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CNN Today

Political Comedian Mark Russell Looks at Election 2000

Aired March 2, 2000 - 1:38 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Last night's debate between Al Gore and Bill Bradley attracted more than two million viewers, but late-night network talk shows can draw four, five million viewers or more, and that's where we found the two Republican presidential candidates last night. George W. Bush appeared on "The Late Show With David Letterman." John McCain answered Jay Leno's questions on "The Tonight Show." Besides providing a big audience, the Letterman and Leno shows offer presidential candidates a chance to show their lighter side.

We've invited a master at political humor to take a look at all this with us. Mark Russell has been making public television audiences laugh about politics for a quarter of a century, joins us from Washington.

Hello, Mark.

MARK RUSSELL, POLITICAL COMEDIAN: Hi, Lou.

WATERS: You look bright and perky. Did you stay up late and watch any of that last night?

RUSSELL: Yes, I did. I thought the big laughs were on the debate.

You know, the risky thing for Bush was to appear on satellite, because it gave me the impression that Letterman was using him as a shameless prop, and so Bush had to struggle and fight to get his two- and-a-half jokes in, and I was kind of disappointed that Bush left out his two biggest jokes, his domestic policy and his fortune policy.

WATERS: I felt the same way about the satellite business. For those folks who did not get a chance to see any of this, let's run a little bit of George Bush with Letterman, and then we'll talk about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "The Late Show With David Letterman")

DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST: I know that campaigning is difficult work. How do you look so youthful and rested?

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Fake it.

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN: And that's pretty much how you're going to run the country?

(LAUGHTER)

Yes! Yes!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "The Late Show with David Letterman")

LETTERMAN: Are you tired of this world leaders situation where the guy in Boston asked you the quiz about the world leaders? Are you tired of that.

BUSH: No.

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN: You want to try one more?

BUSH: You know -- you know why? My mother...

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: Hey, David?

LETTERMAN: I'm going to try on one more, one more here, governor.

BUSH: Well, Let me say something about -- let me say something about that world leaders deal. My mother raised me not to show off. I didn't let her down.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATERS: Well, that was kind of funny, but I -- was there a satellite delay there or something?

RUSSELL: I know. It looked like he was in Beirut, didn't it? I mean -- and then -- and so McCain, now, McCain was with Leno so it's a little more intimate, you don't have that awkward delay there, and the line that everybody keeps picking up on -- I don't know, it escapes me -- but McCain said that if he's president he will install a barbecue pit behind the White House I guess as opposed to being burned at the stake by the Christians if he's -- keep him from getting elected.

(LAUGHTER)

WATERS: Let's take a took a look at little bit at McCain and we'll talk some more about that. Here's John McCain:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno")

JAY LENO, TALK SHOW HOST: Now, your critics will sometimes say you're very -- you're very confrontational... SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes.

LENO: ... with the other senators. Do you consider yourself a confrontational guy?

MCCAIN: Not at all...

LENO: Not at all?

MCCAIN: .. every year -- every year in the Senate I win Ms. Congeniality.

LENO: Really?

MCCAIN: Yes, it's usually a unanimous vote, especially when I attack their latest pork barrel project, you know, that they sneak in there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno")

MCCAIN: In Sacramento the other day a guy showed up with a sign: "Hippies for McCain." You know you're on the verge of victory when you have "Hippies for McCain."

LENO: Now you see, that's the kind of thing -- doesn't that frighten the hell out of all the conservatives: Oh my God, "Hippies for McCain," oh my God. I mean, doesn't that -- does that frighten them away?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATERS: There's John McCain with -- why do these guys do this?

RUSSELL: Well, they have to do these show. It's a rite of passage ever since Bill Clinton played the saxophone on the Arsenio show. But humor, Lou, is a weapon that in the wrong hands -- I mean, by and large over the years most politicians couldn't adlib a belch at a Hungarian banquet, but they have to do these shows, they must do these shows. But what we're going to see, I mean, you're going to see that Gore's running mate will be Bradley and Bush's running mate will be McCain and then the joke will be on us.

(LAUGHTER)

WATERS: Well, this is certainly lighted up my day.

There are folks at the -- what is this, the Center for Media and Public Affairs keeping track of this stuff, so someone apparently thinks this funny business should be taking -- taken seriously. Do you know who's on the top of the list for the most jokes?

RUSSELL: Well, it's always the president, whoever the president is. WATERS: Right. Just below that is the first lady and just below that is George W. Bush, and that's why I ask why do these guys do that. Letterman has been calling Bush a boob for months and then Bush goes on with Letterman.

RUSSELL: Yes, they don't mind. They don't mind. They are without shame, without shame. The -- Hillary -- what -- you know, I can't tell you how refreshing it is, they have a first lady who is fair game. For years, oh no, no, no, no, they were on a pedestal, and so she arrives up there at the house in that little town in New York, Chappaqua, Chappaqua, an Indian word meaning carpet bagger, and so it's been a lot of fun.

(LAUGHTER)

WATERS: I saw Leno the other night praying that Ross Perot world be getting in the race. Do you think this -- this race is good for guys like you or...

RUSSELL: Yes, but obvious -- we all wanted Perot. At the time we thought we needed the material. But Perot still the image of looking like a little guy dangling from a charm bracelet. But it would -- this will be all right. I mean, no -- no president ever let us down as far as humor is concerned. But they've got to watch that humor, because when McCain the other day, he was quoted, he was McCain calls Pat Robertson evil, well, he said, no, no, no, no, it was a light-hearted analogy at the evil forces of Star Wars. Well, people, they don't see it that way. God got the joke, so he held off on the bolt of lightning.

(LAUGHTER)

WATERS: How about Bradley-Gore? What do you think?

RUSSELL: Well...

WATERS: Not too funny?

RUSSELL: Well, what they were -- live at the Apollo! You know, you couldn't -- you couldn't make that up. Live at the Apollo in Harlem, and if those walls could talk, they would say, get us BB King.

WATERS: Mark Russell, what have you got coming up? Are you going to dazzle with...

RUSSELL: I am on the road. I'm going out to California. I'm just stalking these guys, and...

WATERS: Taking notes.

RUSSELL: Taking notes, and always living here in Washington for the same reason a coal miner lives near the shaft.

WATERS: Well, happy silver anniversary on public television.

RUSSELL: Thank you. WATERS: We always enjoy immensely.

RUSSELL: Thank you, Lou.

WATERS: Thank you very much, Mark Russell in Washington.

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