The former Democratic presidential candidate did it all: the monologue, the sketches, the interviews with celebrities

By Sean Neumann
March 13, 2020 06:54 PM
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Everything can seem strange right now, including the comforts of late-night television.

At the end of a dramatic week in the U.S. that saw escalating efforts to reduce public gatherings and stop the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic — which led to the shutdown of all major sports leagues, the postponement of blockbuster movie premieres and the delay some of the world’s largest music festivals — there was former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, guest-hosting Jimmy Kimmel Live

Buttigieg stepped in Thursday night for Kimmel, who was instead hosting ABC’s revival of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The former South Bend, Indiana, mayor had dropped out of the 2020 presidential race only a few days ago, going on to endorse former Vice President Joe Biden, now the Democratic front-runner.

Buttigieg, 38, hosted the show in front of a mostly empty audience as the Los Angeles studio closed its doors to the public, joining efforts around the country to limit public gatherings to slow the spread of the respiratory disease COVID-19, which is caused by the coronavirus.

Despite an civic — not comedic — background, Buttigieg fulfilled all the expected late-night duties, including delivering a 12-minute monologue at the top of the show as cameras showed members of the Kimmel staff as well as his husband, Chasten, sitting sporadically out in the crowd.

They were spaced at the recommended distance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Buttigieg jokingly informed those watching at home.

Many of Buttigieg’s jokes often came with an underlying seriousness, reflecting the tone of someone more comfortable on the campaign trail than in the late-night spotlight (though Buttigieg warmed up as the hour-long show carried on).

“The experts have told us the best way to prevent the spread of the virus is to physically stay apart, so that’s what we’re going to do,” Buttigieg said during the show’s opening, as flashes of fake crowds obviously interspersed with the sparse studio audience. “The only way we’re going to get through this crisis is with unity, so let’s do this together. Who’s with me?”

Here are the highlights from Buttigieg’s night hosting Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Buttigieg Digs at Donald Trump

Seconds after the show flashed fake crowds as Buttigieg said, “Who’s with me?” the former Democratic candidate used the opportunity to make reference to one of President Donald Trump‘s biggest sore spots: his inauguration crowd.

“Full disclosure: None of those people are here,” Buttigieg joked about the obviously fake audience cut scenes. “But when you don’t have a real audience, you have to fake one … just like Trump’s inauguration.”

The president infamously gets defensive on the topic of the crowd size at his 2017 inauguration, especially compared to attendees for his predecessor, Barack Obama.

In a recent book about the Trump administration, Daily Beast reporters Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng wrote about how Trump requested a number of famous musicians to perform at the inauguration — many of whom, including soul legend Aretha Franklin — quickly waved off his request.

“What Franklin never got the chance to tell Trump to his face is that around the time she had learned of Team Trump’s overtures, she privately stressed to friends that ‘no amount of money’ could make the singer, a committed Hillary Clinton supporter, perform at a Trump inauguration,” their book, Sinking in the Swamp, reports. “More bluntly, in the year and a half before she passed away, Aretha Franklin would repeatedly call Donald Trump ‘despicable’ and, even more pointedly, a huge ‘piece of s—.’ “

Buttigieg’s Own Self-Deprecation

Being a late-night host can mean having to play loose and make fun of yourself sometimes, and Buttigieg made a number of jokes at his own expense — and that of his failed presidential bid.

“A lot of folks are wondering how I ended up getting booked to host this show and all I can say is that Iowa caucus app really screwed everything up,” he said, referencing the fumbled Iowa caucus results that led to his disputed and razor-thin victory in the Democratic Party’s first presidential nominating contest, in February.

He also joked about how he didn’t know what to do with all his campaign swag after he called off his run for the presidency, as he pointed to the show’s live band who he joked was wearing all his donated campaign T-shirts.

He brought out longtime Kimmel sidekick Guillermo Rodriguez, who donned a suit stacked to the brim with “Pete Buttigieg” campaign stickers and pins.

“I’m also glad that Jimmy asked me to host tonight because well, frankly, I’ve got nothing else going on,” Buttigieg quipped. “I really thought we had a shot, but turns out I was about 40 years too young and 38 years too gay.”

Pete Buttigieg stepping in to guest host Jimmy Kimmel Live on Thursday
Jimmy Kimmel Live Twitter

Buttigieg Goes Job Hunting

Following the traditional late-night format, Buttigieg followed up his monologue with a pre-filmed sketch that showed him searching the streets of Hollywood for a job now that he’s “unemployed” following the end of his 2020 campaign.

