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Posted at 8:30 AM ET, 12/ 2/2010

I watched Mitt Romney talk Palin, 2012 on Jay Leno -- and enjoyed it

By Alexandra Petri

I watched Mitt Romney on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and boy are my jokes tired!

(I'm sorry, I can't tell if that was a joke or not. After watching this I straggled upstairs demanding Metamucil and wondering out loud what happened to popular music and why they don't build anything to last like they used to. I was getting a glass of milk, grabbing my gun and my religion, and going to turn in for the night, when I realized that I still had a job to do.)

The show itself revolved around Mitt Romney and the perpetual will-he-won't-he 2012 shilly-shallying dance that he and Palin are developing into a science. In fact, Mitt and Sarah seem to be alike in only two respects -- they might be Republican presidential candidates in 2012, and they're very-somewhat-coy about it. Other than that they have little in common. Romney enjoys talking in an oddly substantive manner for late-night talk shows about business, bankruptcy, and the tax code. Sarah Palin enjoys talking oddly. Romney enjoys using bullet points. Palin enjoys using bullets. Romney, on Jay Leno, described Palin as "a remarkable, energetic, powerful figure...and attractive, too..." Sarah Palin, uh -- clubbed a halibut to death. Have they ever shaken hands? I worry that one of them might disappear. I hope it's not Palin, or I will never be able to optimize anything for search again!

The Romney on Jay experience was a variant of the Jay Leno experience itself. In a word -- awkward. Jay Leno's comedy, like Romney's amateur rendering of the same, tends to be full of painful, obvious punch-lines that you could see coming from several miles away. True to form, the cold open was a gag with Romney telling Jay the scoop about his plans -- just as a hair dryer blasted and made him inaudible. Laugh? I thought I'd die!

The show's credits are footage of dazed, unhappy-looking people wandering around, as though trying to get to any other show at all. Then come the jokes, rim shot after rim shot, and a surreal sequence about caroling, or something.

Then Romney. The jokes sounded like the sort of lines that are usually prefaced with the phrase, "I'm on Jay tonight, dear -- tell me if this is funny."

Strategy for "next time"? I don't know, Jay... "make sure I get more votes than the other guy." After saying he had only 15 grandchildren, Romney said that he had polled them about a run and "it was 60-40. Sixty want me to run, and forty don't!" He added, "I have a lot of grandchildren." This is either flip-flopping, or Romney really should nail down how many grandchildren he has at any given time, or at least round up to a good safe whole number.

But then he settled down and talked business with an appealing cogency and using bullet points. This part of the interview was entertaining insofar as we got to hear Jay Leno's perspective on what the economy needs. Without a manufacturing base, he noted, "you're screwed." This could explain why he buys all those cars. At this point in the show everything seemed to have a hidden meaning. I was fading fast.

TSA? Romney waved his hands and started talking about touching eight year-old children before cutting himself off abruptly and saying he wouldn't describe it, because that was the TSA's job, not his. This makes good political sense. One of the first rules they teach you in Presidential Maybe Candidate Seminar is "Never say the sentence 'and touching eight year-olds is inappropriate,' because that's the sort of thing that winds up on t-shirts, and t-shirts only offer limited room for context."

Next, DADT? Romney said he wouldn't ask or tell -- about his plans to run, of course.

Maybe it was the Jay Leno Effect. Maybe it was the Al Roker Wants You To Buy an Expo Board To Keep Your Family Together or Snooki Endorses Pistachios commercial I had just watched. But I found it refreshing. It was nice to see a candidate (or a "non-candidate") who didn't seem, well, particularly at ease in front of a camera, who made awkward, bad jokes, who at one point seemed to be challenging Michelle Obama or Barbara Bush to arm-wrestle. There's such a thing as being too comfortable on TV. Sure, Palin is a "remarkable, energetic, powerful figure...and attractive, too," as Romney noted. "But did you see what she did to that halibut?"

By Alexandra Petri  | December 2, 2010; 8:30 AM ET
Categories:  Petri, Reality? Television, That's awkward  | Tags:  Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, law of the jungle  
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Your jokes aren’t getting tired, but you’ve got to get this Sarah Palin obsession out of your system. It seems like Dana has his Glen Beck references down to only 2 or 3 a day. Maybe you should try writing a book like this one:

“Smears of a Clown - Sarah Palin and the Death Panelization of Obamacare”

New York Times writer, David Segal has an excellent article, “A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web,” about a Russian guy who sells eyeglasses on his website. When someone complains, he calls them at all hours threatening them with execution.

The funny thing is that all the angry hate for this guy spreads over the Internet, but that only INCREASES his Google ranking. The more angry complaints he gets, the more web traffic and sales he gets too.

On second thought, maybe your Sarah Palin book should be called: “A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web.”

Posted by: divtune | December 2, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

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