Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has been getting some attention from the nation’s comics and satirists since he declared his bid for the presidency last week — but he’s got a ways to go before he can match the laughs generated in recent decades at the expense of another Colorado politician, former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Hickenlooper, one of 15 Democrats so far running to take on President Donald Trump, made his late-night talk show debut as a declared presidential hopeful on Tuesday on NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers.” The brisk interview mostly avoided what anyone might call “jokes” but put the former brewpub owner’s quirky charm on full display.
It was Hickenlooper’s second visit to the show, following a May 2016 appearance during a publicity tour surrounding the publication of his memoir, "The Opposite of Woe: My Life in Beer and Politics," which was co-written with former Hickenlooper speech writer Maximillian Potter.
In that earlier interview, Meyers wanted to know about Colorado’s experience with legalized recreational marijuana. He got a detailed policy download from Hickenlooper, who mused over whether he would wave a magic wand to undo legalization — not after the implementation had gone so well, he said — but little in the way of comedy.
So far, it’s been up to other late-night comedians and a satirical publication to provide the grins, though most have mined Hickenlooper’s cumbersome last name for the yuks.
Delivering his monologue on the March 6 edition of TBS’s “Conan,” host Conan O'Brien couldn't seem to get over Hickenlooper's multisyllabic moniker.
“His name is John Hickenlooper,” O’Brien said, drawing chuckles from the audience simply by precisely pronouncing the name.
“John Hickenlooper. That is where I draw the line. He might be very qualified — I know nothing about him — but we cannot have a President Hickenlooper. We are a country, not a Dr. Seuss book.”
Then O’Brien pondered whether prolific British actor Benedict Cumberbatch might be a celebrity endorser.
“It’s Cumberbatch for Hickenlooper,” O’Brien said in a vaguely Mid-Atlantic accent.
Hickenlooper got "The Daily Show" treatment on Monday, when host Trevor Noah said the candidate has "a name that sounds like a disease you got on the Oregon Trail" as a doctored graphic from the popular 1980s computer game about the travails of pioneers loomed over his shoulder.
“YOU HAVE DIED OF HICKENLOOPER,” read the glowing green letters under a pixelated image of an ox pulling a covered wagon.
"It's either that or the name of a local restaurant where all the waiters have those vests with buttons on them," Noah said as his studio audience roared with laughter.
"It's just like, 'Welcome to Hickenlooper's, our special today is the Hickenlooper chalupa. It tastes like dirt, but it's fun to order!'"
The day he announced his presidential run, The Onion bypassed jokes about Hickenlooper’s name and had some fun with the candidate’s relative obscurity in a sprawling primary field.
In a brief posted March 5 to the satirical online news site, Hickenlooper supposedly proposed “nuking Australia just to see if anyone [was] paying attention.” It was a strategy, The Onion cracked, to “boost his name recognition in the polls,” where Hickenlooper has been attempting to break into single-digit support.
(A recent Des Moine Register/CNN poll of Iowa Democrats found Hickenlooper with zero percent support among likely caucus-goers in the early-primary state, which Hickenlooper has visited four times since he began considering a presidential run months ago.)
Stunningly, an exhaustive search of The Onion’s archives revealed it was only the second time Hickenlooper had been the target of its satirical barbs.
His first appearance in The Onion was an incidental mention in a 2011 story making fun of a rescue effort launched by Colorado authorities for a missing ski. In that story, Hickenlooper ordered the state patrol to take part in “the largest mobilization of law enforcement in Colorado since the successful 2003 recovery of a pair of Oakley sunglasses that went missing at Crested Butte.”
With one exception, it’s been decades since Colorado politicians routinely bore the brunt of jokes on a national stage.
Gary Hart was featured in many a late-night monologue when his 1988 presidential campaign ended amid allegations of an affair with a Miami model.
And longtime U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder took her share of ribbing in 1979 when she dressed in an Easter Bunny costume to hand out jellybeans during a trip to China. Nearly a decade later, “Saturday Night Live” comedian Nora Dunn poked fun at Schroeder’s tears when she announced she wouldn’t be running for president in 1987.
But Salazar, a former U.S. senator, was regularly featured in the pages of The Onion during his tenure as interior secretary under President Barack Obama, from 2009 to 2013.
In 2010, Salazar announced that national parks were closed in order to “begin the painstaking task of resplendoring” them, including instructing rangers to “get out there and comb those bears.”
Later that year, he was supervising the cleaning of the nation’s filter to remove an “estimated 40 million tons of gunk, crud, and muck currently clogging up the country” — after the “change filter” light had been blinking for a dozen years.
"[O]therwise the whole country gets backed up," said Salazar, adding: “No wonder the nation's been running so slow."
The next year, The Onion relayed, a “jubilant but visibly exhausted” Salazar told reporters the United States had renewed its contract with spotted ground squirrels through 2015.
Not to be outdone, before long Salazar released a new stick “sure to please casual nature lovers and serious stick enthusiasts alike.”
And then there was the time Salazar decked a “smart-ass buffalo” that gave him some attitude.
As his term running Interior came to an end, Salazar revealed the United States had been bilked out of $18 million in endangered-species funding by a “smooth-talking” gopher — the worst con visited upon his department since he was tricked into purchasing $4 million in “bogus time-shares” by some “disreputable pine trees.”