Our Presidential Candidates on Talk Shows: Who Does Better?

| Fri Apr. 4, 2008 8:24 PM EDT

Recently, our three major presidential candidates have made high-profile appearances on TV talk shows, with varying results. Does an ability to share easy jokes and gentle ribbing with our nation's nighttime sleep-inducers and afternoon time-wasters correlate to success in the polls? Let's take a look at some clips and see who's best at the gabfests.

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First up, Hillary Clinton appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno last night:

Entry Music: Theme from Rocky, not bad
Best attempt at self-mockery: "I was worried I wasn't going to make it; I was pinned down by sniper fire." Funny, but almost too funny, and a little creepy: is a Lewinsky joke next?
Worst try at comedy: "Every night someone calls at 3am… [to Jay] you gotta stop calling me." Hmm, guess her writers are still on strike.
General demeanor: Amiable, with some good applause lines, but a little desperate-seeming. The extended policy speeches can get a little boring. And for God's sake, have a lozenge!

Next, it's John McCain on Letterman on Tuesday, trading some wacky comedy one-liners like they're on a roast or something:

Entry Theme: Is that Spanish? Is Paul having an immigration-themed laugh?
Best attempt at self-mockery: None, really, although letting Dave have the line about how McCain's got "wiry hair growing out of new places" is something I guess.
Best line: While all the jokes are cute enough, it's the little details that make McCain a real comedian, like the deadpan "You think that stuff's pretty funny dontcha," when he comes out, and a quick impression of Dave's hands-in-pockets posture.
Worst moment: The too-wide, pleased-with-himself grin after the "mostly kept to himself" joke.
General demeanor: Pretty swell, but a minute-long writer-fed appearance isn't too tough to pull off.

And finally, it's Barack Obama on the View last week:

Entry Music: Generic View walk-on theme; can't we get some Motown or something?
Best attempt at self-mockery: The oldie but goodie, "I'm skinny but I'm tough."
Cutest moment: Fanning himself after Barbara Walters tells him he's "sexy."
Worst moment: His stuttering open to another labored Wright explanation; just write an opening line on your hand or something.
General demeanor: Friendly enough, but despite his charisma, he's not at his best when answering tough questions.

So, who wins? Clinton matched her tone exactly to Leno's middle-of-the-road flip-flop-wearing audience, and her alleged sense of humor came across for once. Obama's charming, but he's hobbled by the Wright stuff here, and isn't on his game. McCain's brief appearance is the most likable, and while it's probably unfair to judge it against two 20-minute sit-downs, there's something to be said for knowing your limitations. It's kind of symbolic: as Hillary and Barack try to out-talk each other, McCain can swing by with a quick chuckle, and everybody goes, "I like that guy." So while some may argue the continued Democratic battle is good for the party, in TV talk-show-land, it might not be.