Governor Tom Vilsack carried a stuffed toy duck onstage for his appearance tonight on a late-night comedy show. Vilsack gave the duck — which was wearing a pin that read: “#1 Vilsack fan” — to Jon Stewart. He’s the comedian who hosts “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central.
“Ladies and gentleman, this is so exciting. It’s the kickoff show of the presidential season. The first presidential candidate of the 2008 season will be here,” Stewart said to begin the show. “His name is, uh, uh, oh…”
An announcer then said, in a deep voice: “Governor Tom Vilsack, Democrat of Iowa.” The crowd in the studio laughed as the figure of a duck popped in and out on the side of the screen to match the voice.
“Come on duck,” Stewart said. “Don’t play me like that.”
The voice — and the duck’s image — came back on and squawked “Vilsack” in the tone used in that Aflac commercial. “Thank you,” Stewart replied. “That’s my duck.”
After Vilsack announced he was running for president, Stewart’s satirical news program began putting a picture of a duck on the screen when airing stories about the governor. Vilsack decided to use his appearance on the show to thank Stewart for the effort. “For you, Jon,” Vilsack said, handing a white gift bag to Stewart. “Thank you,” Stewart said. “Is this my Kwanza gift?”
As Stewart removed the duck from the bag, the crowd laughed and applauded. “I’d wait until you got back in your dressing room to squeeze it,” Vilsack advised.
Stewart told Vilsack to “settle down” and then the comedian squeezed the duck, which emitted an “Aflac.”
“So you are not going to run away from duck-related humor,” Stewart observed.
“I’m not going to duck the issue,” Vilsack said.
Stewart, who has interviewed a number of presidential candidates and former President Bill Clinton on the show, literally quizzed Vilsack. “Are you over 35 years of age?…Were you born in the United States?” Stewart asked. “Congratulations. You’re in. That’s all you needed.”
Stewart then asked Vilsack if he’d been on “any bigger shows” and Vilsack said he hadn’t. Stewart’s quick reply was: “You’re going to get crushed.”
The two then talked about the situation in Iraq, with Vilsack saying it is time to for the Iraqis themselves to decide what to do with their own country. “We’ve created this culture of dependency,” Vilsack said. “We really would do them and us a favor if we severed that culture of dependency and we basically turned over responsibility to them.”
You can hear Stewart’s interview of Vilsack by clicking on the MP3 link below.
Vilsack talked by phone with reporters after the show was taped. Vilsack said tonight’s appearance was a “tool” to reach the predominantly young audience that watches the show, just like the “video blogs” on his campaign website. “It isn’t enough just to listen to one particular age group because they may vote in greater numbers or whatever,” Vilsack said. “This election is really more about the future of young people than it is about anybody and so it’s important to engage them. It’s important to listen to them and it’s important encourage them to be part of the process.”
Vilsack prides himself on being a “policy wonk” who takes his work seriously, but Vilsack said he can laugh at himself. “I am not a joke teller and I never will be a joke teller and the result is I don’t try to tell jokes, but I can make fun of myself because I’m comfortable in my own skin,” Vilsack said. “That’s one of the reasons why I believe it is important for candidates to expose themselves to certain types of experiences on the campaign trail and this is certainly one of them.”
According to Vilsack, the stuffed duck he gave Stewart wasn’t purchased specifically for the show. “I just thought it would be a cute way of saying (to Stewart) it’s O.K. to do what you’re doing,” Vilsack said, referring to the animated duck squawking “Vilsack” that Stewart has used on the air. “Then, it was whatever questions he asked and whatever came to my mind, so it really wasn’t hard at all.”
Vilsack said his game plan was to play the straight man and let Stewart get the laughs. “He’s the guy who’s funny,” Vilsack said. “…If you try too hard to be funny, it doesn’t work and so you have to be able to play off of what he does.”
Despite the show’s broadcast on a channel called “Comedy Central,” Vilsack said the interview allowed him to show he’s thought about the issues and is a “serious” candidate who has a “broad view of America’s place in the world.”
Vilsack also told reporters “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” has expressed an interest in having him as a guest. “He, too, has been having fun with the name,” Vilsack said. “We’ll look for an opportunity to be on his show as well.”
Leno recently joked that Vilsack’s top priority for America was to get people to stop giggling at the name Vilsack.