In the 17 minutes that Ziwe Fumudoh, known for her witty and acerbic interview style, engaged George Santos, the most telling moment was the serious one.
“What can we do,” she asked Mr. Santos, “to make you leave?”
“Stop inviting me to your concerts,” he replied.
“So the lesson,” Ms. Fumudoh, who had invited Mr. Santos to the meeting, said later, “is to stop inviting yourself places.”
“But you can’t,” he replied. “Because people want the content.”
Mr. Santos was telling the truth. After his expulsion from the House of Representatives earlier this month, the ex-congressman has become more omnipresent than before. He now charges $500 for each video he records on Cameo and has a private subscription service on X.com where he has promised to share scandalous details about his former congressional colleagues.
And his interview with Ms Fumudoh was widely anticipated.
But despite efforts to bring him up to speed on his use of campaign funds, his alleged racial blindness, and the apparent inconsistency between his embrace of drag culture and his support for far-right anti-drag mandates, the interview made no news.
Indeed, it only further highlighted the transformation of Mr. Santos, who faces 23 counts, from a sullen and disgraced figure hounded by journalists into a kind of showman, eager to transform this fall from grace into a sort of low-level celebrity.
Many guests who got into the most trouble on Ms Fumudoh’s show seemed to carry on without knowing that the joke might be on them. And some — like presidential and mayoral candidate Andrew Yang and food writer Alison Roman — had a lot to lose.
But Mr. Santos, who was expelled from Congress after an ethics report revealed evidence that he brazenly stole from his campaign, has little to lose and little to hide.
He was even willing to play up the current criminal case against him for a gag – joking towards the end of the show about wanting to keep Ms. Fumodoh’s signature for later (presumably fraudulent) purposes.
Mr. Santos delivered pre-prepared lines about corruption in Congress and the possibility of a political future. He was rarely put on the defensive, taking slight heat when he acknowledged that he was unfamiliar with queer luminaries like James Baldwin and Harvey Milk.
That performance contrasts sharply with the figure he achieved just a year ago, when the New York Times reported that almost everything Mr. Santos said about himself on the campaign trail was fiction. In the immediate aftermath of that report, Mr. Santos largely avoided the media, appearing only briefly to admit to some lies and offer a tepid apology.
His first days in Washington were marked by awkward silence, as he journalists avoided who pursued him through the halls of Congress.
But his abbreviated tenure in national politics appears to have prepared Mr. Santos for confrontational exchanges, teaching him when to react and when to let it go.
“What advice would you give to young, diverse people with personality disorders who are considering a career in politics? » asked Ms. Fumudoh at one point.
Mr. Santos fixed her with a fixed gaze. “You’re cute,” he finally said, then calling to the production team: “She’s so cute!”
Ms. Fumudoh hosted a popular show on YouTube before moving to Showtime in 2021. That show was canceled earlier this year, but Ms. Fumudoh resurrected the medium for a special report with the former congressman.
If there is a trace of regret in Mr. Santos’s performance, it is not for the actions he took, but for what his shameless profile cost him.
“House of Representatives or House of Gucci? » asked Ms. Fumudoh at one point.
“You know what? House of Representatives,” Mr. Santos said with a smile, adding for emphasis: “Bring the house down, House of Representatives every day!”
“Well, not every day since last Friday,” said Ms. Fumudoh, referring to her expulsion.
Mr. Santos just stared for a moment, before responding, “Well, whatever. Who cares?”
Michael Gold reports contributed.