Late night with President Obama

US President Barack Obama with television host Jimmy Kimmel during a break in the taping of the Jimmy Kimmel Live! show.
US President Barack Obama with television host Jimmy Kimmel during a break in the taping of the Jimmy Kimmel Live! show.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • When you are nearing the end of eight years in a demanding and stressful job, what do you do for enjoyment?

If you are United States President Barack Obama, you hit the late-night talk shows. During the past few weeks, he has turned up on four of these programmes - The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee and Real Time With Bill Maher. For Mr Obama, who no longer has to worry about re-election, the appearances have been chances to cut loose (in an orderly and often scripted manner, of course) and to encourage viewers to vote.

Here, the people behind the shows talk about how they offered Mr Obama a stop on his victory lap.

The Late Show With Stephen Colbert Segment: Explaining that a "friend of this show" needed help transitioning to a new career, Colbert set up a filmed sketch in which he met Mr Obama at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Stepping momentarily off camera, Colbert returned (wearing a fake moustache) as an unctuous office manager named Randy, who conducted a practice job interview with the President.

Obama said: "I'm leaving because it's required by the 22nd Amendment of the United States Constitution."

Randy replied: "Okay, little tip. When you say staying at your job would be unconstitutional, what employers hear is that you stole office supplies."

How it happened: Given about 20 minutes with Mr Obama during the White House Frontiers Conference, Colbert opted for a comedy segment rather than a formal interview. While the White House requested some mention of the importance of voting, The Late Show supplied the jokes and Mr Obama executed them all.

"A lot of politicians are so eager to win over an audience that they'll tell a joke and then look around the room, laugh, then see if anyone's laughing," said Opus Moreschi, a Late Show head writer.

"They're too eager for the room to love them. He can play it cool, have a slow burn and nail a good punch line. "

Jimmy Kimmel Live! Segment: In a signature Jimmy Kimmel Live! comedy bit, Mr Obama read and responded to mean tweets directed at him, including one from a certain @realdonaldtrump, who wrote: "President Obama will go down as perhaps the worst president in the history of the United States!"

"At least, I will go down as a president," a deadpan Mr Obama said to the camera. In a desk-side interview with Kimmel, he discussed some of the quotidian aspects of the presidency (like having an on-call dentist) and learning about Snapchat from his daughter Sasha.

How it happened: The staff spent weeks brainstorming questions and comedy segments when it learnt that Mr Obama would be available on a swing through Los Angeles. Mean Tweets was approved by the White House partly for its efficiency: Mr Obama recorded the segment in a single take.

Full Frontal With Samantha Bee Segment: Bee spoke to Mr Obama at Miami Dade College in Florida in a room decorated for Halloween. Their chat covered strategies for reaching apathetic or discouraged young voters. When Bee asked the president for "a spooky story about what happens if people don't vote", Mr Obama replied: "Donald Trump could be president."

How it happened: Rather than choreograph a comedy sketch with Mr Obama, Full Frontal wanted to emphasise Bee's skills as an interviewer. Jo Miller, an executive producer, acknowledged that there was "a lot of back and forth" over the script with White House staff members, who wanted to emphasise a get- out-the-vote message.

Real Time With Bill Maher Segment: Having waged a campaign of nearly eight years (and donated US$1 million to Mr Obama's re-election effort in 2012), Maher, the most overtly political of his fellow hosts, at last got his interview, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Maher brought up many of his favourite topics - marijuana legalisation; tolerance for atheists - and asked why the US continues to have such a large worldwide troop presence and a seemingly ravenous defence budget.

(He also playfully took issue with Mr Obama's description of himself as "an ex-smoker". "I thought I caught a wink there," Maher told the President.)

How it happened:Maher said the President revealed why he had finally agreed to an interview: "He said, 'Persistence - that's how I got Michelle to marry me'," Maher recounted.

Mr Obama's staff asked for "a very brief outline about the areas I wanted to get into", Maher said, but did not reject any questions or topics, and only requested that the Affordable Care Act be discussed.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2016, with the headline 'Late night with President Obama'. Subscribe