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Laura Coates Live

UFC President Dana White Talks Sports And Politics; Tony- Nominated Director Whitney White Talks About New Play. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired June 14, 2024 - 23:00   ET



LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Well, tonight on this hour of "Laura Coates Live" -- lights, camera, action. How Hollywood is getting involved in the 2024 race. Plus, he's powerful, influential and he is squarely in Donald Trump's, well, octagon. My wide-ranging interview with UFC's Dana White.


DANA WHITE, UFC PRESIDENT: There's plenty of people that -- and everybody thinks that I'm like some crazy conservative. I'm right down the middle. I'm for common sense. I don't ever tell my employees to vote for Trump or I don't tell my employees to vote at all.


COATES: We go inside his relationship with his long-time friend and why the UFC is one of the most welcoming arenas for Trump. Our full interview is just a few moments away. But we begin this hour with President Biden getting ready to head to Hollywood tomorrow.

The mission -- raise as much money as politically possible with the likes of George Clooney and Julia Roberts. Maybe a rendition of "Oceans" --was that 12 or 13 now? Obama will be at the fundraiser, as well. Jimmy Kimmel will interview them and the priciest ticket to get in -- 500,000 bucks.

Look, it's as much about raising money as it is about trying to get people excited for Biden's re-election campaign, which I have to tell you has been quite a challenge, at least according to the polls. Now, there seems to be two types of celebrity supporters for Biden. One, shall we call the raging bull type that is vocally brawling against Donald Trump and all of his supporters.


ROBERT DE NIRO, ACTOR: Take that stupid (BEEP) hat off. Take that stupid (BEEP) hat off. You're a bunch of clowns. Let me see this guy get elected, (BEEP) you.


COATES: Now, the other type is working behind the scenes. Literally. Do you know that Steven Spielberg is helping the Biden team for the democratic national convention? He's consulting them on the best way to tell Biden's story at the convention, a story that hasn't seemed to resonate with the youngest of voters.

According to a Quinnipiac poll from last month, Trump is a point ahead among registered voters between 18 and 34 years old. And just for some perspective, Biden won that age group by 24 points back in 2020. "The New York Times" today outlined Biden's struggles in connecting with Gen Z with the headline, "Joe Biden wants to go viral. It's not easy."

Now, of course, Trump is courting that demo, as well. The latest example, his appearance on the popular Logan Paul podcast.




TRUMP: Sell for a lot of money --these things.

PAUL: Oh, no way. Thank you, President. Is this your mug shot?

TRUMP: Yeah, can you believe it?

PAUL: You're a gangster.

TRUMP: This is what we're reduced to.

PAUL: No way, no way. Should we put them on now?


COATES: He says "what we're reduced to"? Okay, I'm going to need a minute to process that. So I'm going to turn to people joining me now at the desk, former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh and former Obama White House senior director Naira Huck. So, glad to have both of you here.

First of all, the former President just handed out like mug shot paraphernalia. Is that just shocking to you or is that exactly what you expect to happen right now?

NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE SENIOR DIRECTOR: No. This -- listen. Logan Paul effectively lost his job in 2018 because he just thought it would be a really great idea to go and film suicide victims in a Japanese forest, right? This is his big play.

So, for both Donald Trump, who lost the 2020 election and Logan Paul, who lost all of his Utah contracts, this is this is their version of a comeback. So, they're going to appeal to the basis of instincts, as both of their personalities do, to get what they can get.

COATES: Is this the way this is the way that they're doing it? I mean, is this something that's not Logan Paul? He's you know, young voters are looking to him. Young people are looking to him. He's a very influential figure, has a huge platform. Is this the right route? Is this the way that the politicians need to go in order to get that support?

JOE WALSH, FORMER GOP CONGRESSMAN: Yes, we live again in a populist moment. People are sick of politicians. They're sick of both parties. Young people, Laura, are sick of both of these candidates. So, it makes, again, it's all an act with Trump, but it makes sense to try to come across as a non-politician to get endorsements from people like this.

It's tougher for Biden because Biden, like Trump's nuts, but Trump's old. He just turned 78 today. Biden presents as old. That's a different hurdle he's got to get over, especially with young people.

COATES: So, here's part of what I think the challenge actually is, is the idea of what's authentic and what's not.


And Biden should just be himself at this point.

WALSH: Embrace it.

