Earlier this week it was announced that Pete Buttigieg would be hosting Jimmy Kimmel Live tonight. Now, a lot has happened since then—sports are cancelled, Tom Hanks has become the poster boy for the coronavirus, society itself seems perched on the edge in a way it hasn’t in any of our lifetimes—but we didn’t want the news about a former mayor of a town of 100,000 inexplicably hosting a late night talk show to pass without comment. And so here is that comment: who the hell wants to see Pete Buttigieg host a late night talk show, anyway?
We’re not talking about a comedian. We’re not talking about an actor. We’re not talking about any kind of entertainer. We’re talking about a politician, who ostensibly needs to be taken seriously if he ever hopes to win any elections. And not just any politician, but one who has gone out of his way to be about as boring as possible—one whose greatest impacts on the Democratic race were making sure the party’s platform tracked as closely as possible to a “center” that’s actually solidly right wing compared to almost every other western country, and then dropping out to help defeat the party’s left wing. He is calculatedly dull, intentionally devoid of personality or charisma, about as milquetoast as politicians come, and is widely referred to as a rat by a notable percentage of the population that would theoretically vote for his party’s candidate. Who wants to see this guy crack jokes and indulge in idle patter with Patrick Stewart and Buster from Arrested Development?
Maybe Buttigieg does have some untapped well of actual charisma that he studiously avoided during his presidential campaign. Maybe he’s good with a joke. Maybe he’s done with the whole politics thing and wants to move full-time into show business. Even if any of that was true, there’s still no reason to think that anybody, anywhere, was dying to see this guy host a talk show. Beyond the shock announcement that was guaranteed to get covered by the media, and a potential boost in ratings from people hoping to see a train wreck, it’s hard to see how this helps the Jimmy Kimmel show or ABC. It makes sense why Buttigieg would want to do it, if he’s successfully able to show America that he does actually have a personality, but it’s hard to see who else this show could be for. It’s not like all those volunteers and low-level staffers who had to dance to that Panic in the Disco song have any reason to tune in now that Buttigieg’s campaign is over.
Of course this is simply part of the winder trend of politics and entertainment commingling in increasingly obnoxious and embarrassing ways. Candidates and politicians mugging alongside whatever slumming celebrity got roped into playing them on Saturday Night Live is old hat and entirely expected now. It makes sense that hosting the late night talks shows would be the next frontier for politicians who want to signal that they’re cool and fun and not a lifeless skinsuit driven by whatever corporate donors tell them to do and say. Hell, if SNL will let a known bigot and sexist host en route to becoming the worst president in modern history, what do Kimmel or Buttigieg have to lose?
Perhaps Kimmel and his team have some surprises in store for tonight. Kimmel tries hard to position himself as the spiritual heir to David Letterman, and despite his many flaws Letterman generally didn’t suppress his distrust of politics and corporate America. It’s impossible to imagine Letterman letting any politician take over his show, especially one as bland and corporate as Buttigieg; perhaps, as a self-styled acolyte of Letterman, Kimmel might intend to undercut his guest host with the kind of cynicism and prankish irreverence that Letterman was known for at his peak. I mean, there’s almost no chance of that actually happening—Buttigieg will no doubt be involved in some lightly self-effacing jokes, but don’t expect the show to go hard at Mayor Pete. Inviting somebody on your show, and not just as a guest but as a host, only to then mock them with the rigor and bite that a Pete Buttigieg deserves, wouldn’t go over too well with the rest of the media and a huge chunk of the population. It’d be a terrible look for Kimmel and ABC, and divisive in a way that no show, even in our deeply divided culture, would want to approach.
No, Pete Buttigieg isn’t hosting Jimmy Kimmel Live tonight to be embarrassed. He’ll make a few good-natured jokes about himself, chat up some celebrities, and then probably wait for every clip to go viral. I doubt he’ll read all the YouTube comments and tweets about his performance himself, but he’ll probably have an aide, or maybe Chasten, sum them up for him. Kimmel and ABC will be watching closely to see if this ploy for ratings and attention works out, and mapping out how soon to repeat it with, say, Amy Klobuchar or Cory Booker. Somewhere in Texas Beto will play a sad, lonely bass solo while shedding a single tear about how he could’ve been the one to guest host a network late night talk show if he had only stuck it out longer. And the embarrassing, infantilizing, fawning relationship between Hollywood and Washington—the inherently unserious conflation of celebrity and politics that has conspired alongside partisan news sources to utterly destroy our country’s access to actual facts and its ability to process them—will continue apace.
Who wants to see Pete Buttigieg host Jimmy Kimmel Live? We have no idea. Check Paste tomorrow for all the clips, though.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.