Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Michelle Obama tries to avenge her husband's hoops loss to Stephen Colbert

MIchelle Obama, Stephen Colbert
MIchelle Obama, Stephen Colbert
Screenshot: The Late Show

Back in November (which was approximately 47 years ago, checking the old internal calendar), Late Show host Stephen Colbert roundly humiliated the former leader of the free world. No, not Obama’s immediate successor in the White House at the time—Colbert did that pretty much nightly. Nope, it was 44th President Of The United States and noted basketball trash-talker and nonchalant three-pointer enthusiast President Barack Hussein Obama that Colbert took to school. Granted, it was sedentary wastepaper basketball rather than any sort of actual athletic competition, but a win’s a win, and Colbert, who was promised a mention in the former president’s next memoir as reward, relished his victory with all the glee of a high school movie bully who doesn’t know that, as a great person once said, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Hoops justice.

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And while, technically, former First Lady Michelle Obama was not there specifically to stomp all over Colbert’s still-cocky butt in revenge, nor was she averse to telling the host to put up or shut up. With Colbert once more trash-talking the Obama family hoops honor and challenging his illustrious guest to an identical contest of crumpled-paper combat, Mrs. Obama (who forced the otherwise respectful Colbert to ditch the “Madame First Lady” stuff and call her by her first name for once) prepared to smack that goofy, superior grin off of Colbert’s face. Metaphorically, of course.

And, again, technically Mrs. Obama (or Michelle, as she now prefers) was on The Late Show to talk about more important stuff even than smoking Stephen Colbert in a time-honored office time-waster of a competition. She shared her recent experience with what she termed “low-grade depression” thanks to both the pandemic and the racial unrest that’s throttled the country in the past year-plus. Colbert could relate, half-jokingly asking his guest, “Why only ‘low-grade?,’” and accepting the infamously busy and motivated Obama’s advice that sticking to a schedule (even when your brain is urging you to hide in bed all day) is one way to train yourself to fake it until you make it, depression-wise. Good works are another, as Obama continued her campaign to get America’s kids to eat right. And, you know, just to be able to eat, as she told Colbert that it’s simply unacceptable that there are children in this wealthy country who are going to bed hungry for something to eat, healthy or no. (She also played a lightning round ranking different foods, suspiciously almost always choosing the delicious over the life-sustaining but boring. Seriously, though, screw cantaloupe.)

But then it was game time, as Colbert unveiled the paper projectile bins, pointed to the distant wire trash can, and started in with his bullshit, talking up his 8-0 shellacking of Mrs. Obama’s hubby. Still, Obama challenged Colbert to put his (okay, CBS’) money where his big mouth is, eliciting a promise for $1,000 to the Partnership For A Healthier America for each crinkled basket sunk versus a guest spot for Colbert on one of the former First Couple’s several Netflix series. (Colbert chose the kid- and nutrition-friendly Waffles + Mochi, because who wouldn’t?) And, sure, Colbert might now be two-for-two in defeating the Obamas in his game, but one can’t help but notice that the host didn’t challenge his guest to take his little balls into the paint. Yeah, we didn’t think so, mister.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.