As he does at the beginning of every episode of his popular Web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld gave his latest guest a call on the way to pick him up.
“White House,” a familiar voice answered.
“Yes, may I speak with the president, please?” Seinfeld asked politely.
“Speaking,” President Barack Obama said, delivering the first laugh of an entertainingly candid conversation between the two men.
Seinfeld rolled up to the White House in a cool blue 1963 Corvette Stingray for the episode, taped Dec. 7, and the pair did a couple of laps around the South Lawn. They didn’t make it too far, trading in the typical public café experience for a sit-down talk over coffee in the staff dining room to avoid the inevitable security concerns.
But does the president count as a “comedian?” According to Seinfeld’s intro, Obama has “gotten off just enough funny lines to qualify for getting on this show.” Cut to one of the president’s Dick Cheney burns from the White House Correspondents Dinner.
Wearing his signature jeans and sneakers, Seinfeld knocked lightly on the window to the Oval Office, walked in, sat down on the couch and took a bite out of one of the president’s apples. But not before asking, “Are these washed?”
The comedian immediately impressed Obama with his choice of car—“the coolest car, American made, for the coolest guy ever to hold this office.” The president told Seinfeld about seeing that same Corvette when he was a small child and thinking if he could ever get his hands on one, he would have really made it.
“Are you always this nervous?” Obama asked as Seinfeld began to drive him around the grounds. The president proceeded to make his host laugh again by saying he does best with the “zero to 8 crowd” because his ears are so big and he looks “kind of like a cartoon character.”
As Obama complained about the loss of his anonymity, Seinfeld admitted that in his view, being famous is better than not being famous. The president said he has always wanted to be on a “show about nothing,” and Seinfeld helped make that dream come true, grilling him about his morning routine, which includes a wake-up call and a shave before he works out “because that’s how I do it, and I don’t really need a reason.”
For the first time on Comedians in Cars, Seinfeld actually made his own coffee in the dining room. But all the while, he continued to ask the president a series of questions he has almost certainly never gotten such as, “Have you ever touched a thermostat?” and how many different brands of underwear he has in his drawer.
“What’s your most embarrassing president moment?” Seinfeld wanted to know.
“This may be it,” Obama quipped.
The two men even reminisced about their mutual friend Larry David and his disgusting habit of lathering himself with sunscreen to the point where it’s dripping off his face while on the golf course. And at one point, Obama turned the questions around on Seinfeld, asking him what it’s like to make millions and millions of dollars for telling jokes.
“I curse,” Obama said when Seinfeld asked how he blows off steam. “Bad stuff or stupid stuff is happening constantly every day. So you have to be able to just make fun of a lot of that… That’s when cursing is really valuable.”
Toward the end of their discussion, the president realized he hadn’t mentioned Obamacare yet. “Usually, the only reason I do these things is because I’m promoting health care,” he said, working in a mention in the subtlest way he could manage.
Finally, Seinfeld (and the Secret Service) let Obama get behind the wheel of the Corvette and take a drive for one of the first times in at least seven years. But security still wouldn’t let him off the White House grounds.
The president’s appearance on Seinfeld’s Web show, which has recently featured guests Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Steve Harvey, and Bill Maher, and this season will include Will Ferrell, Garry Shandling, and Steve Martin, is just his latest foray into unconventional media spaces.
It was more than a year ago when Obama sat “Between Two Ferns” with Zach Galifianakis to help promote the Obamacare rollout on Funny or Die. Since then, he has hosted a series of live interviews with YouTubers like GloZell Green at the White House and more recently traveled to Alaska with adventurer Bear Grylls to promote climate-change awareness.
A spokesperson for the White House told The Daily Beast that Obama thought Comedians in Cars would be a “good opportunity for people to hear about the lighter side of life inside the White House.”
But like the unprecedented appearances that came before this one, it was also a sign that the president and his team are increasingly willing to take chances in an attempt to reach people who have tuned out traditional news outlets and would rather watch Obama make one of America’s top comedians crack up. Or, as The Nightly Show host Larry Wilmore put it, with just one year left in his presidency, “Obama don’t care.”
Watch the full episode at comediansincarsgettingcoffee.com.