HAQ: Right. I mean, the other night on "The Daily Show", Charlamagne Tha God was talking about, oh, look, these people drop F-bombs. Biden was the original F-bomb dropper. And all these pearl-clutching people in Washington, D.C. dialed that back.

COATES: The big F and D-O moment.

HAQ: Many a time when working in the White House was this just regular talk. And Biden knows how to be a regular human being. He knows how to connect with individuals at a personal level. And just embrace, lean into the fact they're both old. And Biden's just the older person that you actually want to spend time with because he'd be kind to you.

COATES: Well, voters want authenticity. I think that's for sure. I think a lot of people talk about the -- why they're drawn to particular figures in politics or elsewhere, that they feel like they're getting the real person. And of course, in the social media world, you don't have to have the different hurdles to access people. They can set their own narrative or their truth, whatever you want to say about it.

But "The New York Times" reports that Biden's campaign is struggling because it's, quote, and this is what they're talking about, quote, " -- difficult territory for an 81-year-old President whose policies on Gaza and immigration are unpopular on the left." So, what would be the way for him to connect to voters, is I mean, if these are it's not just about authenticity, but about real substantive matters, as well.

WALSH: He's got he's got a unique hurdle, Laura, because I think Biden himself has to do this. No George Clooney and no Barack Obama and Jimmy Kimmel. It's Biden because he's -- he comes across as older. He's got to make the case that he's up to it. He is authentic. He needs to be authentic. He can't have an endorser do that. Everybody

knows who Trump is. Everybody. And we have to decide whether we want him back in the White House. Biden has to make this case himself. I think he can.

HAQ: Some of what - some of what the challenge with the younger voters, and again, we're talking 18 to 34. So, millennial younger than that is the -- it's going to be a referendum on their lived experience of coming up in effectively a broken system.

WALSH: Yeah.

HAQ: And that's independent of Biden. It is part of their post Covid experience, this -- living through mass shootings. This is a first generation that is not going to out earn their parents or be able to afford a home, despite the fact they will be working longer hours and they have no job security. It's a gig economy.

So, there -- the optimism of why young people should invest in this system is not an argument that Trump is making, right? He's -- he's Mr. "the system is broken, just put me in charge of everything". That is actually something that Biden can say that would be effective if he just does it as the person he is.

COATES: You know, there was a moment -- there's a moment, I think we can all point to when we realize how impactful and influential a Hollywood celebrity would be in an election, right? The fact that that would be the person to endorse. I mean, it was the ultimate celebrity endorsement. And then you've got this endorsement or fundraiser happening tomorrow. You mentioned some of them who are going to be there.

You've got George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jimmy Kimmel, former President Barack Obama. The tickets range from 250 to 500 grand, okay? And that includes four tickets in the front row, a photo with Biden and Obama and the after party. And you have to wonder if, you know, if you're meeting people where they are, is this where voters are? Is this the kind of enticing thing or is this really about banking the money to then be able to access these voters later?

WALSH: No, that's all about money. And Trump does it, too, both sides do that. That's just about raising money.

COATES: It is obscene how much money is required to run a presidential election.

WALSH: But you've got to do that. But George Clooney, Barack Obama and Jimmy Kimmel aren't going to get regular Americans supporting Joe Biden, Hollywood elites and Hollywood celebrities.

HAQ: It's not a one to one return on investment of celebrity time to a direct vote. But it does certainly help with that idea of enthusiasm and vibes if you get the right celebrities. I mean, Trump had Chachi. And at some point, you know, Bush has had a kind of director who was talking to a chair, right, talking to a chair at the convention. So, there's a good group that can probably -- I will say, though, that

I still have PTSD from fight songs. So, not all celebrity collaborations --

COATES: Oh my gosh.

HAQ: -- are -- you know what I'm talking about?

COATES: I do. That song is like --

HAQ: It did not. That did not. So, celebrity endorsements did not work for Hillary.

WALSH: And they're not going to work for Biden. Biden's got -- young people do not want to vote. If they come out and vote, they're going to vote for Biden.

HAQ: I'm going to argue with you on this one.

WALSH: Okay, go.

HAQ: I know we don't argue a lot.

COATES: Well, let's play the fight song quick. Okay, go ahead.

HAQ: The -- looking at recent data of old people, young people. And I know these are very generic terms we're using for voters. It's not apathy. And it's not that they don't care about issues and don't care about the future. They actually have a much higher reported rate of not having access to voting because they move a lot.

So, they either have incorrect polling information. Bureaucracies of voting have gotten intentionally very complex. So, they actually report significantly higher rates of having trouble just accessing the ballot.


