For Late-Night TV, Biden’s Age Is Indeed a Laughing Matter

If late-night television didn’t exist, Joe Biden would still be old.

Maybe not as relentlessly old, but definitely, actuarially, old. Late-night jokes do not create identifications for presidents and aspiring presidents. But they can assuredly cement them.

And for President Biden, his octogenarian status means, in late-night monologues, he walks (stiffly) in cement shoes.

“So staffers for Joe Biden are now searching everywhere he could’ve possibly left documents—his knapsack, his pill organizer under the arch at the 1904 World’s Fair.” Jimmy Kimmel

After a photo of Biden’s birthday cake aflame with candle-fire: “Quick question for the Democratic party. Is anybody in charge of PR? You want people to forget how old he is and you serve him up a cake that looks like a garbage can fire at a hobo camp?” Seth Meyers.

Biden impression: “Knock, Knock.” Audience: who’s there? Biden impression:

“Not sure, but he’s been standing silently in my doorway for a while now. He’s a pale fellow, big cloak, long sharp knife on a pole. Smiling right at me, great set of chompers. Look into his eye sockets and see a little movie about all the fun stuff I did when I was a kid.” Stephen Colbert.

And these are among Biden’s “friends in late night. Even when the jokes are framed more gently, the message—wow is this guy old—is inescapable, as when Jimmy Fallon did a Biden impression in a clever bit where Biden is trying to be a TikTok performer after Biden announced he was joining the youth-centric video sharing site:

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No hard feelings, apparently. Biden himself responded to Fallon’s mock a few days later—on TikTok, naturally—to say he enjoyed being made fun of.

But it still joined what is now an exhaustive list of Biden age jokes being told virtually nightly.

After Biden confused having talks with French President Emmanuel Macron with a deceased predecessor:

“You know how it is. You’re on a date with someone new, you go back to their place, things are getting pretty hot and heavy, and then, in a moment of passion, you suddenly scream out the name of the long-dead French President, Francois Mitterand.” Colbert.

Jimmy Kimmel celebrated Biden’s birthday in November with an audience quiz on whether he was older or younger than many long-familiar items. What we learned:  Biden is in fact older than the Slinky, Tupperware, and Betty Crocker cake mix; but younger than Corn Flakes and the bra. Unfortunately, Kimmel concluded, he is older than Kitty Litter.

The fusillade of age jokes clearly makes many Biden supporters, and Democratic operatives, uncomfortable because it seems to confirm something seen everywhere in polling in the current presidential race: age is an issue for a large percentage of voters, including traditional Democratic voting blocs like younger voters.

After Jon Stewart returned with fanfare to “The Daily Show” last month, he faced backlash from many who thought he was betraying the team by zeroing in on Biden’s joining TikTok, where the President touted the mother of Travis and Jason Kelce because she makes “great chocolate chip cookies.” Stewart: “How do you go on TikTok and end up looking older?”

Stewart had a reply to Democrat criticism the following week:

“I just think it’s better to deal head-on with what’s an apparent issue to people,” he said. “I have sinned against you, I’m sorry. It was never my intention to say out loud what I saw with my eyes and then brain.”

That could have stood in for the response for all late-night hosts who take what they see in the news, in the culture, in the ether, and turn it into comic takes. It’s what they do.

When Vice President Dan Quayle misspelled potato he was mocked repeatedly by Johnny Carson on the Tonight show. But that moment was only confirmation of his late-night persona (a bit of a dope), which had long-since been locked in.

If President Obama misspelled a word it would have been a one-night, one-joke event, because “dopey” was not his persona. “Aloof” was about as close as the joke writers came to giving him one, partly because he was skillful himself at humor, which he proved in multiple late-night appearances.

But Clinton as the libido-crazed hound, George W. Bush (“Strategery!”) as Texas-dense goofball, those were ongoing targets of opportunity.

No president in the late-night era (or likely ever) presented as many targets as Donald Trump, who generated almost too much comic fodder. He was ridiculous (“drink bleach!”), absurd (“I won the election!”), and menacing (“will be wild”) seemingly on a daily basis.

And there remains little doubt which candidate the main network late-night hosts favor, both by sheer volume of comic material and its eviscerating intent. Here was Colbert on the media’s obsession with polling over covering Trump’s egregious behavior and comments:

“The media is covering it like it’s any other political story. Like it’s all a horse race. But in this horse race, one of the horses is old—while one of the horses is old, has hoof-in-mouth mouth disease, and keeps quoting horse Hitler.”

About all Biden, or any President or candidate can do, is play along. Trump exacerbates his mustache-twirling villain persona by lashing out against the late-night hosts. John McCain is probably the best model for Biden because he embraced being, as he put it, “Old as dirt.” (He was ten years younger than Biden when he ran in 2008.)

Biden has a chance to have some fun with his age in the State of the Union Address tonight. And will again when he is likely to attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on April 27. He should be well-prepared. The host will be Colin Jost, who “anchors” the “Weekend Update” segment on late-night’s most popular show, Saturday Night Live.

Will Jost make jokes about Biden’s age? Ahem:

After Biden was declared “fit as a fiddle” following his annual physical, Jost joked last week that was because he is “Old-timey and held together by strings.”


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  1. Nan says:

    I faithfully watch Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen, Seth, and John Stewart. I find Jimmy Fallon’s age related jokes to be dumb and unrelated to President Biden’s behavior. Fallon’s jokes are just generic old people jokes. All of the others have jokes that relate to something that actually occurred and are funny. Jimmy Fallon’s writers are just lazy, and I guess they think his audience is less aware.

  2. Richard Sussman says:

    These late nite guys probably hate Trump. Most of their audience does. But as smart as they are, can’t see how creating an image issue for Biden can only help the other guy? Is a cheap laugh worth it?