Pork Chopped

Before he was Michael Scott and Andy Stitzer, Steve Carell was a Daily Show “political correspondent.”

Well, the HuffPo’s Rachel Sklar has unearthed a classic and brilliant clip, from John McCain’s prior White House run, in which Carell interviews The Maverick aboard the Straight Talk Express. Hilarity, unsurprisingly, ensues.

Sklar has also found a New Yorker assessment of the Carell interview, from a 2002 article entitled “Annals of Entertainment: Is It Funny Yet?”:

In late 1999, one of the show’s correspondents, Steve Carell, boarded Senator McCain’s campaign bus, the Straight Talk Express, and asked the candidate to name his favorite movie and his favorite book. Then, with no change in his expression, he asked McCain how he could reconcile his criticism of pork-barrel politics with the fact that “while you were chairman of the Commerce Committee, that committee set a record for unauthorized appropriations.” For a long moment, McCain was speechless. Carell started laughing. “I’m just kidding!” he said. “I don’t even know what that means!”

“That’s a true fact, that question,” [then-head writer Ben] Karlin said. “And McCain was caught in the headlights. But we punctured it with a joke, so all you’re left with is funny and awkward. It’s bittersweet.”

For months after the interview, McCain played a tape of the exchange with Carell on the Straight Talk Express’s video screen—a decision that does him credit.

It does. Well, it did. Can you imagine that—any of that—happening today?

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.