Imagine my surprise (and maybe yours) when the real Chris Christie rolled his chair onto the set of Weekend Update, the news-spoof segment on Saturday Night Live. It may be a stretch to say that he did the gig in order to plant seeds for the 2016 presidential race; at minimum, however, it can safely be said that his late-night riff kept the option open.

And make no mistake, the '16 jockeying has already begun. Marco Rubio was in Iowa this weekend. Bobby Jindal has spent the last four days trying to fill the GOP's sanity vacuum (on Fox News Sunday, he said that Republicans "don't need to be saying stupid things"). Paul Ryan is back on Capitol Hill, aiming for the party's conservative niche, rolling up his sleeves for the impending budget battle with President Obama. As for Christie, he took a different route this weekend. After briefly competing with party brethren to see who could shovel dirt onto Mitt Romney with the greatest alacrity (a new GOP rite of passage), he got himself a taste of show biz.

Which is not to imply that his decision was mindless. On the contrary, he was being smart. This was obvious from the moment Seth Myers introduced him. The audience, clearly delighted, greeted him with the ritual late-night call of the wild:

"Owwwww! Yowwwww!"

Seriously, this is what Republicans badly need: a national figure who can prompt young people to vocalize in primal fashion. Who else on the horizon, besides Christie, could pass the Yowwwww Test? Or goof on himself the way Christie did Saturday night - and prompt laughter from young people who are already hip to his combustible persona?

"New Jerseyans are known for their patience," Christie deadpanned.

Myers, quizzically: "They are?"

"YES THEY ARE! HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO SAY IT?...GET THE WAX OUT OF YOUR EARS!"

And moments later: "(I have) smelled like wet fleece for the past three weeks...I'm gonna die in this fleece. But this is a good fleece."

Myers: "It is a good fleece."

"STOP SAYIN' THINGS I'VE ALREADY SAID!...I'M TALKIN' HERE!"

Well, maybe this kind of stuff does sound a little mindless. But here's the thing: Late-night pit stops on SNL, The Daily Show, Leno, Letterman, Fallon  - these have become de rigeuer for any politician who hopes to connect with the "Millenials" - voters roughly between the ages of 18 and 30. And that just so happens to be the age cohort that gave Obama landslide majorities in 2008 and 2012. If Republicans want to have a future, they have to win over those voters.

Are there more substantive ways to accomplish that task? Instead of fooling around on late night? Absolutely. But what Christie did was essential - and the social science evidence backs him up.

This year, Comedy Central partnered with TRU Insights and Insights Research in order to study the Millenial mindset. The results were not particularly surprising: Most Millenials have little patience for self-serious politicians who are heavily scripted and wedded to their talking points; most Millenials crave authenticity. They want the politicians to ditch the artifice and reveal something of their true selves. And one key measure of authenticity is a sense of humor - especially the self-deprecating kind. Therein lies the road to likeability.

According to the survey, 33 percent of Millenials believe that an interview with a comedian is the best way for a voter to get to know a candidate; the second best way, a live speech, was endorsed by only 14 percent. Elsewhere in the survey, 40 percent of Millenials said they'd be less likely to support a candidate who has no sense of humor or who can't poke fun at himself. Conversely, in response to a different question, 62 percent said they like it when politicians reveal a funny side. (According to the fabulous Lincoln movie, Abe would've easily passed these tests.)

All told, the survey said, Millenials prize those comedic moments: "When candidates visit late-night talk/political satire shows, it's as if they are throwing away the tele-prompters and talking points and showing their real personalities."

Mitt Romney told his fat-cat Florida donors, in the now-infamous video, that he was avoiding SNL because it had "the potential of (him) looking slapstick and not presidential." But he missed the point. After you take the oath of office, you're presidential. But while you're campaigning for that office, and especially when you're campaigning for Millenials, you have to be cool. Romney, the epitome of the '50s TV dad, was decidedly not cool. Christie this weekend was cool. And with those voters in mind, the SNL gig might have been his opening salvo for 2016.

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Speaking of Romney, the votes are still trickling in. Here's where the race for first place in the Losers Club currently stands:

John McCain (2008)   59,948,323

Romney (2012)         59,142,004

C'mon, Mitt, you can do it!

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