« | »

AP Warns: No Cheap Laughs About Obama

A word to the wise from the Associated Press:

A tough time for comics with Obama as president?

By FRAZIER MOORE, AP Television Writer Frazier Moore

NEW YORK – Where’s the funny in Barack Obama?

That question, which dogged TV humorists throughout the presidential race, has gained new urgency now that Obama is headed for the White House.

His victory last week signaled imminent hardship for comics who lampoon political leaders for a living. The laugh-a-minute 2008 campaign is history, and soon there’ll be no President Bush to kick around in comedy sketches or talk-show monologues.

Adding to the jesters’ plight: Obama will soon be sworn in as the next Punch-Line-In-Chief.

Here is a man who inspires admiration, excitement or, maybe, suspicion. What he doesn’t inspire (in any measurable quantity, so far) are cheap laughs.

“A dignified, thoughtful, charismatic, smart man who doesn’t run at the mouth,” summed up Craig Ferguson, host of CBS’ “Late Late Show,” in the aftermath of eight go-go Bush years for comics. “Is it a challenge to our creative juices to find something funny about Obama? God, yes!”

Right after the election, some TV wags were even waxing nostalgic on the air, however tongue-in-cheek.

On Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart said he was already missing the Bush administration — and his own George W. Bush impression, which had served him so well at the anchor desk.

“As a comedian,” NBC’s Jay Leno echoed to his “Tonight Show” audience, “I’m going to miss President Bush. Barack Obama is not easy to do jokes about. He doesn’t give you a lot to go on. See, this is why God gave us (Vice President-elect) Joe Biden.

“When one door closes, another one opens up.”

True, as a six-term U.S. Senator and lately as Obama’s running mate, Biden has cemented his reputation for blurting out remarks before they’re vetted by his brain. (Item: Biden declared that “Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television” to address the nation when the stock market crashed in October 1929 — even though Herbert Hoover was president then and TV was barely invented.)

“He’s a little more gregarious, runs around and slaps people on the back, he’s cheery-looking,” said Ferguson, who agreed that Biden is the comics’ consolation prize. “You can at least put him in a sketch.”

The host of HBO’s “Real Time,” comic Bill Maher describes himself as “a policy guy who tries to stick more to what politicians do than who they are.” But that doesn’t mean he’s immune to the problem Obama represents.

“It’s always better if the president is stupid, or fat, or cheating on his wife, or angry, or a phony. This guy is none of those things. And that,” said Maher with a laugh, “is really unfair.

“But, c’mon, on balance, aren’t we all happier that we have somebody who isn’t such an easy target? I mean, comedians have had it really easy for the last eight years.”

Humor often relies on stereotypes and caricature, but comics haven’t yet sussed out how to caricature Obama, and so far he has defied any categorical stereotypes — even that of a black man.

Magician-comedian Penn Jillette recalled how “there have been jokes about Bush that had nothing to do with him being stupid or wrong — just about his being from Texas, since he has a slight Texas accent.

“But if you wanted to do black jokes about Obama, none of them are applicable: It’s as if he were from Texas, but without the Texas accent.”

Jillette ventured an idea for putting Obama in the comic cross-hairs: Crack wise about his notion “that government can solve a lot of the problems that were previously left to the individual. I would be talking about the audacity of government giving people that kind of hope.”

Ferguson proposed poking fun at Obama’s “deification” by his more fervent supporters. It’s no long-term solution for comedians, but it might buy them some time.

Obama’s do-no-wrong aura is sure to be short-lived, as Americans observe him no longer full-tilt on the campaign trail but instead slogging through each presidential workday.

And humor springs from increased familiarity with the target of the jokes.

“In time, that will happen,” said “Saturday Night Live” cast member Fred Armisen, who last February scored the show’s plum role impersonating Obama — “in time, not just with me, as we see more and more of him.”

And as comedians search for Obama’s laughs-generating sweet spot, they should fight the urge to go easy on him out of misconceived racial sensitivity, said D.L. Hughley.

“If you call yourself a comic, you can’t excuse the most powerful man in the world,” said Hughley, who is black and host of “D.L. Hughley Breaks the News” on CNN. “He is the most powerful man on the face of the planet. He is The Man!”

And many changes await in an Obama presidency that will serve the cause of humor. Meanwhile, much about the comedy landscape will be the same, as Hughley was reminded as he headed home on election night.

“I had watched it in Harlem,” he said. “I was elated, smiling from ear-to-ear, excited that the country I love now decided that they love people like me back, and in a major way. And I flagged a cab. And that cab drove right by me. Then I tried to flag another one, and it drove right by.”