WALSH: Most will vote for Biden. Biden has to figure out a way to get them out to vote. He has to enthuse. He's got to get to enthuse them.

COATES: But you know what? That's the big question.

WALSH: I just think Biden's got to embrace the fact that I'm an 80 year old grandpa. Put the sunglasses on. Look like a cool, old dude.

HAQ: They're both old.

WALSH: He can't not pick --

HAQ: Take which one you'd rather actually have --

WALSH: But Trump's nuts. Biden's at least a normal guy. Embrace you're a cool, old grandpa. That's the only way to do it.

COATES: Well, you've heard it here. God, not the fight song. Okay. You know, it was catchy. Nayyera, Joe, thank you so much. Not for the earworm, though, at all. Next, my interview with the UFC president Dana White, where we talk everything from sports to politics, including his thoughts on why UFC's fan base seems to be so drawn to Trump and why he thinks the former president gets a bad rap.



COATES: Well, what a whirlwind 30 years it has been for the full contact combat league that knows no boundaries. I'm talking about the UFC and despite its initial crushing lows, the fight business has built up quite a staunch fan base. So, who is behind the counterpunch that transformed the largest mixed martial arts phenomenon that's seeping into our culture?


UNKNOWN: He's controversial. He's very polarizing, but he's authentic. He's passionate.

UNKNOWN: I don't care who disagrees. You're wrong and I'm right. I'm not going to listen to some media guy telling me how to run my business.

UNKNOWN: If you want to come battle with me, this is what you're going to get.


COATES: Well, who knows how to weave in a level change for an element of surprise? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNKNOWN: If we set out to make the live event experience one that people would clamor to attend, then it better be an experience that wows them.

UNKNOWN: So, Mr. President.


COATES: Well, joining me now for a no holds barred interview, and I promise this is not going to be a cage fight at all, but president of the UFC, Dana White, welcome to CNN and "Laura Coates Live". How are you doing?

D. WHITE: Good. Thanks for having me.

COATES: I'm glad you're here. Listen, I mean, this new series you got on Roku goes behind the scenes. I know everyone's been talking about it. This is not really shrouded in mystery. I know you're in your war room right now, but the idea of going behind the scenes and what it has taken to build your enterprise is nothing short of amazing. And I just wonder, why do you want to let the cameras in? D. WHITE: I don't know. And realistically, when you look at what we

did, it's three episodes. It's a sliver. I mean, a sliver of what goes on here. We have event ops. We have consumer products. We do all our own production. Normally, when you do a deal with a network, the network does the production for sports. We do all of ours in-house.

I have 562 employees worldwide. We have offices in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, the U.K., UAE, China, and Singapore. And -- but what people really love is they've never had the opportunity to see how fights are made, what happens when fights fall apart. You know, the highs of the highs and the lows of the lows of the business. And that's what this doc gives you.

COATES: Well, you know, one of the big fights that are happening, obviously, in Washington, D.C., you got a front-row view of, literally, because when the former President had his first public appearance following being convicted in Manhattan, he showed up for a UFC fight. I mean, he comes out.

There are -- there's a lot of applause. He comes out to American Badass, right, which has become kind of the theme song for his campaign. He, you know, got all this applause. He stayed to the very end. The fighter at the end comes over and hears him and starts talking to him as well.

And he uses the video to then launch TikTok for himself. What is it about the relationship the two of you have that made him want to be there and is so embraced by the fan base at UFC?

D. WHITE: Yeah, he and I have been friends for almost 25 years. When I was building this business early on, we first bought it. Venues didn't even want the UFC. Three guys believed in this thing -- me, Frank, and Lorenzo Fertitta. When Trump reached out to us, he showed up for the first fight and stayed to the last one at the Trump Taj Mahal. And he's been a fan of fighting.

Obviously, he had big boxing events back then too. But he's a big fan of the UFC. And our fan base absolutely loves him. Yeah, he launched the TikTok. One post, he's got 6.2 million followers. And the thing is that like 130 million almost views. So, it was very successful.

COATES: What do you think it is that -- I mean, obviously, the support for you and the building of the UFC and beyond is important from a personal perspective. But for him to have the reach and the breadth, what is it about the fan base that you think is drawn to him personality-wise or otherwise? Is it -- I mean, it seems to me the fan base wants a lot of the things and the qualities that he exudes. Why is that?

