On Tuesday Jeb Bush became the first declared candidate in the 2016 presidential race to visit “The Tonight Show,” where he slow-jammed the news with Jimmy Fallon and proved that on the road to the White House, a sense of humor can be at least as valuable as a famous last name.
Bush, who formally announced his candidacy Monday in Miami, played the straight man in the recurring bit, which spoofs sexy R&B ballads. As house band the Roots played a sultry beat, the two-term Florida governor touted his record of job creation and shared his views on immigration — in both English and Spanish.
Fallon, doing his best Barry White impression, and Black Thought, lead singer for the Roots, chimed in with innuendo-laden jokes about Bush’s “long and hard” decision to run for president and his reputation as a “master debater.” Bush kept it clean but seemed to appreciate the PG-13 humor.
Slow-jamming the news has become an unlikely rite of passage for politicians looking to make an impression with voters, particularly the younger ones more likely to watch and share viral clips on YouTube than tune in to “Meet the Press.” President Obama became the first politician to take part in the segment on "Late Night” before an audience of students at the University of North Carolina in 2012. Mitt Romney and Gov. Chris Christie have since followed suit.
Despite the precedent, it was a bold way for Bush to reintroduce himself to the American public after spending much of the last eight years out of the spotlight — especially given the slightly bawdy nature of the punchlines.
Of course, Bush was there to do more than simply goof around, and he returned later in the show for an extensive if not exactly probing interview.
Fallon, a host with little taste for confrontation, stuck to softball questions about the origins of Bush’s first name (his initials), his recipe for guacamole (spicy, no peas) and his thoughts on the Paleo diet (“Tough, but you lose weight”).
Bush also fondly recalled meeting Columba, his wife of 41 years, while on an exchange program in Mexico as a teenager. It was “love at first sight,” he recalled, even though neither of them spoke the other’s language at the time. (Now they mostly use Spanish at home, he said.)
In the most pointed question of the evening, Fallon asked Bush about how he planned to distinguish himself from the two former presidents in his family.
“My dad is the most perfect man I’ve ever met,” he said of 91-year-old George H.W. Bush, president from 1989 to 1993. “He’s the greatest man alive, so how could I possibly even worry about that? There’s no comparison.”
And what about his brother, a deeply polarizing figure who left the White House in 2009?
Well, Bush said, he’s “a significantly better artist than I am.”
How do you say “backhanded compliment” in Spanish?
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