Explaining Obama’s TV charm

The president's Jimmy Fallon appearance last night showcased the comedic advantage of his stiltedness. VIDEO

Topics: Barack Obama, TV,

Explaining Obama's TV charm (Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster)

President Obama went on Jimmy Fallon last night, officially to make a case for not raising the interest rates on Stafford student loans, but really to continue his incredible run of appearing in charming musical numbers. Obama joined Fallon and The Roots on stage at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to “slow jam the news,” a recurring Fallon sketch rejiggered for the president. Obama, who came out smiling to a standing ovation, introduced himself and then explained, “I too, want to slow jam the news.” He then delivered a very straightforward pitch about why interest rates on student loans shouldn’t go up. It could have been part of any speech, except for The Roots’ backing track.

Fallon then popped up in the foreground — leaving Obama in the fuzzy mid-ground and The Roots in the back — to crack the joke, “You should listen to the president, or as I like to call him, the Prizzy of the United Stizzy.” (Black Thought added: “The right and left should join on this like Kim and Kanye.”) Obama kept a straight face through most of the song, cracking a big smile only at the end when he added an “Oh Yeah” to the assertion that he’s “The POTUS with the mostest.” When the song was over, he dropped the mic.

The president is exceptional in these kind of light comedic situations, where his innate stiltedness serves him well. He’s willing to play along, which is endearing and self-deprecating, but there’s always a part of him that remains aloof — as if, all things being equal, assuming he weren’t the president or on the campaign trail, this is the sort of thing he would just as soon not do. He gets the joke, but his inner reserve keeps him from becoming one. Even when he’s goofing, it’s with rectitude.

Fallon is a great foil for this sort of presidential composure: Compared to the sunny, giggly Fallon and his goofball persona, Obama comes across not only as unflappable and adult, but cool. At one point, Fallon told Obama he thought it would be funny if Obama were to take staged pratfalls down Air Force One’s stairs. After humoring Fallon for a few minutes (Obama is probably more aware than Fallon that falling down the Air Force One steps — then being mocked mercilessly by Chevy Chase — helped do in Gerald Ford’s second term), Obama just deadpanned: “I don’t think that’s funny.” Ice.

Two other takeaways from the interview: Obama said that he and Michelle finished paying off their own student loans just eight years ago, in 2004 — when Obama had just been elected to the Senate. The president also told Fallon that he laughed at a clip from the Comedy Central sketch-comedy show “Key & Peele” in which Obama was given an “anger translator” who took his calm, composed comments and translated their angrier meaning. (An example of Obama as run through the anger translator: “Mahmoud, Kim Jong, I think I already done told both ya’ll 86 yo shit bitches, or I’ll come over there and do it for ya’ll! Please test me and see what happens.”) Take a look at that sketch and wonder if that is, in fact, what Obama really means.

Willa Paskin

Willa Paskin is Salon's staff TV writer.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 17
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    John Stanmeyer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.

    Lu Guang

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China

    Carolyn Cole/LATimes

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

    Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    “Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA

    Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.

    Garth Lentz

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada

    Cotton Coulson/Keenpress

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway

    Yann Arthus-Bertrand

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.

    Stephanie Sinclair

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.

    Mike Hedge

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million

    Google Earth/ 2014 Digital Globe

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.

    Daniel Dancer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

    Peter Essick

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.

    Daniel Beltra

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico

    Ian Wylie

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Slide 13

    Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.

    R.J. Sangosti/Denver Post

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>