In 2007, my brother and I had the incredible honor of meeting President George W. Bush when we premiered a video satirizing the news media at the 2007 Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner.
Back in 1999, when we started the business, we never would have believed that someday we would have the opportunity to entertain a sitting US President.
Fast-forward a year and a half and Ivan Goldberg, the wonderful woman who manages the RTCA dinner every year, sent an email introducing us to Heather Dahl, Chairwoman for the 2009 event. They wanted to know if we would consider doing a video for the 2009 dinner.
Entertain the next leader of the free world with one of our creations? HELLS YEAH!
Following the inauguration there was an air of invincibility surrounding Obama. Sure, the world was falling apart, but it had all just fallen in his lap and he hadn’t had enough time to either help or hurt the situation. These two facts made it very difficult to find a comedic angle. Then we realized that the absurd expectations WAS the angle. We would turn Barack into a super hero.
After three grueling months of creation and production we were ready to show our creation to the leader of the free world. We were even more eager to meet our second President. That meeting almost didn’t happen.
The tradition at the Radio & Television Correspondents Association dinner is for the President to attend the VIP gathering beforehand. I guess Barack Obama’s plans for “change” in America included not following the RTCA traditions. A few days before the event we got a call from Ivan who told us that Obama was not going to attend the pre-dinner reception where we were scheduled to meet him.
To say we were bummed out would be an understatement. That said, we understood that the POTUS is a pretty busy guy and probably had more important things to do than hanging out with two guys who spent three months creating something to make fun of him (like monitoring the election crisis in Iran). Luckily, Ivan Goldberg wasn’t going to give up that easily.
“That man is not leaving the building without seeing you boys”, she told us before hanging up the phone. A few days later we heard back; we would meet the President on his way out of the building.
When we arrived at the dinner, Ivan gave us the plan. As soon as John Hodgeman started his performance, she would grab us and lead us backstage. That’s exactly what happened.
Ivan led us through the maze of tables towards the curtains that shielded the President’s entrance into the banquet hall (and soon to come exit). It was surreal to be guided past people like David Axelrod, at the next table, and countless media luminaries, all looking up at you and thinking, “Who the @#$% do you think you are getting up and walking out while the President is being entertained?”
We dipped behind the curtain and landed by the service entrance for an industrial kitchen. We could see the President 20 yards away, on the stage, watching John Hodgeman’s performance. We had been deposited directly in his exit path.
I remember thinking at the time that it was funny that someone would be so busy that they would have to have people positioned in their path to maximize use of every second of every day. Then I thought, “Of course, he’s that busy. He’s the leader of the free world you moron!”
Behind the curtain there were numerous Secret Service agents buzzing around. That said… you got the distinct feeling that you didn’t see the half of it. Like if you made one wrong move a flying secret service ninja would come out of nowhere and kick your ass. Hard.
While Evan and Ivan chatted with a secret service officer (who was telling them something about an incident with a lady trying to bring her Chihuahua into the event), I chatted with a nice guy named Jordan who worked on the President’s advance team. Jordan told me this wasn’t the first time the President had seen our work. He had been in the room in the past when the President was watching.
Suddenly, the entire organization snapped into action.
Seconds later, the President stood up on the dais and we heard the applause of the audience on the other side of the curtain. He stepped down from the stage, waved, and made his way along the edge of the curtain shielding him from the audience, towards my brother and me.
As he got closer (but before he noticed us), Evan heard him say to a guy he was walking with, “I have to get a copy of that that CD.” Then, when he looked up and saw us, two things were obvious. First, he must have recognized us from when we stood up to take a bow after the video screened and, second, he really enjoyed the video.
He had a really big smile on his face as he extended his hand for a shake.
“I can’t wait to show this to the girls.”
As we stood there exchanging hand shakes, my fragile brain was trying to wrap its arm around the fact that the leader of the free world was going to show our video to his kids.
“Come over here”, the President said to Evan, who standing two down from him.
He told us we do excellent work. I think I remember telling him, “So do you”, which is an exceptionally retarded thing to say to a President. (Unless you have stood in the presence of a POTUS, don’t judge! It’s intimidating!)
After that, Barack bid us adieu, heading out with his entourage of secret service agents in tow. As Evan said in the voicemail that we recorded moments after it happened to make sure we wouldn’t forget, “It was a ridiculously awesome experience.”
Having met both a Republican and Democratic POTUS, we can say it’s an amazing honor to meet a President, regardless of his political affiliation (or ours). We are grateful to the JibJab team for all of their efforts that helped to make the night such a big success!