There Will Be No Laughing on Election Night

Will Leitch
5 min readOct 13, 2020

In November 2000, I fell asleep to Al Gore being declared the next president, woke up to George W. Bush having won, and by lunchtime no one had any idea who had won or what was going on. What I remember the most is finding the whole thing very funny. And it was funny.

I know now that being able to find such chaos amusing was a privilege, and an ugly one, of being an aimless but mostly comfortable white kid in his early 20s. One can argue about the specific differences of how the world would have turned out had Al Gore become president instead of George W. Bush, but there’s no question there were definite differences. But if you followed the race in 2000, this was not what everybody thought. I covered protests at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles that year — the same one Barack Obama couldn’t even get into — and the one thing every protestor believed, along with most young Gen Xers like myself, was that it didn’t matter whether the next president was Bush or Gore: They were two variations of the same flavor. That the race ended up so close sure didn’t feel like an accident. If you ask 300 million people whether they’d prefer two nickels or a dime, you shouldn’t be surprised when the results are 50–50. The madness that followed the close vote felt not like a moment of democratic peril. It felt like the logical conclusion to an incredibly stupid process. You just had to laugh.

While watching 537 Votes, a new documentary about the 2000 Florida recount (and specifically the Miami-Dade county non-recount) that airs on HBO on October 21, I was reminded that it wasn’t just snarky former grunge kids who thought all this was ridiculous. The documentary itself is mediocre, more interested in cheap nostalgia and sight gags than the psychology of the era (director Billy Corben of Cocaine Cowboys has a persistent habit of dressing up his films with gimmicks rather than trusting his story to tell itself), but its ability to mine cultural artifacts of that time is remarkable. There’s a ton of clips from The Daily Show, and they each make a strong argument that the smugness that ultimately drove us all away from Jon Stewart was there from the get-go. There’s a reminder that Craig Kilborn used to host a late-night talk show. And there is a Wanda Sykes riff on Florida that is even rawer and more cutting 20 years later. But…

Will Leitch

I write about these tumultuous times 2x a week. Author of five books, including “How Lucky.” NYMag/MLB.. Founder, Deadspin.