Blair finds comedy show hard going
Tony Blair was tickled when Jon Stewart, the host of America's Daily Show, asked if George Bush would forget the cross-pond time difference and call him at four in the morning, laughing louder than at other moments during an appearance on the programme - and not denying that it used to happen.
When asked what it was about Mr Bush that kept their partnership as world leaders alive, the former prime minister had the grace to look sheepish: "Here's something I find always goes down well, particularly back home," he said. "I like him." Mr Stewart, who has been a relentless critic of the President and the war in Iraq, could only reply, "I would probably like him too, if he wasn't in charge of me."
But that was about as funny as it got. Mr Stewart, whose nightly stint on Comedy Central has increasingly influenced political discourse in the United States, interviewing the self-consciously funny Mr Blair should have been good for some laughs. But oddly it wasn't and we did not find out an awful lot about him that we did not know already.
Hardly the first former head of government to appear on the programme - the likes of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Pervez Musharraf had trodden the Daily Show boards before him - Mr Blair seemed almost ill at ease, wary of whatever Stewart zingers might be coming his way. Mr Stewart, for his part, remained respectful, often eschewing comedy for real inquiry, especially as regards the Iraq war.
Mr Blair was not about to say the invasion had been a mistake. He did admit, however, that he "would have been shocked" if he had known in advance the degree of bloodshed and violence that it triggered. "Saddam was removed more than five years ago but since then you've been fighting the type of battle against the same type of people that you've been fighting all over that region," Mr Blair added.
Pushed on Mr Bush's legacy, Mr Blair protested that he did not want to "get into" American politics. Nor was there any discussion of the current presidential race.
The interview came on the eve of Mr Blair making his debut as a guest teacher at Yale University, where he will co-teach a class on "faith and globalisation". He was due to address students on the New Haven campus later. It could be that teaching will make him more anxious even than appearing on fake TV news shows. "I'm sort of a bit nervous for it, really," he told the university's Yale Daily News. "I was never a star student, and I'm coming along mixing with a whole lot of people who I'm sure are a whole lot more clever and smarter than I am."
In a glancing reference to the recent days of chaos on Wall Street, Mr Stewart asked if "he'd picked the perfect time to come work in America... May I ask you this, sir: Did you get your money up front?" He had, the ex-PM replied.
Asked to describe the course at Yale, Mr Blair, who converted to Catholicism after leaving Number 10, said it had to with exploring how religion can do good in a globalised world rather than harm.
"Bits of religion are very extreme," he said, "and the other you can see in the work that faith groups do to alleviate poverty and disease and do great things in the world. So the question is, in the 21st century, which predominates: the good part that brings them together, or the bad part that pulls them apart?"
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