During this week in 1992, Bill Clinton was elected the 42nd president of the United States. The next year, in 1993, Conan O’Brien became the host of Late Night on NBC. It took a quarter of a century for them to finally sit down together and talk.
The occasion of their meeting—the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton—is not exactly a cause for celebration for Bill Clinton. But he did his best to exude his trademark charm and good spirits on Wednesday when he sat down for his first-ever late-night appearance with Conan O’Brien at the Apollo Theater, just a few blocks away from his Clinton Foundation office in Harlem.
After reminiscing about Clinton’s childhood in Arkansas, they got down to more serious business in what turned out to be a long and sobering second segment that dug into the question of how the country has changed in the 25 years since his first presidential campaign.
Asked if he felt like he was campaigning in a “different America” when he was out on the road for Hillary last year, Clinton said, “Yes and no.”
The “good news,” he said, is that the country is “much more diverse” than it used to be—which likely helped Hillary win the popular vote. Contrary to what you will hear from Republicans, Clinton said, “we need immigrants” to help improve the country’s overall economic success.
“The thing that’s not so good, is that we’re in the middle of—” Clinton said, before someone in the Apollo audience shouted out, “Trump!” O’Brien replied, “Sir, we know,” before Clinton went on to talk about our ongoing information and communication transition.
No matter “how happy” some on the left are about this week’s election results, Clinton said, “We have to remember that the Founders told us our job is to make a more perfect union, so we have to bridge these economic divides.”
“We need to tell these people who make up stuff on the internet to knock it off, that we’re voting for the people who are going to do the job,” he continued, not letting O’Brien get a word or question in edgewise.
“Because as soon as someone gets one of these jobs they figure out pretty quick, their decisions they make have consequences, it affects people’s lives.”
Clinton had more than that to say about the “fake news” campaign that may have cost his wife the presidency. With that in mind, he spoke out against what he called the “dictator’s club” that exists in the world. “They want to abolish the line between fact and fiction and between truth and lie,” he said.
“Are you talking about foreign countries now, or here?” O’Brien asked, genuinely. “Because that chilled me to the bone for a second.” When Clinton took a long pause before answering, the host added, “You just said a lot by saying nothing.”
Later, O’Brien posed a question that he intended to wrap up his conversation with Clinton. But instead, by asking what the Clinton Foundation’s “No. 1 priority” is today, he got the former president started on a long and emotional speech about the opioid epidemic that had many in the audience shouting out their own struggles with the devastating issue.
But first, Clinton said that he was tempted to make a joke about all the conspiracy theories surrounding his foundation. “People think we’re involved in child trafficking,” he said, adding that some people even thought the Las Vegas shooter was on his payroll. “It’s amazing what people think,” he said.
“I wish we had more time,” O’Brien said when the interview was finally over. “Because I’ve never talked to a guest who had more facts at their fingertips than you did.” He added, “It’s been a 25-year wait, but it was worth the wait.”
After the taping was over, O’Brien revealed to the audience what he told the night’s second guest, British comedian Jack Whitehall, right before he came on stage: “I just told a president of the United States to wrap it up because you were coming on next. You’d better be fucking funny.”