We Finally Know Sarah Palin’s Endgame: Late-Night Talk Show Comic Relief

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“We personally don’t care about Sarah Palin,” an unidentified representative for Anonymous said in an interview back in 2010, after Palin blamed the group when her personal credit card and website were hacked. Four years ago, a lot of us didn’t care about Sarah Palin anymore, even though she was still making tons of money from television and book deals, becoming one of the biggest names associated with the Tea Party, and toying with the notion of running for president in 2012. We just kept hoping she’d go away.

Everybody knew she wasn’t going to run for office, of course, because there was simply more money to be made elsewhere. As long as she showed up at a few rallies, said a few of her catchphrases, and did further damage to the country, then the money would keep flowing in steadily, like salmon in an Alaskan stream.

Those were good times, but no matter what you want to believe, Palin’s no dummy: in order to keep the money coming in, she has to keep showing up in public while still maintaining her “hockey mom from Wasilla” persona. Yet until last night, the places where she could do that were being narrowed down to right-wing talk shows and her new television show.

And I’m worried that this won’t be the last of Palin’s appearances on late-night TV. Her reputation (for lack of a better term) doesn’t have the same luster it once did; her television career took a big step down after that one failed season of Sarah Palin’s Alaska on TLC; her latest show, Amazing America With Sarah Palin, premieres on the Sportsman Channel tonight. Palin obviously has to know that her new employer’s reach of approximately 31,822,000 homes is a lot less than TLC’s 97,842,000. She has to know that her influence is shrinking, and that means her paychecks soon will as well.

What she also has to know is that The Tonight Show is one of the biggest stages on television, and also that the show’s young host, Jimmy Fallon, is trying hard to connect with the type of viewers that Jay Leno brought to the show in huge numbers. He has the younger demographic on the coasts, but in order to be a success, Fallon has to endear himself to people in the middle of the country who won’t be as easy to win over with videos of Fallon and The Roots singing pop songs with Muppets. A lot of those people might not know who Questlove is, but they’re familiar with Palin; whether they love her or hate her, she’s still a big enough name that people will talk about her appearing on a late-night show, just like they talked and talked when Tina Fey famously impersonated the then-Governor of Alaska on Saturday Night Live when Palin was John McCain’s running mate. Sarah Palin thinks she can get her old mojo back by making people laugh when she tells Fallon dressed as Vladimir Putin that he shouldn’t think of invading Alaska, because he might be able to take down a bear, but he’s no match for a “mama grizzly.”

And she might be right. She can still be the gun-loving, snowmobile-riding, gotcha question-avoiding personality many of us just want to see go away, while other people keep throwing money at her. The thing is that Anonymous had the right idea four years ago when they made it plain that they don’t care about Palin: laughing with or at Sarah Palin is still allowing her to get her foot back in the door. It isn’t exactly an example of the meme-ification of tyrants, but it is giving this person whose own party doesn’t even want to be associated with her a platform. The truth of the matter is that if we keep laughing, they’re only going to keep inviting her back.