D. WHITE: Yeah, I think that -- I don't know why the fan -- but the fighters too are aligned. I mean, multiple fighters jumped out of the octagon that night and shook his hand and thanked him. And, you know, listen, Trump is a good guy. Trump gets a bad beat. You know, politics are dirty. You know this as well as anybody else. He loves this country and, you know, he loves every American in this country despite what they say about him. I have been friends with this guy for a very long time. He's a very

good human being.


And he's been a very good friend to me. And politics are just dirty. And people say a lot of things. If any of the things about him were true, I would not - I would not associate with him. He's a good man.

COATES: That's interesting because there's a lot of ammunition people throw to suggest that you have any number of reasons not to like him. You don't believe the things that are being said about him.

D. WHITE: I know him personally. You know, there's a lot of things that are being said about Biden. There's a lot of things that have been said about a lot of other politicians. I take it all with a grain of salt.

COATES: You know, interestingly, a lot of Hollywood people, a lot of, see a lot of celebrities nowadays, a lot of sports leagues, people want to distance themselves from politics, generally. They don't want the association. They're worried about their marketing. They're worried about brand association.

They're worrying about -- there you are. You are pointing yourself at all those different things, you know, full, well, the role of the media and a lot of things. Why do you think so many try to avoid it and you choose not to extend that 10 foot pole?

D. WHITE: No, it's a good thing to avoid. I mean, politics are dirty. It's, you know, I don't, you know, I'm obviously a very close friend to Trump. I, care about this guy. Like I would any of my really good friends. So, I'm there to support him as a friend. But I'm not looking to be overly political or get into politics, either.

When people go to watch sports, they, want to disconnect from all -- you can watch that stuff on every other channel. You want to disconnect from that stuff, lose yourself in the sport that you love and have a good time with your family and friends. And you don't want any of the politics getting dragged into it. I

COATES: I mean, sports just supposed to be the ultimate form of escapism. You are right about that. And yet so often it is at the intersection of so many other things. And I do wonder because you have with UFC, a lot of attention obviously is, is given to the male fighters, but you've got a whole lot of, a lot of women who are also fighting and who are also a part of the sport.

And you've got the WNBA right now who is fighting to try to get the same level recognition as the NBA has got a lot of, you know, momentum behind them with Caitlin Clark, with Angel Reese, with so many, as the NAA with the NCAA and beyond. They're actually more than 300 female fighters in the UFC. And so, I wonder when you're watching the WNBA and other organizations building, what would you say to them to promote, to elevate women in pro sports? D. WHITE: Well, I have season tickets to the aces here in Vegas. So

I'm, I'm a supporter of the WNBA and of a lot of, you know, I'm friends with many women who play in the WNBA. And I think it's great. All the controversy, all the smack talk, all the bickering and all that stuff, it just, it just all helps build the sport.

It's good for everybody. It's not bad. And the UFC, I mean, once I met Ronda Rousey and started to bring women into the equal pay, equal rounds, I mean, everything is the same for the men and the women here at the UFC and always has been since the door was open to women.

And I think what's going on in the WNBA right now is great. Even all the negativity and the bad talk, people eat it up. They love it. It's basically like a, like a daily soap opera that people can't wait. And everybody has an opinion and everybody, Caitlin Clark, you know, it's all good stuff. It's good. It's good for the business.

COATES: Well, what's your opinion on the fact that Caitlin Clark is not on the Olympic team? Is that bad for business?

D. WHITE: I don't know. Listen, you know, the fact that people are talking about it is incredible for the business, right? What you don't want to be is the league that nobody cares about one way or the other. They don't care if she goes to the Olympics. They don't care if she doesn't go to the Olympics. That's what you don't want.

That's what's bad for your business. Every single thing that's going on with the WNBA right now could not be better, could not be bigger. And I go to games and I have a blast going to the live games. And I think a lot of people are starting to wake up and realize that the WNBA is actually fun.

COATES: It is. And you've had tickets before the Caitlin Clark season. I want to just point out that you've been a long time fan.

D. WHITE: Season one.

COATES: Season one. Well, there you go. All right. There you go. Proof positive that people are not just coming to the sport right now. Also, speaking about fights that people are looking at, I mean, you're a huge fan of Mike Tyson and let's be honest.

D. WHITE: But let me say this. One more thing. Let me say this, but you have to understand Caitlin Clark is massive and big to this whole thing. It's like, even in my sport, it happens here, too. Like when a guy like Conor McGregor bursts onto the scene and becomes a huge star, everybody starts saying, oh, that's their golden goose. And they're this, that, and that. But all it does is all that kind of talk just makes everything bigger.

