Obama's insider humor

A guide to the Gridiron speech

The first time I was invited to the Gridiron Club dinner in Washington, I protested against the tails. I don't wear tails. And I dreaded what I assumed would be a self-indulgent celebration of an age of bonhomie that got out of town the day Fanny Foxe jumped into the Tidal Basin. But the night was actually kind of fun. President Obama has twice addressed the Gridiron; there is also a designated Republican and Democratic speech-maker. They hire professional comedians and speechwriters to help them craft their remarks, so they tend to be pretty funny. To an outsider, though, they can be opaque. So, thanks to the White House transcription, I can provide some context for the president's light-hearted jibing at the press corps. Like most speeches of this kind, the structure of similar. You make fun of yourself; you make fun of your opponents; you make fun of your party, and then you end with a heartfelt tribute to journalists.

THE PRESIDENT: Before I begin, I know some of you have noticed that I'm dressed a little differently from the other gentlemen. Because of sequester, they cut my tails. (Laughter.) My joke writers have been placed on furlough. (Laughter.) I know a lot of you reported that no one will feel any immediate impact because of the sequester. Well, you're about to find out how wrong you are. (Laughter.)

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Marc Ambinder

Marc Ambinder is TheWeek.com's editor-at-large. He is the author, with D.B. Grady, of The Command and Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry. Marc is also a contributing editor for The Atlantic and GQ. Formerly, he served as White House correspondent for National Journal, chief political consultant for CBS News, and politics editor at The Atlantic. Marc is a 2001 graduate of Harvard. He is married to Michael Park, a corporate strategy consultant, and lives in Los Angeles.