Special briefing for Jacinda Ardern re Stephen Colbert on The Late Show

Forget the UN. Forget the Today show. The undeniable high point of the NZ prime minister’s trip to New York is her imminent appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. Lucky for her, Tim Lambourne has her back.

In 2013 I interviewed Jacinda Ardern on a late night comedy chat show. Three months later the show was cancelled, four years after that Jacinda became the prime minister, and on Wednesday night in the US (Thursday in NZ), one year after she ascended to the ninth floor of the Beehive, Jacinda Ardern will appear on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert – the number one rated late night comedy chat show in America and therefore the universe. Probably.

Are these things related? Did Jacinda’s appearance on U Late set in motion some kind of comedic, cosmic butterfly effect where she was destined to sit down on the couch inside the historic Ed Sullivan Theater?

No.

But, does this give me some kind of moral authority with which to write some research notes for our prime minister as she leaves the UN and makes her way to the Ed Sullivan Theater?

You bet your ass it does.

Politics with a capital P

When Colbert took over from David Letterman in 2015 he had to find himself on air. He had come from Comedy Central where he hosted The Colbert Report, spending each show in “personality dress up” as he did his best rightwing zealot impression. When he left niche cable Comedy Central and went to broad network CBS, he removed the mask and presented himself.

It took a minute.

The first year or so of the show, like any daily show, be it comedy or magazine, was not as good as the product now. Colbert has spoken in interviews about how the show evolved on a macro level, but most put it down to Colbert finding his own voice on the chaotic political scene around him, and more specifically, sharpening his claws and going after Trump in a way no other mainstream late night show host could (it was around this time that Blues Clues presenter/fellow late night host Jimmy Fallon invited candidate Trump on only to lob him soft ball questions and play with his hair).

Colbert now dissects everyone and everything around him with two razor sharp knives, one for comedy, but one for political normality and responsibility. He’s confronted Bill Clinton on his patronising comments on #MeToo, done monologues on his boss and friend Les Moonves’ sexual misconduct, and hasn’t taken his foot off the gas since about mid 2016. He must be very tired, but he’s also operating on a level like no one else in his class. He will know what a young, progressive, idealistic, leader working in a sea of demagogic strongmen and nationalism means for the western world right now, and expect him to engage on that.

Play to (y)our strengths

As anyone who has been lucky enough to travel outside of New Zealand knows, it’s always a conversational home-run every time you meet someone who has been down our way. More often than not they gush, they talk about where they went, they marvel at the scenery and the nice people.

Colbert is no different. He’s fawned over New Zealand on multiple occasions on his show, romanticising not just the scenery and the nice people, but also the lack of predators, and New Zealand’s eternal connection to Lord of the Rings, of which he is a huge fan (he even got a cameo in The Hobbit).

Know your history

In 2009 our then newly minted prime minister John Key wandered out onto The Late Show with David Letterman to himself present the Top 10 list, Letterman’s most famous segment. For those of us watching at home, he horrified liberal youngies and delighted conservative oldies as he awkwardly yet assuredly delivered a pretty well written if a little conventional packet of jokes centered around the premise Top 10 Reasons to Visit New Zealand.

There were plays on Kiwi slang, sarcastic lambastes of our geographic isolation and digs at Lindsay Lohan – 2009 this surely was. Thankfully this time the PM is appearing on the couch for a real interview, and not as your awkward uncle telling jokes at Christmas lunch.

The T word

Colbert handles Trump better than any other late night host right now. Colbert knows how to talk about him without taking the obvious shots, but he also knows that Jacinda is in a pretty unique place to offer an opinion and in doing so create a beautiful comedic moment.

Trump will come up. I didn’t pay enough attention in politics class to know what she’s supposed to do here … I guess she’s supposed to act diplomatic? But, well, you know, fuck Trump.


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