Recalling the experience, he couldn’t help laughing that a black man couldn’t get a cab to stop in Obama’s America. Until comics find the key to the funny in Obama, they’ll have plenty else to make jokes about.

You see corroding the moral authority of a President one “cheap laugh” at a time is only a noble activity when a Republican is in the White House.

Do not try that with the Messiah.

Obama’s do-no-wrong aura is sure to be short-lived, as Americans observe him no longer full-tilt on the campaign trail but instead slogging through each presidential workday.

Not if the media have anything to do with it.

This article was posted by Steve on Monday, November 10th, 2008. Comments are currently closed.

18 Responses to “AP Warns: No Cheap Laughs About Obama”

  1. AuntieAM says:

    And no doubt Leno and Letterman will dutifuly comply. Should they stray, though, who knows? They might be visited by people from the newly-formed office of the Thought Police, once he’s established it.

  2. 1sttofight says:

    Apparently they got the word,There will be no dissing The One or you will be talking to my lawyers, as has already been shown.

  3. bill says:

    Well there sure are a whole lot of comedic lines that this conjures up.

  4. Colonel1961 says:

    I guess he’ll use the full power and authority of the ‘Office of the President Elect’ to enforce this ‘no joke’ zone…

  5. proreason says:

    Taking money from those who earn it and giving it to those who don’t is serious serious work. As is running from real enemies and making up phantom enemies that can’t fight back.

    And don’t even think about those ears.

  6. Liberals Demise says:

    No cheap jokes about The Annointed One huh? Ok, hows about a more expensive joke? Like the one about, “Only those making $250,000.00 a year will see their taxes increase”. I don’t know about you but that one is killin’ me! Here’s another….The Office of the President Elect. Wooooo….I don’t care who you are ….thats funny!!
    Happy Birthday U.S. Marines
    Since 1775

  7. wardmama4 says:

    Semper Fi all – Happy Birthday USMC – my particular Marine (son-in-law) is right now putting his life on the line so that the President Elect (who would be King) can silence any dissent about him in direct violation of the 1st Amendment of the Constitution. Ain’t America great?!?

  8. btown says:

    Oh, I definitely think Barack’s going to get put through the comedy ringer. I almost completely disagree with this article.

  9. JohnMG says:

    F*** him if he can’t take a joke! (always wanted to say that about a presidink-elect)

  10. TickTock says:

    Here comes the Fairness Doctrine…

    These folks are scary.

  11. 1laidbackRN says:

    I believe the article that I saw stated, “Obama is just too Perfect”. We’ll see what the media thinks of their “darlin” when the scripts start being handed out for the daily press conferences.

  12. Media_man says:

    The AP writer seems to have overlooked that the late night comics will always have Bill Clinton. I think Slick Willie has gotten more mentions on Leno’s or Letterman’s monologues after he left the White House than W did while he actually lived there.

    And the W bits that they did were always stupid, like Letterman’s “Great Moments in Presidential Speeches”. Not even remotely funny, unless you’re a BDS sufferer. I thought Letterman’s partisan hackery really detracted from his show.

    And Bill Maher is a chronic bore with or without Bush. Not sure what an angry guttersnipe like Maher will do w/o Bush to spitball. Get some new material that’s actually funny.

  13. VMAN says:

    Jokes? I can think of a hundred with the ears, his wife and studdering not to mention the ones about watermellon and fried chicken.

  14. Gila Monster says:

    Actually Media Man, Bill Maher and funny don’t belong in the same sentence, or paragraph for that matter. Just my two cents.

    Oh crap! I did it too, my bad! ;o)

  15. Zatoichi says:

    We all know it’s because he is almost BLACK.

  16. 1sttofight says:

    Barry is one of the few who actually are African-American.
    He is a lot like his sperm donor father, use anyone as long as they further his ambitions. The US Presidency is just a way station on his trek to be King of the World.

  17. proreason says:


    We’ll see how loved Obamy is by the world in about 6 months. If he is smart, he should insist on the King of the World coronation before he has to make the first decision of his life.

  18. bitterclinger says:

    Obama is nothing but a joke in my house. My favorite is the one where the stupid follower says “Now I won’t have to worry about paying my mortgage or putting gas in my car”.

    Then there is the never ending “why did you support Obama?”. Always a hoot.

    Now we have hope AND change. No humor? They are not doing it right or they are not trying.

« Front Page | To Top
« | »