Ron DeSantis jokes fill Fallon, Colbert and Kimmel opening monologues

Ron DeSantis’ eight-month presidential campaign never spawned Donald Trump levels of comedy material — few people ever have — but by dropping out on Sunday, DeSantis finally dominated Monday’s late-night TV jokes.

“The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” both led their opening monologues with DeSantis. “Jimmy Kimmel Live” went there after discussing heavy rain in Los Angeles and “The Bachelor,” and Seth Meyers devoted his entire “A Closer Look” segment to the DeSantis news.

All four, in their own ways, targeted DeSantis for a lack of ease and charisma.

“Don’t cry because it’s over,” Colbert advised DeSantis, “smile, because you need practice smiling.”

Kimmel played a 40-second montage of the Florida governor smiling on the campaign trail and pointed out that DeSantis’ campaign spent an estimated $2,263 per vote in Iowa.

“It literally would have been cheaper,” he said, “to buy each of his supporters a Peloton bike.”

All the hosts joked about DeSantis quoting Winston Churchill in the video announcing he was suspending his campaign. DeSantis recited a phrase Churchill reportedly never said.

“DeSantis knew it was time to go,” Fallon said, “four months after the rest of us did.”

“The weirdo community suffered a major blow on Sunday,” Seth Meyers said of DeSantis dropping out.

Meyers said DeSantis had the posture of someone “wearing a backpack full of horseshoes” and the demeanor of a guy “trying to hide a zombie bite,” and called him the first candidate to “compete with Trump in the weirdness category.” But a key difference between them, Meyers said, is that Trump is entertaining to his base. “DeSantis is not entertaining,” Meyers said, “He is both weird and boring.”

The flurry of recent late-night talk show monologues aside, DeSantis’ campaign ended without receiving the decades-old, cultural marker of a full-on impression on “Saturday Night Live.”

DeSantis came close when cast member John Higgins from the comedy troupe Please Don’t Destroy played him in a November 2023 sketch parodying a GOP debate, but Higgins’ DeSantis was the only character in the scene without any speaking lines. (Molly Kearney’s Chris Christie, Heidi Gardner’s Nikki Haley, Ego Nwodim’s Vivek Ramaswamy and Devon Walker’s Tim Scott all got to speak, and Walker has made multiple appearances as Scott.)

Who knows who might have played DeSantis had the character needed to become a regular. James Austin Johnson as Trump addressed the casting, breaking the fourth wall in the Republican debate sketch.

“And look who they got playing Meatball Ron,” Johnson says as Trump. “One of the Destroy boys. Ron’s watching at home like, ‘Who the hell is that?’ Poor Ron DeSantis, even SNL doesn’t think he has a chance. If they did, it’d be like Paul Rudd or something in there, right?”

Other times, “Saturday Night Live” took aim at DeSantis news without impersonating him, like Bowen Yang playing Jafar from “Aladdin” roasting DeSantis for fighting with Disney.

According to an analysis by Danielle Gober with the Orlando-based Otter Public Relations, Ron DeSantis was mentioned on TV in general 737,000 times in the eight months since kicking off his campaign. Trump had 2.4 million mentions in that time, though much of that likely includes news about his indictments.

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Trump was a bonanza for comedy writers the moment he entered politics. He was already famous and a longtime known quantity who’d actually hosted “Saturday Night Live.” He’s also likely one of the most impersonated humans in history. When he returned to the show as a candidate in 2015, two different cast members joined him onstage impersonating him.

There seems to be exactly one guy on earth doing a DeSantis impression. Comedian Matt Friend appeared on PIX 11 in New York last year doing a very skilled DeSantis. Friend explained, in DeSantis’ voice, that there was a lot of Trump involved in impersonating the governor.

“Oddly enough, Ron DeSantis has also taken on Trump’s mannerisms,” Friend said. “No one’s ever done a DeSantis, but he kind of moves his arms in the same way that Trump does over here. … He just uses his exact terminology.”

Republican public relations consultant Alex Conant worked on the 2016 presidential campaign for Sen. Marco Rubio, who was played by Taran Killam, and later, Pete Davidson on “Saturday Night Live.”

Campaign strategists are absolutely tracking candidates’ mentions on comedy shows such as “Saturday Night Live” as closely as they are the news, Conant said, because realistically, a lot of voters get their information from entertainment.

“Media attention is the lifeblood of a presidential campaign,” he said. “(Late night jokes) might not be good coverage, but it’s better than no attention. If you’re on SNL, you’ve broken out of the political media bubble into general pop culture, and that’s a good place to be for presidential candidates.”

DeSantis, Conant believes, “lived in the conservative media and was never able to break into the general pop culture consciousness. … I think it’s kind of a broader reflection of the lack of public interest in this primary, and specifically the lack of interest in DeSantis.”

There remains one surefire way we’d see a permanent DeSantis casting on “Saturday Night Live” this year — if he becomes Trump’s running mate.

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