President Barack Obama slid smoothly onto Late Night with Jimmy Fallon Tuesday night to slow-jam some news to the late-night host’s youthful audience.
“A better America begins tonight,” said – oh, no, wait: That was Mitt Romney, delivering the title and theme of his victory speech, broadcast on cable news as he won five primaries on Tuesday night. No, President Obama, in visiting Fallon, apparently believes a better America began quite a while ago, an America in which there’s opportunity to mix humor with a message – much as, oh, say, Jimmy Fallon’s studio band, the Roots, routinely do, on Fallon’s show and on their own albums. Thus the Commander in Chief felt free to let his freak-flag fly – in moderation, of course: “I’m President Barack Obama, and I, too, want to slow-jam the news.”
Following in the footsteps of news anchor Brian Williams, who pioneered the slow-jamming of news with Fallon, Obama said, over a cool Roots rhythm, “Now is not the time to make school more expensive for our young people.” Fallon popped into the TV frame and added, “Ohhhh yeah: You should listen to the President, or as I call him, the Preezie of the United Steezie.” Obama expressed skepticism about not “taxing billionaires,” and Fallon chimed in, “The Barackness Monster ain’t buyin’ it.”
Fallon's show at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill made for an ideal setting for the President: He's in the midst of a three-state tour to appeal to young voters -- ideally, Fallon's demo -- by getting out the message that he's urging Congress to pass a year-long extension of a freeze in federal student loan interest rates.
Fallon elicited a mini-treasure trove of pop-culture faves from Obama. The President praised the angry-frustrated-Obama impersonation of the President as presented by the the comedy team of Key and Peele on Comedy Central; the President is rooting for the Chicago Bulls; he likes to watch Groundhog Day. The conversation stayed, as you might imagine, safe. Jimmy showed a picture of the college-age Obama ("Notice the Afro," said the President). And like all late-night hosts, Fallon set up the President to make the pitch he was really there to deliver, in this case about college loans. Obama said that he and the First Lady only finished paying off theirs eight years ago. (It's a line he's been using on the stump recently.) He urged students to tweet about the Stafford loan rate extension by using the hashtag #DontDoubleMyRates, and Jimmy Fallon's audience knows from Twitter.
But sorry, kids: “We’re not going to be legalizing weed,” Obama told Fallon’s crowd.
Obama discussed the recent Secret Service scandal, defending the institution while chiding the “couple of knuckleheads” who grossly misbehaved: “The Secret Service these guys are incredible. They protect me. They protect Michelle. They protect our girls. They protect our officials all around the world … 99.9% of them every day, they put their lives on the line. They do a great job … So a couple of knuckleheads shouldn’t detract from what they do. But what these guys were thinking, I don’t know. That’s why they’re not there anymore.”
Of Romney, he said, “I’ve met him, but we’re not friends.” To Fallon’s question about whether the campaign would “get ugly,” Obama blamed the Citizens United decision and its use of huge sums of money that can fund attack ads anonymously.
Of course, there are those who’ll look at Obama’s Fallon appearance and say he’s being “un-Presidential”; too cool for people who want their leaders to be less media-savvy – that’s some folks’ idea of authenticity. If you’re Mitt Romney and his campaign, you might look at the Fallon clip and co-opt it – use it in an ad against Obama during the campaign. Rather than slow-jam, the loyal opposition’s strategy might be to jam up the President as the campaign heats up.
And later this week, the President faces another Jimmy: Kimmel, who’s performing at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner on Saturday night.