A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that the first episode of the new season of Jerry Seinfeld's web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, would premiere on December 30 with President Barack Obama as the guest. At 11:30 PM last night, it went live.
The episode is hugely entertaining. And not surprisingly, longer than most, running about 20 minutes. The video begins with a particularly long description of the car they'll be driving in -- in part because it's an especially-impressive Corvette, but in part I suspect to build up the anticipation. And there are other differences, too -- like the whole, usual premise of driving around town to go out to a coffee shop. That takes a slightly, and entertainingly-different turn.
Obviously, this chat isn't centered on any policy discussion, but it's quite interesting on its own terms. Seinfeld does an extremely nice job dealing with the President in a very personal way, asking several unexpected questions that bring out a very conversational side, making this much more than just a Q&A interview. In fact, it all becomes so informal that at one point Mr. Obama turns the tables and starts questioning Seinfeld. ("Oh, good," the surprised comedian quips, "because you haven't worked yet.") Indeed, in the introduction, Seinfeld references Mr. Obama's qualification of being able to fall under the heading of "comedian." And not shockingly here's plenty of good humor throughout -- including from the president. Furthermore, it's not remotely just fawning over the Chief Executive. Seinfeld, after all, is a sharp, quick comedian and snarky enough to get some pointed comments in. (I particularly liked his thoroughly-unguarded reaction when they discuss how one spends their time after your main life's work comes to an end.) My favorite moment though comes very near the beginning: I won't give it away, but will just say that it concerns an apple, and a comment Seinfeld makes which cracks up the president.
You also get a look at the White House from a perspective the public rarely sees. This is no small thing, I found that part actually quite fascinating. You really gets a sense of the grandeur of the building, it seeming at times as much a palace as a "mere" mansion.
Stick around after the commercial at the very end. There's a short, amusing addendum.
I have no doubt that there will be some who'll criticize this for being a waste of the presidential time with so many serious things going on in the world. I also suspect these are the same people who would criticize the president for whatever it was he did about handling those serious things instead of spending time on this appearance. To a certain degree, Seinfeld and the president do address his appearance here to justify it, in a very small way. (Like when a president has gone on a talk show to not just be entertaining, but also build public support for some proposal.) Was it the best use of time for a President of the United States? Probably not, though looking behind the curtain and seeing an low-key, informal, personal side of the head of the country isn't without its benefits. I would also suspect that all presidents do have periods when they are, in fact, free to unwind and do some personal things like this. (After all, when we see "news stories" of a president go to a store to buy holiday gifts, as occasionally happens, that doesn't appear to be a high matter of state.) They just usually aren't recorded on film. Is this any less worthy of a president's relaxation time than watching a basketball game or playing golf? And clearly, if there wasn't the available time when this could be reasonably done, it simply wouldn't have been.
And in the end, it's very well-done, thoughtful, and very entertaining. If it felt forced, it would be a far more questionable undertaking. But this comes across as seamless. Which is impressive, because I'm sure it's anything but.
I can't embed the video, but you can watch it here.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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