Before introducing his first guest on Monday night’s Late Show With Stephen Colbert, the talk show host described Sen. John McCain as “one of the elder statesmen in the Senate, as well as one of the youngest people in Arizona.”
True to form, McCain—who is a spry 78—unburdened himself of a couple of old chestnuts after loping over to shake hands with cello virtuoso Yo-Yo Ma, who was sitting in with the band, and then settling into the chair next to Colbert’s big desk.
Old Chestnut No. 1: “After I lost [as the Republican presidential nominee who was shellacked by Barack Obama in 2008], I slept like a baby: Sleep two hours, wake up and cry; sleep two hours wake up and cry.”
“Uh huh,” Colbert replied, in a tone of voice suggesting a smidgeon of incredulity that McCain would even dare to pry that one out of mothballs.
Old Chestnut No. 2: “I landed at LaGuardia Airport and a guy came up to me and said, ‘Anybody ever tell you, you look a lot like Sen. John McCain?’ ‘Yeah.’ 'Doesn’t that sometimes make you mad as heck?’”
Colbert, laughing goofily, graciously humored McCain, who, facing reelection for his sixth term in the Senate next year, is something of a chestnut himself.
But, God love him, he’s an amusing old coot.
Indeed, McCain got off at least one killer ad lib, when Colbert tried to draw him out on his reaction to losing the presidency.
“If you had won...” he began, and McCain cut him off: “I wouldn’t be on this show”—scoring a hearty laugh not only from his target but, more significantly, from the studio audience.
In the so-called serious portion of McCain’s late-night appearance, he repeated his criticisms of the Obama administration’s nuclear containment deal with Iran, claiming it doesn’t have sufficient verification safeguards and gives a top adversary of the United States an extra $100 billion to wreak havoc and terror in the Middle East; McCain denied Secretary of State John Kerry’s argument (stated last week on Colbert’s show, along with every other public venue), that it was either a deal or war.
Colbert didn’t mention that it was McCain, at a town hall meeting during the 2008 primary campaign, who tried to mine humor out of crooning a Beach Boys parody: “Bomb bomb bomb. Bomb bomb Iran.”
Colbert also expressed appropriate skepticism when McCain recommended that the Pentagon redeploy “a couple thousand troops”—or “boots on the ground,” as the two kept saying, as though discussing an unruly sample sale—to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and as well as reverse Obama administration plans to withdraw from the lethal chaos of Afghanistan.
Predictably, McCain—who is perhaps the Republican Party’s leading grownup these days—could only roll his eyes when Colbert asked, in a tone of alarm, what was happening with the GOP. The senator joked that the largely African-American members of Jon Batiste’s house band, Stay Human, must be Donald Trump supporters.
McCain pointed out that at this same period during the previous presidential election cycle, Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann were trading the frontrunner position.
And how did the Bachmann-Cain administration do? Colbert asked facetiously.
“A helluva lot better than this one!” McCain shot back—prompting more than a smattering of boos from the studio audience, who clearly took issue with the senator’s ungenerous assessment of the current commander in chief.
“Making friends with John McCain!” a delighted Colbert crowed. “Hey, come over to John McCain’s barbecue! ‘Your kid’s ugly!’”
After eight minutes, the segment was over—a rare case of leaving the audience wanting more.