October 11, 2008

The Shuffle: The Late Night Vote

By Blake Hannon

Election day is less than a month away. We've seen both presidential and vice presidential candidates debate the big issues and campaign relentlessly for the votes of Americans. Wait a second. What am I doing talking about politics? Isn't this supposed to be an entertainment column? Don't worry, I'm not flip-flopping.

But there is no denying that one of many things elections remind us of is the cultural relevance and political importance of late- night television.

And it matters in multiple ways. The sketch comedy and parodies on "Saturday Night Live" have produced comic highlights for decades, whether it's Dan Akroyd's impersonation of President Richard "I am not a crook" Nixon, Dana Carvey pulling double duty imitating both 1992 candidates President George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot, Darrell Hammond's spot-on characterization of President Bill Clinton or Tina Fey's most recent (and disturbingly accurate) impression of VP candidate Gov. Sarah Palin. Of course, they're funny, but it's hard to think that some of these sketches don't have even a microscopic effect on the mindset of would-be voters.

Do these brutal comic caricatures keep politicians away? Hardly. Endless numbers of presidential candidates have appeared on "SNL" in the hopes of gaining a bit of hip factor while showing the voting public that they don't take themselves too seriously. If appearing on a show like this didn't make a difference, why would Sen. John McCain show up poking fun at himself saying he has the "oldness" to be president?

"SNL" isn't the only program that politicians frequent. Pretty much any late-night talk show, whether it's Leno, Letterman, Kimmel or Colbert, gets a visit for the sake of bettering a candidate's chances to take the White House.

Some have used the opportunity to really stand out, like when then presidential candidate Clinton brought his tenor sax and jammed with the house band on "The Arsenio Hall Show" in 1992. Some believe that the musical stunt helped lure the young and minority vote to Clinton's side. I won't go that far, but I will say that he isn't blowing those notes without thinking about votes.

Recently, we saw the consequences of shunning late-night talk. During the initial stages of the current economic crisis, McCain cancelled his appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman" stating he was rushing back to Washington D.C. to work on a solution. When Letterman learned that McCain wasn't in any rush at all and went to video of the candidate sitting down with Katie Couric, he bashed McCain for two straight shows and made national headlines doing it. Lesson: Don't bite the late-night hand that elects you.

Between now and election day, make sure to check out all the political-inspired comedy of late-night TV shows. It may be some of the funniest stuff you see on television all year. But when Letterman stated "the road to the White House runs right through me," he was only half-joking.

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