Bernie Sanders has little patience for things that Bernie Sanders has little patience for.
For much of the independent Vermont senator's presidential run, that seems to have included humor. Witness this July Q&A with the popular millennial-focused current events newsletter, The Skimm:
I really haven't thought too much about that.
Do you have many of these questions?
With some cream.
This is Sanders in a nutshell. The senator has been described in a New York Times magazine piece as a "humorless aging hippie peacenik Socialist from Brooklyn."
Now, Sanders's no-nonsense authenticity has clearly been working for him. Polling in the past few months show he's either leading or catching up to Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton in key early-voting states Iowa and New Hampshire, and he's drawing crowds five times the size of Clinton's to hear his admittedly rather dry, hour-long stump speech on taxes and tuition.
But in recent days, Sanders seems to be altering his tack ever so slightly -- as in, actually allowing jokes that don't mention income inequality or student loan debt to be made at his expense. And whether he means to or not, he's actually kind of funny in a very special Sanders way.
On Stephen Colbert's new "Late Show," Sanders willingly participated in a lightning-round Q&A on the issues, like Africa (he's for it) and kissing on a first date (sometimes). The skit was hilarious thanks to Sanders's dry delivery and stern face.
Then on Monday, Sanders slammed some soul food with Comedy Central comedian Larry Wilmore on "The Nightly Show."
Sanders's lips curled every so slightly into a smile when Wilmore asked if Sanders, who would be the oldest president ever if he were elected, might be involved in a "Weekend at Bernie's" situation -- the 1989 movie in which two insurance company employees try to convince the world their dead boss is actually alive -- if the unthinkable were to happen during a Sanders administration. Sanders even put on a pair of the movie's iconic sunglasses and plopped over as if dead.
Sanders also wasn't above using "on fleek" in a sentence (even though he pronounced it "un fleek")
"Larry Wilmore says," Sanders deadpanned, turning to look directly at the camera, "I should tell you that my plans for criminal justice reform are 'un fleek.'"
Those skits maybe wouldn't have been as funny if, say Rand Paul -- who's known to crack a joke or two -- did them. They were funny precisely because Sanders isn't known for his humor, so almost anything he does that's comedic is viewed within the prism of an old guy who has no patience for this sort of thing. That's a good shtick.
Sanders, of course, can't completely shake his humorless reputation. He left Wilmore hanging on a fist bump, and he looked less-than-amused when Wilmore kept interrupting him as part of a running gag about Black Lives Matter protesters who halted a Sanders speech this summer.
Not that Sanders has been totally devoid of humor until this week. He was a guest several times on Colbert's old Comedy Central show, and reporters who cover him note he's pretty jovial when it comes to media availability.
His stump speeches, The Washington Post's Sanders trail reporter John Wagner notes, are often sprinkled with dry humor. For example, when Sanders makes the case for mandated family leave, he'll note how having a baby is one of the most memorable events in the lives of parents. "And it's a pretty big day for the baby, too," he'll add.
So maybe we, the public, are just now beginning to see the "real Sanders." He wouldn't be the first Democrat running for president to try to show his or her softer side.
But given who he is, there's certainly a different threshold for success. Hillary Clinton has a real political reason to try to elicit some giggles and come across as light-hearted: As polls show voters don't think she's honest or trustworthy, her campaign has pivoted to trying to show more spontaneity. (On Jimmy Fallon on Wednesday, Clinton asked him to pull her hair to see if it was real.)
Sanders, by contrast, isn't struggling for enthusiasm or authenticity. So it's not clear exactly what his game plan is in doing these late-night skits, especially when it's almost painfully clear he'd much rather be formulating economic policy and his original game plan seems to be working so well for him.
But for whatever reason, the grumpy socialist senator from Vermont seems like he's trying to appear a little less grumpy these days. And that, too, seems to be working.