Alec Baldwin visited “Jimmy Kimmel Live” Wednesday to discuss President Donald Trump and Conan O’Brien visited Mexico to also discuss Trump – further evidence that the president of the United States may be the biggest star in late-night TV at the moment.
Both visits were amusing and largely venom-free – possible evidence that late-night TV doesn’t always want to bite the hand that’s been feeding it either.
Nevertheless, both visits were interesting departures. Baldwin explained the genesis of his “Saturday Night Live” Donald Trump impression. O’Brien’s special edition of his TBS late night show, “Conan” -- entitled “Made in Mexico” -- was a pointed effort at diplomacy. As he put it in an interview with “Rogue One” star Diego Luna, the idea “is to bring positivity to the people of Mexico, to let them know they are heard and I found that when they had an opportunity to speak to us, I didn’t get a lot of anger, but in a beautiful, elegant way, they said we need to come together.”
Former President Vicente Fox -- also a guest on the special edition which was pretaped in Mexico City -- covered some of the same points he’s made in other interviews with the U.S. media (all wall-related), but when he started to make one of those points directly to the camera, as if addressing Donald Trump, Conan stopped him, then pragmatically interjected with this: “I think he switched channels very early in this program.”
Back to Baldwin. When Kimmel asked about his Trump impression, Baldwin said he had no idea what he was going to do even moments before the first dry run for “Saturday Night Live”: “I was in the makeup room, they’re putting my wig on, and it was like a scene from a mental hospital: I’m getting the wig on me and I’m sitting there the whole time going, ‘Gina, Gina, Gina,’ (or China, China, China).”
He added that just about anyone can do an impression, “but you’ve got to try to think of who he is. And I’ve said this countless times, to me, Trump was someone who’s always searching for a stronger, better word, and he never finds it. So whenever you do Trump, he’ll sit there going, ‘These people, they’re great people, they’re fantastic people, and I just want to say working with them was (beat) and then he goes, ‘a fantastic experience.’”
Conan’s trip south was part of a long series of international trips he’s made with the show, and they all usually proceed according to the same template, beginning with man/woman in the street interviews. He then samples local color, food and customs, also local culture. His Spanish, by the way, is excellent.
A couple of those cultural detours: He acted in a local soap opera as a businessman selling cheese, then performed in Mexican wrestling, in full costume. The first was funny, the latter something you unfortunately can’t unsee.
Nevertheless, the larger message Wednesday was a strong one: O’Brien and “Conan” are best when they leave the studio, and go to wherever they are going bearing gifts. Late-night diplomacy is undoubtedly what he was born to do.