PRIME MINISTERS ON CORNER GAS (2005/2007) – Corner Gas loved to include cameos by famous Canadians. Sometimes, you weren’t sure who the ‘famous’ Canadian was exactly but whatever (I have the same problem with Dancing With The Stars). Prime Minister Paul Martin had a clever TV bit in 2005 in which he appeared to be addressing the nation, only to have Corner Gas star Brent Butt walk into the frame to tell him to wrap it up. PM Stephen Harper got the Corner Gas cameo nod a few years later, appearing in a media scrum in which he is asked to give a preference – gophers or prairie dogs. I won’t spoil it:
NANCY REAGAN ON DIFF’RENT STROKES (1983) – The First Lady plays herself in this “serious” installment of the popular sitcom, promoting her then-current “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign. The plot has Arnold squealing on his drug-using classmates. Nancy arrives to congratulate the little rat (to be proceeded by a schoolyard beatdown, no doubt). What you talkin ’bout First Lady? Nancy is pretty good, though she was an actress at one time:
PRINCE CHARLES WITH THE WEATHER (2012) – I’m not sure how this came about and, frankly, I didn’t think Charles had it in him. But there is the Royal C. doing the weather on some Scottish newscast. Not to mention doing some stand-up schtick. He’s quite good. And funny. Who knew? I believe this comedy gem probably did more to improve Charles’ image than anything in the last 30 years. If he ever wants a real job some day, this might be it:
SARAH PALIN ON SARAH PALIN’S ALASKA (2010) –You could pick a lot of stuff for Palin, but let’s go with her unintentionally hilarious TLC reality show. This episode is particularly bizarre in that it’s a crossover – in which Kate Gosselin, of TLC’s Kate Plus 8, goes camping with the Palins. I’m not sure what TLC was thinking. Were they trying to make Kate look horrible to get out of a contract or something? Kate’s whining is annoying, but come on! Camping in Alaska in the cold rain with eight kids ain’t some traditional Palin rite of passage. It’s just stupid:
BETTY FORD ON THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (1976) – First Lady Betty is serviceable as herself in this cameo. But what makes her appearance memorable is the joke. Mary doesn’t believe Lou’s claim that it’s First Lady Ford on the phone – and proceeds to insult her, telling Ford that she does a lousy Betty impersonation. Her appearance on the hit show didn’t help her husband though – Gerald Ford lost the election later that year to Jimmy Carter:
MALCOLM X ON FRONT PAGE CHALLENGE (1965) – Yes, it happened. The radical black leader did indeed appear as the “mystery headline” on the popular Canadian game show. And no, I don’t think anyone was trying to be funny at the time. But it sure is funny today. Unfortunately, the Front Page panel can’t quite figure out who the mysterious Mr. X is (Clue: he really is Mr. X!). They appear confused by his recent conversion to true Islam, and never come close to guessing his identity. Man, he does look and sound a lot like Denzel Washington:
BOB DOLE DOES PEPSI (2000) – When did the former Presidential candidate get so cool and funny? Sure wasn’t during his failed election campaign. But then he did a commercial for Viagra (Bob Dole gets horny!), following it up with a Viagra spoof for Pepsi (Bob Dole knows parody!). I’m liking this guy. Wonder if he plans to run again: