I really enjoy doing the White House Correspondents’ Association dinners. The first one I hosted was for President Ronald Reagan. I got to the White House, and a very official-looking guy said, “Are you the comedian? Look here, this is the president of the United States. You don’t make fun of him; you don’t make jokes about him.” And then another guy came in and said, “Are you the comic? Ronnie likes a good joke. Don’t be afraid to talk about his hair. Have fun. You can be a little racy. He really likes a bawdy joke.” So it was a nerve-racking experience the first time. I threw jokes out on both sides because I didn’t really know what would work.
It’s my observation that Republicans like people in particular and nobody in general, and Democrats like people in general and no one in particular. Most people are neither wildly Republican nor wildly Democratic. Most people are somewhere in the middle and tend to lean one direction or the other, depending on what’s going on in the country at the time. I get beat up a lot for not coming out and saying which political party I support, but that’s not my job. I’m a comedian, and it’s my job to make fun of both sides equally.
You’ve been incredibly successful on TV, so why on earth do you still do your stand-up routine all the time?
I have always been a believer in the two-job theory. I live on one job and bank the other.
When I was a kid in school, I worked at McDonald’s and at a place called Wilmington Ford, and I would spend the money from one job and save the money from the other one. And that’s what I’ve always done as an adult. I basically live on the money I earn from personal appearances.
I also like the smash-and-grab aspect of doing stand-up. You show up, and if it works, you get all the credit — or if it doesn’t work, you get all the blame. You need 175 people to do a TV show. You only need one person to do stand-up. In show business, there are a thousand reasons why a show succeeds or fails, and you never quite know what the real one is. When you go to a club and it’s full, then it’s working — either you made money that night or you didn’t. I also like the piecemeal aspect of stand-up. If I do a show in Vegas on Friday night, it’s done.
I like the human-gathering aspect as well. Humans, as a species, don’t really gather much anymore. I grew up in a small town, and once a month, there would be a town meeting. Nothing ever got done, but you got to see one another and talk to one another, and people got to interact a little bit. With the Internet and tweeting, people don’t really gather as a group much anymore unless they are angry about something. So to get people in a room and get them laughing, you have an energy there that you don’t really get from a film or a television show that isn’t performed in front of an audience.