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In the following article I take a look back at how funny and good Connor was at running a campaign for President of the United States. Let’s appreciate how long he kept it up, how he managed to top himself time and time again, and then how he proved that he’s a comedic mastermind with cards up his sleeve for days (months, years!).
Last night I had an up-close view of the definitive end of Connor Ratliff’s impressive, years-long, diverse, and consistently funny RATLIFF 35 2012 bit. One of the reasons the bit so brilliant was that it was built around election day. The routine had an expiration date. He had to do it as big and as well as he could each time because everybody collectively knew it would only be fresh and relevant for so long. Plus the fact that any approach and attitude an ounce less committed than his would cause staleness even faster. So he was always at full throttle. AND NOT JUST when the cameras were pointed his way. Any time Connor entered the MNN studios for the Chris Gethard Show, even if he was just watching, had nothing prepared, knew full well he wouldn’t be featured that night, he appeared as Connor Ratliff in that suit. With that clock. With that blanket. He never let them see him take a break. He never showed up in cargo pants and T-shirt, wordlessly telling everyone “I don’t feel like it tonight.”
It seemed impossible to imagine Connor topping himself after the Concert for RATLIFF 35 2012. He put together one hell of a show with excellent bands and bits from the huge, amazing cast he assembled as his campaign staff. And then he came out and performed his Call Me Maybe parody with back-up dancers, showered the audience with balloons, and walked through the crowd on the tops of the seats and back. This was a more than appropriate finale. It was sincere because he could thank people for being enthusiastic about his pet project. It was absurd because of the work put in made that show an honest to goodness spectacle.
Mere weeks later he screens his 45 minute documentary about his entire journey to the White House. Footage from the Gethard Show. Clips from the road. Bits Connor would film by himself in his free time in out-of-state cities while on TourCo. Everything edited by Connor. All of that footage, plus a taped improvised campaign meeting all woven together into a followable narrative. And it was all funny. It’s not just a clip show of old bits. The original material just for the film plays like your favorite moments from Christopher Guest movies. With that many great improvisers on top of their game, it makes the doc a complete piece.
After the movie, the screen rolls up and the cast conducts a fully improvised Q+A with the audience. Again, this was a more than appropriate finale. They screened a well made, comprehensive retrospective on the last YEAR and a few months of Connor’s character bit. They cap it off with a fitting farewell from the crew.
How do you top all of that? He told me about Election Night. About how The Chris Gethard Show is going to broadcast 12 hours of election coverage on November 6th. A record-breaker for MNN. “Perfect.” I thought. “He’ll pop in and out of the show, making updates for like five minutes at a time. Connor will do like an hour of new material in total.”
I was right about half of that. Connor did pop in and out of TCGS while they broadcasted a 12 hour election-special version of their call-in talk show. But Connor would ALSO be on camera for almost 12 hours straight with his campaign staff in a separate room, on an independent ustream channel. Connor was doing it so big for the finale, it would be nearly physically impossible to pull off a way to top this. He stayed in character and interacted with his staff for the whole day, right up until the minute there weren’t any more Electoral Votes that could possibly go to him. And that’s when I realize, of course, this bit was meant to be ended with a whimper all along. That was what the entire most-obvious, simple, best joke of this character was hinging on. The fireworks of the concert, the detail of the documentary, the ambition of 12 hours of live entertainment, the attitude and point of view he carries through it all, it’s funny because he won’t win. There is no chance. It’s funny for too many more reasons to list, but the joke it all boils down to is: he won’t win. And instead of cutting it out days or weeks before the joke’s over, he took us right up to that exact moment that you never thought you’d see. It’s Connor Ratliff encountering the exact moment his game changes head on. He isn’t losing, he has lost. His will was finally broken! That arrogance, that optimism stripped. With tears streaming down his face, he gave an impromptu concession speech and made it look like he was one deep breath away from crumbling into full on sobbing. I think the last frame of video of Connor Ratliff For President EVER is him motionless, head down on the table, wrapped in that blanket. It felt so real. Not just because Connor’s got the acting chops. The character was saying goodbye to his dream while the writer was saying goodbye to a beloved routine.
And it’s over. But then 15 minutes later, of course it isn’t. It’s not over because Connor is Connor and the next step in his character bits are what he thinks about. I don’t know how long Connor had his next step planned. He has always been very good about telling people just the right amount he has planned for the future. I wouldn’t be surprised if he thought it up months ago and told barely anybody.
He runs back onto the TCGS stage maybe 15 minutes after losing the election and announces he’s going to be a gold medalist in the next Summer Olympic games. It’s immediately funny. Connor Ratliff is back! Nothing keeps him down! The willful blissful ignorance he’s mastered feels new again due to the subject matter, but the familiarity of what made it so good is still right there.
That’s when Connor proved once again he operates on another level. By making Connor Ratliff hopeful and enthusiastic about the Olympics, Connor retroactively evolved his bit into more than just the character “Connor Ratliff, Presidential Candidate." Connor’s bit is just a guy Connor Ratliff. He’s not retiring the character with it’s most obvious seeming end. “Oh, now that the election’s over, the character’s over.” Nope. The election’s over, the character sheds the "For President" and is now just Connor Ratliff. Much like how Stephen Colbert appears on television as Stephen Colbert. And now we know that Connor’s Connor Ratliff doesn’t have to be tied to one dream. Connor Ratliff’s deal is that he’s 100% gung-ho about any ambitious goals he sets for himself.*** He could be running for president, going for gold, starting a business, or becoming an astronaut. He says he’s going to do it and he believes it. And watching him go for it is very funny.
Connor Ratliff may be more of a blowhard, a little more naive, a little siller than the real Connor. But he’s still smart and sharp, imaginative, creative, and industrious. It’s so refreshing to see a successful, popular, and consistently funny character that remains positive and not antagonistic. You watch TV shows all week about characters you love, even if the nicest one is still an asshole. And then here’s Connor with this silly character that was generally nice, smart, and positive. He’s a self centered asshole, but he’s never a bully to anyone. (Except for Will Hines.) You rooted for him in this election not just because you could, but because you wanted to.
It would have been easy for me to stand in Connor’s shoes and say “that’s the best I could have done with this bit. There’s nowhere else to go.” After the concert, the doc, the Election Night coverage. He’s escalated again and again. And instead of dropping it, now he’s evolving it. What a move. It makes me to think about how I move. It’s very inspiring.
***The above sentence also remains true if you replace fictional Connor Ratliff with performer Connor.