6 Best Late Night Appearances By Presidential Candidates (So Far)

Posted: October 28, 2015 | By: Iowa Caucus Project Staff Tagged: Blog

Think you have what it takes to crack jokes with the next leader of the free world? These guys do. In election years, viewers will see almost as many candidates on Late Night and Saturday Night Live as they would on Meet the Press and Face The Nation. In the effort to reach a new audience, candidates try to endear themselves to voters by chatting with our favorite late-night talk show hosts. Below is a ranking of who did it best so far, taking into consideration the performances of both the candidates and the hosts. It’s been entertaining, as you’ll see, but the late-night parade is far from over in this campaign cycle.

6. Bernie Explains Himself

Views: 862,073

Sen. Sanders stays right on message to Seth Meyer’s audience of mostly young viewers, explaining what a democratic socialist is by explaining what a democratic socialist wants — universal healthcare, free public higher education, good childcare, and solid retirement benefits to name a few. Sprinkle in a few slams on the billionare class and you’ve got a typical Bernie speech. He didn’t say anything I hadn’t heard him say before but I imagine the goal with this appearance was to put him in front of an audience who didn’t know his position on these issues. He did fine, which puts him at No. 6.

5. Jeb Gets Some Help From Colbert

Views: 1,051,894

Go ahead and skip to about 2.30 on this one. After some lukewarm banter, Jeb gets a lifeline. Colbert prompts the candidate with some typical debate questions, which Jeb answers quickly and intelligently. Colbert then asks Jeb to up his game a bit and make his responses a little “Trump-ier.” Jeb then, reading off cue cards written by Colbert’s staff, counters with his best impression of some of the Donald’s more colorful sound bytes. The exchange helped Jeb sound more presidential than Trump and even seem sort of fun (which he has a difficulty pulling off sometimes).

4. Carly Tells Her Story

Views: 503,001

In Carly’s only late-night appearance so far, she does a nice job coming across as smart and approachable. After her standout performances in both debates, Jimmy sets her up to give her pitch to an audience who may not have been watching. She tells her rags to riches story and then juxtaposes herself to Ben Carson, the current frontrunner in Iowa, as someone who does not see religiosity as a prerequisite for good governing. Carson has done very well honing in on the GOP’s evangelical base, so we’ll see whether this move is a smart one for Carly. 

3. Hillary’s NBC Bender

Views: 2,266,590

Secretary Clinton revealed herself as an NBC darling the other week after she spoofed herself with Kate McKinnon in a sketch on SNL, introduced Miley Cyrus as the musical guest, and then spent the following morning answering questions and flipping pancakes during a town hall on the Today Show. It was quite a lot of airtime for one candidate on one network over the course of one weekend. While the sketch with McKinnon was essentially Clinton’s campaign platform thinly disguised as jokes, it was a funny bit and Clinton seemed at ease on camera.

2. Trump Gets Trumped

Views: 6,931,500

To no one’s surprise, Jimmy Fallon mimicking Donald Trump directly to Trump’s face made for good television. “How are you going to create jobs in this country?” asks a golden-haired Jimmy Fallon. “I’m just gonna do it,” replies Trump, shrugging off an actual question about his economic policy. Now, who knows how much of this was scripted and how much Trump improvised but, even while in character, Fallon seems a bit shocked by his guest’s flippant answers. Trump never really commits to the mirror bit and keeps mugging to the audience like he’s Jim Halpert with none of the charm. It’s a funny skit until I remember this man is running for president and doing pretty damn well. Then the whole thing becomes a bit disturbing.

1. An Emotional Joe

Views: 1,026,669

While it’s official that Joe will not be seeking his boss’s job, we get a glimpse here into his reasons why. In a touching interview with Colbert from early September, the video opens with the crowd chanting his name. “Careful what you wish for,” Biden responds playfully, winking at the audience. As the interview progresses it becomes clear that the vice president is in a tender position, dealing with the still-recent death of his son along with the daunting possibility of running for president. When Colbert asks point blank what his plans are, Biden foreshadows the decision we saw play out just this past week. He says if he runs for president he wants to do so with “his whole heart and whole soul” but doesn’t know that he’s quite there yet. Colbert is good-natured in his handling of an obviously rattled man and the rapport between the two men makes them both that much more endearing. We’re glad you made the right choice for you, Joe, but a Biden campaign would have been a lot of fun. Just imagine all the finger guns.


Katie Ramsey is a senior public relations major with a concentration in politics. She is a proud Iowan who watches too much SNL and is the only journalism student in recorded history without a coffee habit. Follow her on Twitter.