He wandered Hollywood Boulevard outside Kimmel’s studios in L.A. and walked up to a number of business asking if they were hiring.

“No” after “no,” Buttigieg finally ended up in a Wetzel’s Pretzels where he scored an interview with the store’s begrudging manager.

“What are your qualifications?” she asked, jokingly annoyed at having to do the scripted interview.

“I’ve got degrees from Harvard and Oxford, I speak several languages, I served as a Navy intelligence officer and, well … I just won the Iowa caucuses last week!” Buttigieg said.

“Mhmm, well, can you name all five of our pretzel dips?” she asked, drawing laughter from the studio audience.

“Uhm, ranch?” Buttigieg said.

“Ranch?” she asked in disbelief. “I thought you went to Harvard.”

Not to worry: Buttigieg wound up scoring a part-time gig handing out free samples in front of the store, which he inevitably screwed up after agreeing to give one man more than one sample against his boss’s instructions.

“I’m Pretzel Pete and I approve this sketch,” the skit ended, with a tagline that gave “Mayor Pete’s” common nickname a run for its money.

Former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg (right) plays Star Trek trivia with Sir Patrick Stewart as LeVar Burton hosts on Jimmy Kimmel Live
Jimmy Kimmel Live Twitter

Buttigieg Fans Out Over Sir Patrick Stewart

Buttigieg is a well-documented, lifelong Star Trek fan so it’s no surprise that his episode of Kimmel’s show featured a 10-minute sit down interview with Capt. Picard himself.

The former Indiana mayor was visibly giddy as he announced Patrick Stewart as the show’s first guest. In a sign of the times, Buttigieg and Stewart bumped elbows as to avoid spreading any illness (though they sat in close quarters during the interview and handed items back and forth to each other).

“This is an absolute thrill,” Buttigieg told Stewart. “I’ve got to get this out there: I am a huge Star Trek fan, always have been. When I was a kid I’d come home from school at 4 o’clock and it would come on every day. My friend Joe would come over and we would religiously watch every episode. When the movie Generations came out, I was there as soon as it came out. And I believe there’s photographic evidence from Halloween 1995.”

The show then flashed to a telling image of Buttigieg’s longtime fandom, showing him and three other kids dressed up as some of the show’s main characters on Halloween that year.

During the interview, Stewart admitted that he heard about Buttigieg being a fan early on in the 2020 race and mentioned that he specifically tuned in to the race in order to hear Buttigieg speak.

“You’re terrific,” Stewart told Buttigieg. “You have a quality of speech-making — it’s spontaneous, it’s immediate, it’s natural and doesn’t sound prepared in any way.”

“Are you saying I might have a future in late-night television?” Buttigieg replied, joking throughout the show that he was auditioning to become a TV host now that his current presidential bid is over.

The interview ended as Stewart pulled out a gift for Buttigieg: an original working script he used for the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Where Silence Has Lease” that included Stewart’s handwritten notes from production.

“That will have pride of place,” Buttigieg told Stewart. “That is an absolute treasure.”

The two later went head-to-head in Star Trek trivia before Buttigieg spoke with Veep actor Tony Hale.

Tony Hale (left) and Pete Buttigieg on Jimmy Kimmel Live
Jimmy Kimmel Live Twitter

Buttigieg Says Veep is ‘by Far’ the Most Realistic Political Show

During his interview with Hale, Buttigieg seemed eager to talk with him about how Hale believes most people don’t realize the outrageous HBO comedy, which ended last year after seven seasons, was actually one of the most realistic political shows ever made.

“When I was mayor of South Bend, people would always ask me what TV show my life resembled most,” Buttigieg told Hale. “I mean, we have Parks and Recreation which is literally about local government. There’s some tough days that were a little bit like something out of The Wire. Once in a very long while there would be something that reminded me of The West Wing, but by far the most — sadly, the most realistic political show in many ways was Veep.”

Hale joked during the interview that when he hears politicians say that, he thinks: “That’s not good news.”

“As absurd as it is, it captured a lot of the reality of being involved in politics,” Buttigieg said.

“And that’s scary,” Hale said, laughing. “I’ll tell you why I miss it: Sometimes I watch the news and I want to laugh, but I feel guilty about laughing and it was a nice political outlet but you don’t feel guilty to laugh at it. That’s what I miss.”