Appearing on The Tonight Show, the New Jersey governor inched carefully back into a world that’s historically been kind to him—and took his first step toward a comeback.
A gyrating Jimmy Fallon was greeted on stage Thursday by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The pair, dressed alike in ill-fitting khakis and tucked-in polo shirts, performed a Father’s Day-appropriate skit titled “The Evolution of Dad Dancing.” With every off-rhythm shift of his increasingly-smaller body, Christie inched himself closer to being back in the good graces of the national media, whose warmth had historically—that is, before Bridgegate—insulated him from meaningful criticism.
The fatherly-duo did their best dad-at-a-family-wedding moves: the “Belt Grabber,” the “Lawn Mower,” the “Oh, Stop It! I’m Not Embarrassing You!”, the “Passionate Elliptical,” the “Don’t Make Me Turn This Car Around!” and many more, finishing with the “This Bridge Is Closed.”
Christie sat out the “This Bridge Is Closed,” putting on faux outrage and comically storming off the stage, before returning to dance gleefully to Springsteen once again.
Humor has long served as a weapon for the governor. He uses it to dismiss hecklers and distract from bad news in the Garden State. His months-long hiatus from late night, following Bridgegate, meant that for the first time since his arrival in Trenton, Christie was forced to sit on the sidelines as he found himself on the receiving end of devastating roasts.
In January, mere days after the release of documents that directly linked Christie’s office to what appeared to be politically-motivated lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, Fallon sang a song with Bruce Springsteen, Christie’s idol.
Fallon, dressed as The Boss in sunglasses, a red bandana, and a cut-off denim vest, took to the mic in front of his studio audience to perform a rendition of “Born To Run”: “In the day we sweat it out on the streets, stuck in traffic in the GWB,” he crooned in a Springsteen-mumble. “They shut down the toll booths of glory ‘cause we didn’t endorse Christie.”
Springsteen then emerged from the shadows, dressed identically to Fallon.
“I’m stuck in Governor Chris Christie’s Fort Lee, New Jersey traffic jam,” he wailed, in place of, “tramps like us, baby, we were born to run.” Christie’s notoriously long Bridgegate press conference, Springsteen sang, “was longer than one of my own [famously long] damn shows.”
The bit stung, and Christie (despite being warned ahead of time by Fallon via Twitter direct message) reportedly couldn’t bring himself to watch it.
It was also a sharp shift: fat jokes aside, Christie had always been received warmly on late night. Christie had appeared on Fallon, where he “slow-jammed the news,” and on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he discussed hurricane Sandy recovery efforts and debated the Republican philosophy in an extended interview. Uncomfortably seated in a too-small chair on The Late Show with David Letterman, he famously ate a donut in defiance of Letterman’s weight digs. “I didn’t know this was going to be this long,” Christie said, fiddling with a napkin. It was during that appearance that Letterman endorsed Christie, telling him, “You know what? I love you being Governor of New Jersey.”
Late night was good for Christie. Before Bridgegate, the national media had all-but-endorsed the him, and it had real impact in the Garden State: despite a crumbling economy, increased fees and property taxes, and sometimes eyebrow-raising use of taxpayer funds, his approval rating stood at an astonishing 70 percent ahead of his reelection.
The late night love has historically infuriated Democrats. One anti-Christie group released a commercial in 2013, warning voters that no matter how funny Christie was on talk shows, his record was anything but. Ahead of Christie’s appearance on Fallon Thursday, the PAC American Bridge made an ad about Christie’s “comedy of errors,” and the DNC sent out a press release reminding recipients “how Christie’s conduct made the state a national embarrassment.”
It’s never fazed the Gov much.
The scandal off his shoulders and a significant amount of weight off his his body, the Christie the national media fell in love with appears to be back. The power of his personality has always been his greatest political strength, and to stand a chance at running for the Republican nomination in 2016 with his state’s economy in ruins and another scandal brewing with his pension plan, a little bit of humor will go a long way.