Governor Chris Christie’s appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” on Thursday resembled a spurned suitor’s return to the site of his humiliation.
Would the snubbed admirer shrink under the hot studio lights, the same ones that recently shone on his boyhood idol as he sang about traffic on the George Washington Bridge? Or would the possible presidential candidate crawl out from under his shell and show himself unhampered by heartache?
Christie, a Republican whose devotion to Bruce Springsteen has been part of his populist persona, has kept a relatively low profile in the five months since New Jersey’s bard lampooned him on Fallon’s late-night talk show.
Amid investigations into a scandal over closed lanes at the George Washington Bridge, Christie could not bring himself to watch the traffic-jam-themed parody of “Born to Run” sung by Springsteen (and Fallon).
So on Thursday, a blustery and at times exuberant Christie took one of the braver steps in his rehabilitation: re-entering the crucible of late-night comedy, on the very same stage where Springsteen had scorned him.
Much of Christie’s appearance centered on one of the few themes that are safe for him these days: fatherhood. Buoyed by a Father of the Year award he captured in April, Christie chased viral fame by dancing alongside Fallon in a recurring dance-themed skit.
Called “The Evolution of Dad Dancing,” the skit was a variation on “The Evolution of Mom Dancing” bit that Fallon did last year with Michelle Obama, which has drawn over 18 million views on YouTube.
But the specter of a derisive Springsteen — and of the bridge scandal more broadly — was never far from view. Christie strummed an air guitar enthusiastically for the “Dance You Do at a Springsteen Concert.” But he threw his arms up in mock exasperation when Fallon finished the skit with a dance titled “This Bridge Is Closed.”
Fallon, who plays the part of a mutual friend caught between quarreling New Jersey celebrities, recast a familiar late-night joke when he quipped that Christie ate the leftover lunches at his Father of the Year ceremony.
“It shows what a putz you are that you go right to the weight jokes,” Christie responded defiantly, drawing a laugh.
Nor did Christie hesitate when asked about his political future.
“Hypothetically, you run for president,” Fallon said. “Hypothetically, Hillary Clinton runs for president. Hypothetically, do you think you could beat her?”
“Hypothetically, you bet,” Christie replied. The audience whooped as he licked his upper lip.
“In a dance-off,” Fallon continued, lightening the mood.
“That’s what I was talking about,” the governor answered. “What were you talking about?”