Caitlin Clark is absolutely massive for the WNBA in many, many ways, as are the women that came before her and helped get it to where it is today.


It's all -- all these people are building blocks in building, the sport and making people care one way or another about it.

COATES: I mean, I do subscribe to a philosophy that a rising tide lifts all boats, right? The idea of everyone's talking about it and you're a part of that sport. You're a part of the team. It's a good thing, but I do wonder, I mean, where people, I mean, they, they literally fight out their resentment.

They -- if they've got rivalry, it's going to get handled one way or the other in the Octagon. You don't have quite the same thing on the, on the floor of WNBA games and beyond, but you do have the fight. Do you think that it is helpful in terms of morale overall? Or you think everyone subscribes to what you as the head of the UFC would think about what's good for the sport as a player?

D. WHITE: Yeah, you're right. But everything is a fight. You know what I mean? Reese doesn't like her and she doesn't like Reese. Every time they play, it's a fight. They're going to get together and they're going to battle who's going to win. Who's going to lose. It's no different than every time that Indiana would go into New York and you had Spike Lee on the sidelines and you had, what's his name? Dropping threes.

And I mean, it's all incredible.

COATES: Reggie Miller.

D. WHITE: These are, yeah, Reggie Miller and the whole thing that went on with New York. Everything is a fight and everything is a battle. There's nothing better in a sport than when you have incredible characters and incredible storylines and people are coming to fight.

There always has to be something at stake, what's at stake and why should I care to watch this game? Every time Caitlin Clark and Reese play, it's going to be a big deal. And people are going to care. It's all good for everybody.

COATES: We've got to take a quick break, but I've got to know if Dana White thinks his friend Mike Tyson should really be fighting Jake Paul and who he thinks will win. That's next.



COATES: I'm back now with UFC president Dana White. Let me turn to what's going on with Mike Tyson. Cause you're a huge fan and who isn't? He has this much anticipated fight against Jake Paul. It has been postponed. If Mike Tyson were here, would you tell him to go for it? Would you give him instructions? Is the anaconda choke? Are we tapping out? What's the rule?

D. WHITE: Mike Tyson and I talk regularly. So, I am, he's actually training here at the UFC for this fight. And, yeah, I, you know, I'm excited for Mike. Mike wants this, you know, I've, I've been very vocal in the past about him still fighting, but this is what he wants to do. And, you know, this is what he was raised to do. I mean, this is what he does.

He fights. We had this situation before where I didn't want to fight and come on, Mike, I'll get your T.V. show. So, I got him a T.V. show on shark week and he wanted to kill me. Like, he's like, so you care about me so much that you don't want me doing what it is I actually do, but you want to throw me in the ocean with a bunch of sharks. Yeah, this makes no sense, Dana. So, I stay out of Mike's business and let him do his thing.

COATES: Okay. Well, how about this business for you because you've talked about politics as a blood sport, kind of like how people look at MMA fighting. Would you ever run for office? You have people like "The Rock" and other people, entertaining the notion. How about you?

D. WHITE: Never in a million years, man. You want to talk about the sport that I'm in is fighting and it's regulated and it's whatever. There's nothing dirtier than politics. And I want nothing to do with it.

COATES: I want you to think about your answer before you give it, Dana. I want you to really give this some thought about the same thing, but really, you're saying 90 million years. So you never, no one's ever asked you to be a part of any administrations and you would say no?

D. WHITE: Well, people have asked me lots of things, but I would never, never, ever, ever get involved in politics. It's just, it's, first of all, I have no desire, interest in it. And I'm one of these people, like everybody is so divided right now. And if you look at, there's people in Hollywood that I'm very good friends with.

There's plenty of people that, and everybody thinks that I'm like some crazy conservative. I'm right down the middle. I'm for common sense. And in this country, everybody has the right to vote for whoever they want to vote for.

And whoever you vote for, I don't judge you. It's your, it's your God given right as an American to vote for who you want to. And I don't ever judge anybody by their politics or who they vote for. It's just, it's not my thing.

COATES: Why do you think people have that perception of you? Is it your association with Trump?

D. WHITE: Because my relationship with him and, and, but he's just, he's not who everybody thinks he is. If you think he's this, this demon and this, you know, this monster that wants to destroy the country, he's a good human being. He loves America. And when I say he loves America, he loves every American in America, regardless of race, religion, or any of that stuff. Donald Trump is a good person.

