https://thehill.com/blogs/in-the-know/3515223-biden-readies-for-balancing-act-in-first-late-night-sit-down/

President Biden is making his late-night TV debut as commander in chief, but all signs point to his first in-studio appearance not being a typical, lighthearted opportunity to yuk it up. 

While Biden had been a regular on late-night couches throughout his political career and on the campaign trail, his Wednesday sit-down with Jimmy Kimmel will be the first face-to-face interview of his presidency on one of the comedy shows. He appeared virtually on NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” in December. 

Biden will tape his “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” interview this week during a swing through California. The year-and-a-half gap between taking office and hitting the late-night circuit in person is much longer than his most recent Democratic predecessor. Former President Obama appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” in March 2009, just two months after his inauguration. 

“The reality is that Joe Biden came to office with an immensely long list of challenges: From COVID, to instability in eastern Europe, to trying to bring the country together after Jan. 6,” said Stephen Farnsworth, co-author of the book “Late Night with Trump: Political Humor and the American Presidency.” 

“It’s certainly a good idea for President Biden to appear on late-night television, but one can certainly understand why he didn’t rush to do so, given everything else that consumed the first year of the Biden presidency,” Farnsworth said. 

Since John F. Kennedy famously became the first presidential candidate to enter the late-night landscape — appearing on “Tonight Starring Jack Paar” in 1960 — politicians have strategically used such bookings to connect with audiences who might not be laser focused on what’s going on in Washington. 

Late-night viewers aren’t always “as reflexively partisan on one side or another,” said Farnsworth, and tend to skew younger. 

But Amy Bree Becker, an associate professor and associate chair of Loyola University Maryland’s Department of Communication, said in the wake of the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she expects Biden’s visit to Kimmel’s set to go light on the usual comedic back-and-forth. 

“It’s going to have a more serious tone, especially given everything that’s going on,” Becker said. “The tone of the conversation and the tenor is going to matter.” 

Kimmel is offering a similar forecast. 

“Well, I’ll have a lot of questions for him. Obviously, there are a lot of terrible things going on,” the ABC host told “Extra” this week when asked to give a preview of his Biden chat. 

“So, it’ll be more serious than it would typically be,” he predicted. 

“The biggest question would be: Should we move?” Kimmel, 54, quipped. 

Becker said Kimmel’s impassioned plea for “commonsense gun laws” a day after the Texas school attack could have played a role in Biden’s team choosing his show for the president’s first in-studio late-night foray. 

Last month, Kimmel railed against Republicans as he spoke through tears directly to the camera.  

“Our cowardly leaders just aren’t listening to us,” he said. “They’re listening to the [National Rifle Association], they’re listening to those people who write them checks, who keep them in power.” 

Biden, however, likely would’ve found a favorable audience anywhere on late night. 

After making headlines as a guest on Fallon’s and Kimmel’s shows as a GOP White House hopeful during his 2016 presidential campaign, former President Trump famously eschewed the formats while in office. Trump was a favorite target for the late-night hosts, with Kimmel, Stephen Colbert and company frequently devoting their nightly monologues to mocking the 45th president. 

Becker said while Kimmel was a fierce critic of Biden’s predecessor, Wednesday’s interview likely won’t be the comedian simply chucking softballs at the commander in chief. 

“There’s still a lot of frustration that things aren’t happening in Washington. And so I think that if the economy was in better shape, had we seen more policy change, it would [be] even more friendly of an interview,” Becker told ITK. 

While late-night TV can give presidents the chance to present themselves as more likable, the appearances aren’t without their pitfalls. A potential Biden gaffe wouldn’t make for the best optics during a pandemic and amid decidedly unfunny domestic issues and international conflict. 

But Farnsworth, a political science and international affairs professor at the University of Mary Washington, said, “That combination of mostly discussion and humor is exactly why these shows are appealing to presidents. It’s a chance to connect with voters in a less formal way.” 

“It seems likely that Biden’s appearance will include a significant amount of policy discussion, and that will involve the key issues of the moment: the issues of guns, inflation and Ukraine, above all,” Farnsworth said. 

“It won’t just be a laughfest, given the state of the world.”

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