Laughs in short supply as Barack Obama gets serious on The Daily Show
Obama makes history as first sitting president to be interviewed by Jon Stewart on Comedy Central show
Ewen MacAskill in Washington
Thursday 28 October 2010 06.35 BST
The last time Barack Obama appeared on the Daily Show, he was a young, up and coming senator vowing to change the way politics was done in Washington and trading wisecracks with presenter Jon Stewart.
Last night however, in making history as the first US president to be interviewed on Comedy Central's satirical news show, he struck a more sombre tone. Obama appeared to have decided that in the present political climate, with unemployment high and many voters expressing disappointment with his performance, jokes were inappropriate.
Even Stewart was subdued and generally respectful, referring to the president as "sir", except for one reflex moment when he could not help himself and called him "dude". It was also the first time the show was devoted to a single interview, with no monologue from Stewart as an opener or any satirical sketches.
Stewart repeatedly contrasted Obama's heady campaign trail rhetoric, of hope, change and audacity, with what he called the timidity of his legislative programme. Obama appeared agitated. Having been leaning back in his chair, he sat forward, pointing his finger at the desk separating him from Stewart.
"Jon, I love your show, but this is something where, you know, I have a profound disagreement with you," Obama said. "And I don't want to lump you in with a lot of other pundits, but this notion that health care is timid ..."
It produced a rare rejoinder from Stewart – "I'll tell you what I mean, and I don't mean to lump you in with other presidents" – which won laughs from the audience.
The show, normally recorded in New York, was shot in Washington because Stewart and his crew have moved to the capital in preparation for his 'Restore Sanity' rally on Saturday, a liberal riposte to recent conservative gatherings on the Mall. The audience of 550 was more partisan than the New York audiences and gave Obama a long standing ovation when he entered the studio.
Obama stuck with two key messages throughout the 30-minute interview: that he had done a good job in getting healthcare reform through Congress, and passing financial regulation laws. The White House said his appearance was mainly aimed at winning over young voters ahead of Tuesday's midterm elections.
The one news point in the interview was a hint that he favoured reform of the Senate's filibuster tactic that frequently obstructs legislation. But he did not tackle it when the Democrats had a big majority in the Senate and the chances of doing so in the next Congress, in which there will almost certainly be more Republicans, are slim.
Stewart teased the president about his campaign slogan "Yes, we can", suggesting that these days it was "Yes, we can, with conditions attached".
Obama replied: "When I say that when we promised during the campaign, change you can believe in, it wasn't change you can believe in in 18 months ...What I would say is, 'Yes, we can', but it is not going to happen overnight."
Stewart suggested one of the problems was that far from bringing about change, Obama had brought into power many of the same old faces, such as his economics adviser, Larry Summers, who is about to leave the administration and has been heavily criticised over the lacklustre state of the economy. "In fairness, Larry did a heck of a job," Obama said. Stewart interjected: "You don't want to use that phrase, dude."
George Bush used the same phrase to describe the hapless Michael Brown, who was head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency during hurricane Katrina.