And, and, and his family are good people, too. Ivanka is one of the -- one of the nicest people you will ever meet. And so is her husband, Jared Kushner. They're all good people. And we all want the same things in America. You know, we want a good job. We want to be able to take care of our families. We want to be able to buy a home and a car. We all want the same things.

COATES: Well, you know, it's interesting that people have that perception and I've, I've never heard you try to clarify it and what your, and your stance. I wonder, I mean, obviously you don't feel the need to clarify your positions and, and, and tell people, is that just because you think, look, stay in your lane and I'll stay in mine and you have your assumptions and I'll have my reality?

D. WHITE: Well, I think so. But I, you know, when you, when you talk about Trump, it becomes so polarizing.


People are so like, and you'll see a lot of people out in the streets interviewing people that, well, what is it that you don't like about him? What has he done that that bothers you? And what is this? And what does that? And people can't really put their finger on it. It's just, you know, the media creates all of this you know, all the infighting that's going on in this country right now.

And I'm, I'm the exact opposite. I'm down the middle, vote for whoever you want to vote for. Never once do I ever, nothing here at the UFC is political. Everybody knows my relationship with Trump. I don't ever tell my employees to vote for Trump or I don't tell my employees to vote at all. You're all grownups. You're all, you know, grown men and women.

If you want to vote, vote, if you don't want to vote, don't vote. And that's pretty much my stance on everything. It was my stance with COVID. If you want to get a vac -- a vaccination shot, do it. If you don't, by all means, then don't do it. It's your body. It's your life. And it's your decision.

COATES: Well, some people would look at a position in the platform that you have Dana and think to themselves, look, you now have a duty to do that which you normally wouldn't have to do as an individual. Do you feel like because of your platform, people are looking to you to influence, to endorse, to do all the things that you seem averse to doing?

D. WHITE: Well, I think that there's no -- there's no secret who I'm voting for and you know, where I sit politically right now. But when I, when I was younger, I would absolutely have, have considered myself liberal, you know, leaning more on the liberal side. What would be considered a liberal 20 years ago, not what is considered liberal today.

COATES: What do you see the differences now?

D. WHITE: I would look -- the -- it's night and day. It's not even remotely close to what it was 20, 30 years ago. To consider yourself a Democrat 20 or 30 years ago was completely different than what it is today. I would actually consider myself leaning more conservative. And, but I'm right down the middle. I am for common sense. Give me common sense all day. And I'm voting for that. COATES: Gosh, there's a lot of people who would say even Republicans are a far -- fair cry from what they used to be even 20, 30 years ago. I do wonder, I know, I know we got to go. But I do wonder from your perspective, you know, I know you said the media creates a lot of the fighting and the drama of it all. I mean, I, I have a front row seat oftentimes. I see drama playing out.

The media is reporting on it. Maybe there are those who indulge in the creation, but certainly what I'm seeing are actual fights. But one of the biggest fights people have right now is about the criminal justice system. And after the conviction, a lot of people think that should be the exit ramp to no longer consider Trump somebody who's viable. Do you think anything from the convictions -- has that changed your view of him at all?

D. WHITE: Not even a little bit. I mean, if you started, if you wanted to start going after people and convicting them, I mean, there are former presidents that you absolutely could have gone after and done the same thing. This is, this is how you weaponize politics. That's what's going on with Trump. And the problem is that every American in this country sees right through it.

COATES: Well, we'll see. Maybe you should bring an Octagon over to Capitol Hill. And we'll see what happens. So it is, I may ask you, who was the ultimate matchup for you? Who would be the matchup? I mean, everyone's safe in the end and everyone's all that, but who are the matchup that you want to see?

D. WHITE: The -- what goes on in Capitol Hill is the old UFC before it was regulated. No holds barred, no rules. You know, two men enter, one man leaves. Politics are way too dirty for me. Way too dirty.

COATES: Wow. Now, that is really saying something. Dana White, so good to talk to you to get your opinion on so many things. Remember, you got to catch "Fight Inc" on Roku. Thanks so much for joining.

D. WHITE: Thanks for having me.

COATES: Ahead, the play that's taking Broadway by storm and giving a fresh take on the immigrant experience. I'm talking about Jaja's African hair braiding now nominated for five Tony awards. Director Whitney White is my guest, next.



