Sunday, May 10, 2009


Obama Stands Up

The president's White House Correspondents Dinner stand-up routine is here. He was very good -- one of the better political comedic performances I've seen.  (Wanda Sykes' otherwise good performance was marred by a tasteless joke near the end about Rush Limbaugh's kidneys failing.  Sykes is a good enough comic to know that wishing someone dead just isn't funny.  Jokes about Limbaugh's Oxycontin addiction, now that is fair game -- and any conservatives upset about that need to get over it.) 

One thing I've noticed about Obama is that he (or his joke-writers) have a rather ironic idea of what "self-deprecating" humor is. For this president, the self-deprecation is in recognizing how, uh, awesome the Obama White House. For example:  "During the second 100 days, we will design, build and open a library dedicated to my first 100 days." He followed that up with, "I believe that my next 100 days will be so successful, I will be able to complete them in 72 days -- and on the 73rd day I will rest."  

This isn't the first time that Obama has used a joke to allude to himself (or his administration) in Biblical terms. Again, from the Al Smith dinner

Even though it does no real good to overanalyze humor (sometimes a cigar is just a cigar), Obama's approach does confirm something I've noted before about
Obama Era comedy:  Boomer presidents Clinton and Bush allowed themselves to become the punchlines for all sorts of jokes: Clinton helped feed the lady-lovin' Bubba rogue image by making jokes about putting astroturf in his pick-up; Bush joked about being a C-student.  The media (and late-night comics) followed those cues and treated the presidents accordingly. 

At the WHCD, Bush even went so far to do a filmed skit of himself walking around on his hands and knees looking for weapons of mass destruction; Clinton, of course, once did a routine based on Ken Starr's investigation.  It's early, but this administration doesn't play that way. The closest Obama got to a "dig" at himself was in the "three commerce secretaries" line.  Heck, even the biggest PR disaster -- the Air Force One Manhattan flyover -- was "blamed" on Sasha and Malia! 

This isn't an attack on the president's humor, but just an observation.  

The only criticism I might put down is a technical performance-related caveat:  This is the second time I've seen Obama do planned comedy; the first was at the Al Smith charity dinner in New York before the election: His timing is good with respect to the material (that was especially notable Saturday evening) when he used body-language to accent his "hip-hop lingo" joke about/with Michael Steele.  However, he has yet to master the talent of being so comfortable with the material that he doesn't look like he's seeing/reading it for the first time.  

The president has a "tell" where he ends up cracking himself up with his own jokes -- which you'll do if you're not as familiar with it as you should be.  Now, this doesn't mean that you shouldn't smile during stand-up.  Sure, definitely, but a deadpan "straight" delivery can often make a generally funny routine hilarious.  In fact, that's one reason why John McCain was much funnier than Obama at the aforementioned Al Smith dinner.

For what it's worth.  

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