Barack Obama is certainly distinguishing himself as the coolest latenight TV president ever, though with things so screwed up, you sort of wish that the U.S.' comedy troops would stop making so many conspicuous demands on his time.
First, NBC News' Brian Williams got the president to send a shout out to Conan O'Brien on his first week hosting "The Tonight Show." Then on Monday, Obama made a cameo appearance on "The Colbert Report's" first in a week of programs from Iraq, "Operation Iraqi Stephen: Going Commando." In a stern voice, Obama ordered General Ray Odierno to shave Colbert's head, much to the delight of the throng of military personnel on hand in one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces.
Presidential politics aside, Colbert appeared with a golf club in hand like a latter-day Bob Hope. The troops ate it up — even a gag about generals hitting the golf course that seemed to resonate a lot more heartily in the room than it will back home.
Then again, Iraq's status as the increasingly invisible war was a big part of Colbert's opening-night shtick, though Odierno was clearly not completely amused by the host's decision to take it upon himself to officially declare victory.
Colbert is near-unparalleled in his ability to ad-lib so seamlessly in character, but there were several other highlights to be found in latenight on Monday — none better than Jon Stewart's follow-up takedown of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" regarding its product-placement deal with Starbucks. At some point, NBC cable-network hosts should learn to quit while they're behind instead of engaging "The Daily Show" host and being made to look like total assholes, as first Jim Cramer and now Joe Scarborough have done. (OK, they did a pretty good job of that even without Stewart, I grant you.)
David Letterman also hosted Howard Stern on Monday, and Stern stated right up front that Letterman's producers were excited backstage about the prospect of beating "The Tonight Show" with Stern — historically a solid ratings draw — as a guest. Always eager to provoke, Stern then proceeded to trash Jay Leno (never mind his occasional appearances there) and deliver a pitch for Letterman – who did his best to look like he wasn't eating the whole thing up — over O'Brien.
All told, a pretty busy, vibrant few hours in latenight (thank God for that West Coast time difference on the Comedy Central duo) that should yield plenty of YouTube-worthy clips in its wake. Notably, the latenight mayhem also far eclipsed any of the shenanigans in primetime, where the train wreck called "I'm a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!" keeps chugging along. (Oh, and speaking of Leno, NBC aired a weird promo for "The Jay Leno Show" mocking the network for wanting to make a mess of the new program.)
Based on his debut push with "Operation Iraqi Stephen," anyway, Colbert's show has the makings of fire-up-the-TiVo, must-see TV this week. And as he proved at the White House Correspondents Dinner a few years back, whether he's "going commando" or not, in terms of utterly fearless comedy, it's hard not to admire this guy's balls.