COATES: I want to take you back in time. Back to 2019, Donald Trump is in office and no one has ever heard of a thing called COVID. And what's front and center in the public consciousness is a debate on immigration policy. A so-called Muslim ban has been put in place only to be watered down and then later reversed.

And there are calls to build a wall on the southern border. Dreamers, they're wondering if they'll ever be able to become full citizens. But what about the people behind the policy that is being discussed? The immigrants who are reeling from the constantly changing policies. Well, that's the inspiration behind the play, "Jaja's African Hair Braiding". Take a look.


UNKNOWN: And then my little baby girl here. We will make her a citizen too, yeah? And she will go to university and become a doctor and buy me a four-story brownstone on land of savages.

UNKNOWN: Ma, please.

UNKNOWN: Okay, you don't have to be a doctor. I'll take -- engineer.

UNKNOWN: You have to let her be what she wants, Jaja.

UNKNOWN: I'm just playing with her. She can be whatever she wants. This is America after all. Oh my goodness. Just smile, Marie. For once, everything is working out for us.

UNKNOWN: Working out for you, maybe.

UNKNOWN: You all see this?


That's how I know she's American.


COATES: Well, it's now nominated for, count them, five Tonys. Jaja takes the audience inside a day in the life of a West African immigrant hair braiding salon in Harlem. People living and working as outsiders on the edge of the country that they now call home.

Well, joining me now is the Tony-nominated, yes, I said Tony-nominated director of the play, Whitney White. Whitney, congratulations. I am so proud of you and for you. And I had the absolute pleasure of seeing this on Broadway early on and just fell in love with it. So, I'm so glad to have you have all the success you're having.

So, talk to me about this nomination and really, what it means for you, Whitney, and the entire cast and crew. Because a black woman has never won for best play or best direction of a play. So you, Whitney, could be making history.

WHITNEY WHITE, DIRECTOR, "JAJA'S AFRICAN HAIR BRAIDING": First of all, thank you. It's so wonderful to be speaking with you. You know I'm such a fan and you know, it's very strange to be caught up in such a potentially historic moment. We opened this play, it was a world premiere that opened cold on Broadway, which never happens anymore.

The last play helmed by a black team that opened cold on Broadway was in 1991. And it was "Mudbone". So, it was a surreal, it's been a surreal process from beginning to end. But it's something we've really believed in. And I think the recognition from the Tony's has just bolstered us so

much. And it's been so inspiring. And I think it's helped keep the shop alive forever. You know, the play's going to live on long after we're gone now because of this recognition. So, it's just been an incredible experience.

COATES: I mean, just opening cold on Broadway. I mean, the fact that this has premiered on Broadway is something that most people could never even, frankly, dream of having happened. And so, it didn't get the tests run in smaller cities.

It's almost as if, you know, it was, and in fact it was, greenlit just on site. What did that mean for the whole process of that? And really, what a tremendous and extraordinary testament to your work.

W. WHITE: Thank you. I mean, Jocelyn and I -- Jocelyn Beo is the playwright. She's incredible. She is someone who's graced New York's stages both as a performer and writer. And I think the word we kept using behind the scenes once we got the greenlight to do the production with Manhattan Theatre Club was we wanted the work to be undeniable.

Every laugh, every tear, the set design, costumes, lighting, hair. We didn't want to have any doubts. And we didn't want the audience to have any doubts. So, it really affected, I think premiering cold on Broadway really affected how I approached the work as a director.

And I just kept thinking of the word undeniable. What's going to make this production undeniable? What's going to make the characters undeniable? And that was my guiding principle throughout the process. Because we didn't have any other trials. We had to get it right the first time.

COATES: Well, the set design is beautiful. And frankly, I mean, I'm a woman who frequently takes my daughter to the African hair braiding salon to get whatever new style that she wants. I've sat in many over the course of my lifetime as a young girl and now. And to watch this set come to life, not only just the transition between set pieces.

But also, I want to tell you what I found so compelling about it is how often we are really centering the conversations around immigration and dreamers with respect to Latin America. And your play offers a different and equally important perspective for migrants from all across the African diaspora. Why was it so important to include these experiences in this conversation?

W. WHITE: Well, I think in 2019 and very much now, the face of immigration, it had a very particular face. And it wasn't necessarily a face that reflected the reality of the people coming into the country, putting money into our economy, living, working, dying here and toiling every day to be a part of the American dream. And I think Jocelyn very bravely took pen to paper and sought out to show another side of the face of immigration, of long-term immigration here.

