If Pete Buttigieg was auditioning for a TV gig, he appeared to have aced it
The already smudged line that separates show business and politics got a little blurrier Thursday night as former South Bend, Ind. mayor and presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg filled in for Jimmy Kimmel on the latter’s nightly ABC talk-variety show. While Buttigieg’s one-night stand was clearly a stunt on Kimmel’s part, the 38-year-old pol proved to be surprisingly sure-handed in the emcee’s role.
The most important revelation was how naturally and comfortably “Mayor Pete” slipped into the job. Performing in front of a sparse audience made up of show staffers and their guests—a situation occasioned, of course, by the continuing spread of Coronavirus—he was impressive in his lack of stiffness and self-consciousness.
As would any other late-night host, Buttigieg kicked things off with a comedy monologue that, although it contained the requisite dig at Donald Trump (he explained the many empty seats by saying, “If you don’t have an audience you have to fake one, just like President Trump’s inauguration”), the routine was mostly self-effacing. While he wasn’t quite Seinfeldian in his delivery, he did display a promising sense of timing as he threw out lines like, “A lot of people said I’d never get elected president. Well, I showed them” and--after a clip of Sarah Palin rapping on The Masked Singer while wearing a ridiculous pink costume—“That’s gonna be me in three months, isn’t it?”
He also scored by admitting he was the “first gay man in 30 years to wear pleated pants.”
His acknowledgment that he is currently unemployed led into a pre-taped sketch in which he prowled Hollywood Boulevard looking for a job in the small shops along that famous, but tacky, thoroughfare. Again, he seemed relaxed as he proudly recited to the short-tempered manager of a pretzel shop his credentials that include degrees from Harvard and Oxford universities, his military service and his victory in last month’s Iowa Caucuses.
After the opening-segment shenanigans, Buttigieg settled in behind the desk and welcomed his first guest, Star Trek avatar Sir Patrick Stewart. He made no effort to stop from sliding into fanboy mode (he admitted to being a “Trekkie” from childhood), but the two men’s banter was certainly no less engaging than it would have been had Kimmel been asking the questions.
The pair also engaged in a Star Trek-themed trivia contest (moderated by surprise guest LeVar Burton, Stewart’s Star Trek: The Next Generation castmate) that, while hardly a comedy classic, was certainly amusing enough. Buttigieg also did a yeoman’s job during his chat with Veep co-star Tony Hale.
Given Buttigieg’s youth and out-of-left-field ascendance to top-tier political rock star, it’s likely he will be a fixture on that scene for decades to come. But his Jimmy Kimmel Live stint absolutely proved he has what it takes to make it in the late-night TV arena.