Jeff Bezos turned up on the Daily Show couch to promote Amazon.com's newest Kindle e-book reader. And as this clip shows, he laughed, and laughed, and laughed. Why wouldn't he?
Host Jon Stewart seemed discomfited by his guest's wild, table-slapping howls. But any tech reporter who's interviewed Bezos knows that the Amazon.com's CEO hooting laughter is his most distinctive personal quality, the hook of every headline.
As the '90s bubble burst, observers wondered if Bezos's online bookstore would survive, as it lost money with every shipment. In 2000, then-Red Herring editor Jason Pontin called him a "chuckling maniac" running a "terrible company." Oops! Amazon.com survived and thrived while hundreds of other online retailers perished. Every profile writer since then has felt obligated to trot out a tired line about Bezos "getting the last laugh."
Yet that misunderstands Bezos. The laugh is part of his schtick. He's having fun! He's got a surprise! Where Apple CEO Steve Jobs wooed audiences with imperious cool, Bezos plays it loose and goofy. (Like the time he bragged about having sex at a commencement speech.) Just when you think you've got him figured out, he changes his story. It goes something like this:
You thought Amazon.com was a bookstore. No, wait, it's a retailer, the Wal-Mart of the Web. It's a bricks-and-mortar play, with superefficient real-world warehouses. No, it's a software maker whose Web services underpin the likes of Twitter and SmugMug. Oh, never mind — now it's all about the Kindle, which is clearly the iPod of the book world!
By shifting Amazon.com's focus, Bezos gets Wall Street to think about Amazon.com's starry potential rather than the grinding reality of its workaday business, which is a low-margin, highly competitive retail business. Bezos would never get on the Daily Show to talk about Amazon's latest discount electronics offers. That's the real joke here. And that's why Bezos is really laughing.