I’m a talk show host, not a candidate for President of the United States. I don’t pretend to know what works and what doesn’t on the campaign trail. All I have are my gut instincts. And now that Mitt Romney appears to be the Republican nominee, my gut tells me he’d better be ready to figure out pop culture.
Listen, I know how much it frustrates people who are paying attention to the state of things in this country when I say “hipness” matters. But, it kinda does. No, I don’t think the 18- to 24-year-old set is going to tip the scales in this election. Historically, they never have. They’re the only constituency President Obama has left. That might not even be true with the rate of joblessness and debt among them.
Still, you’re going to see a lot of Obama on college campuses with artificial “We love you” squeals and “I love you back” replies. Pep rallies before kids, visits on comedy shows like Jimmy(s) Fallon and Kimmel, appearances on ESPN—it’s all designed to permeate that portion of our electorate that’s not paying attention to big issues.
I wish I could tell you Mitt Romney shouldn’t have to lower himself. I wish I could tell you there’s more of us than there are of them who will show up to vote this fall. But I can’t.
So, should Mitt Romney agree to host Saturday Night Live? Not just appear in a segment—host the whole show. The invite has been made. The Romney camp is considering it. Overwhelmingly, those who have reached out to me on this issue said, “No! Don’t do it! It’s a trap! Don’t lower yourself!”
The fear is understandable. The reasons are many. The NBC-produced show is openly hostile to conservatives. They can barely bring themselves to make Obama a soft punch line. Additionally, Romney’s stiff, wooden, and appears uncomfortable in his own skin at times. They’ll make him look bad, some fear.
It is for these reasons I say he should do the show. The upsides far outweigh the negatives. Here’s why. The public perception of Romney, justifiably or not, is that he’s a rich, stiff, out-of-touch “square.” OK, so tackle it head-on. It was the greatest defense mechanism I ever learned in school. Have fun at your expense before someone else can.
Acknowledge the light in which you’ve been cast. Beat them to the punch line. Once you’ve done it, you’ve neutralized the caricature. This means Romney must do the sketches making him look like a 1950s sitcom dad or Thurston Howell III.
I can hear you now. “But Chris, what if the sketches bomb? He’ll look bad.” As opposed to what? If you accept the already-cast narrative of “the real Mitt Romney,” how could it get worse? Worst case is we confirm it’s true: He’s “stiff and unhip.” At a minimum, he’s still publicly acknowledging it. It’s still neutralizing.
But that’s just part of my thinking. Let me be clear, the Romney campaign CANNOT just walk into 30 Rock for a week of rehearsals and just read any and all scripts written for them by the SNL writers. They must be on the offensive, and they must reserve the right to say “no” to certain jokes and offer suggestions for others.
Those are the terms. And those terms are non-negotiable. Remember, SNL wants Romney to host because they know the tune-in factor will be high. In other words, they NEED him. That means he holds some of the cards.
I don’t mean Romney should try to control everything and avoid being the butt of jokes. The opposite is true. Within reason, as explained, Romney must be willing to take some shots as a strategy. Here’s the BUT. Romney’s team must enter this show with people on his side. As absurd as it may sound, team Romney may want to hire comedy writers—and they must INSIST some of the sketches in which Romney is featured make Obama and the opposition the punch line.
Simply put, Romney needs people around him who help him both take punches and land punches in the writers’ room. It is imperative that in a 90-minute comedy show Romney comes off as connected to pop culture and aware of the public perception about him. At the same time, he must have quality comedy that highlights the ineffective mess that is the administration of President Obama.
There is plenty to make fun of when writing about the two men in this race. Romney can have fun with both—if he has someone close to him helping navigate the pop-culture waters.