And what does it have the cost of the American dream? And I think she did it brilliantly. And I think, you know, it was kind of refreshing to go back to a previous time and looking at the issue of immigration to go back to 2019, because sometimes you can look at the past with clearer eyes than you can the present. And yet the play to me speaks very loudly to the now.

And I think it resonated with people because of that. But it's important to remember that even though there might be one face in the media of a political issue, it's usually representative of a much larger group. And this is the first time in American theater history that you had these many women from different African countries represented in one play.


Typically, when you look at the work, it's like about one community or one area. And Jocelyn is really about a kind of collage of women in this workspace. And with that, it was a financial, a critical success, obviously about a kind of collage of women in this workspace.

And with that, it was a financial, a critical success. Obviously, Tony nominated. So just given that, I mean, I don't know that you set out to prove something, but you certainly did prove something.

What do you think that is? I think we proved that black female stories are human stories that everyone can enjoy. There were all kinds of people in that theater every night. In fact, for the first time in the history of Manhattan Theater Club, which is where the play debuted on Broadway, we brought in more first-time people to the theater than ever before.

And that was a diverse audience. And I think we proved that, first of all, the audiences are ready for new stories. It's okay to try something new. It doesn't always have to be viewed as a risk. You know, it will bring people to the table. And also, black female stories are stories that lots of people actually do want to hear.

COATES: You certainly do sign me up each and every time. And it was also, Whitney White, damn good. Thank you so much.

W. WHITE: Thank you.

COATES: I can't wait, people. I hope it's touring soon, which is often the case for Broadway shows. And when it comes to your city near you, you got to check it out. Whitney White, Tony-nominated. Whitney White, thank you so much for joining.

W. WHITE: Thank you for having me.

COATES: Ahead, Chris Rock, Jimmy Fallon, and the Pope walk into a bar, or, well, the Vatican, at least. What could possibly go wrong? The moment a bunch of comedians met with the pontiff on his home turf, next.


[23:56:11] COATES: When you think of the Vatican, what comes to mind? A solemn sense of quietness? Elaborate classics and grand works of art maybe? Well, how about photobombs and wisecracks? That's going down today when more than 100 comedians knock elbows with the Pope himself. Here's CNN's Tom Foreman.


UNKNOWN: We're just here to see the Pope.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a meeting made in comedy heaven as 100 big-name comics lined up to shake hands with Pope Francis, including Jimmy Fallon, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Whoopi Goldberg, Stephen Colbert.

STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: Am I excited? Is the Pope Catholic?

FOREMAN (voice-over): The Pope's goal, to underscore the importance of humor in a troubled world. In the midst of so much gloomy news, he said, "You have the power to spread peace. You unite people and make God smile." Mike Birbiglia, currently touring with a hit show on Netflix, loved the Pope saying it's important for comedians to call out hypocrisy.

MIKE BIRBIGLIA, COMEDIAN: I mean, I was raised Catholic, and so I never heard that kind of message from the Church. And so to hear it from the person highest up in that same Church, it was unexpected, and I thought overall really positive.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Plenty in the audience, like Jim Gaffigan, have long included religion in their routines.

JIM GAFFIGAN, COMEDIAN: I'm not a good Catholic. Like, if there was a test for Catholics, I would fail. But then again, most Catholics would fail, which is probably why there's not a test.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Some of their material may strike strict churchgoers as a little wicked.

CONAN O', COBRIEN, COMEDIAN: Yes! Two popes -- coming soon.

FOREMAN (voice-over): But the Pope showed no sign of being troubled, keeping cool even when Chris Rock photobombed him. And the assembled comics were not looking for controversy either.

TIG NOTARO, COMEDIAN: And then in the darkness, this little voice, I have two mommies.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Big figures and allies in the LGBTQ community, such as Tig Notaro, while not approving, seemed willing for the day to press pause on reports of the Pope using a homophobic slur in private. In the end, even comics who shared many laughs at religion's expense were delighted to share a few with the Pope. And he said it's okay to laugh at God. We play and joke with the people we love.

FOREMAN: I was talking to Mike Birbiglia, who for my money is one of the best comics in the country right now, and he said, look, many, many people in that room disagree with many, many things that the Church and the Pope represent. And yet, he said, today it was about saying, how do we get closer together, not just further apart? And it worked. Laura?


COATES: Tom Foreman, thank you so much. And hey, I thank all of you for watching. "Anderson Cooper 360" starts right now.