Feature

Obama: The joke-proof candidate

Where's the comedic take?

Barack Obama may have inspired millions with his promise of change, said Bill Carter in The New York Times, but he’s brought nothing but despair to the hardworking Americans who write jokes for late-night talk shows. From Letterman to Leno to the smart alecks of basic cable, political satirists are reporting that Obama is a hard man to be funny about. The fact that TV writers are mostly a left-leaning bunch doesn’t explain it; they had no problem mocking Al Gore’s woodenness or Bill Clinton’s womanizing. The problem, say the writers, is that, so far, “there is no comedic ‘take’” on Obama. He isn’t stupid. He doesn’t mangle the English language. And he isn’t old like John McCain—who, until Obama gives the comics something to joke about, will likely have to shoulder the brunt of their mockery.

The “elephant in the room” here is race, said Noam Sheiber in The New Republic Online. Writers are walking on eggshells when it comes to Obama, “for fear of being thought racist, or of crossing some line of political correctness.” Given the hair-trigger climate of American race relations, it’s hard to blame the writers for their caution. Still, since when is any candidate “above ridicule”? The irony, said Maureen Dowd in The New York Times, is that this hands-off approach may end up hurting Obama. No candidate wants to be a laughingstock, of course, but you don’t want to be seen as humorless and dull. If word gets around that Barack Obama is the candidate nobody ever jokes about, “it might infect his campaign with an airless quality.” The last thing America wants is four years of a president you’re not allowed to make fun of.

So let’s get on with it, said Joel Stein in the Los Angeles Times. The notion that Obama does not lend himself to ridicule is, well, ridiculous. First, there’s his grating earnestness—he’s the kind of perennially upbeat do-gooder “who not only talked you into showing up for Hands Across America but afterward insisted it was awesome.” If that’s not lowbrow enough, why not get on him for being effete? Are we really to believe that the nation’s finest comedic minds can think of nothing to say about a “manorexic” natty dresser with a 37 bowling average whose favorite food is arugula? Toss into the mix the fact that Obama’s ears stick out like Alfred E. Neuman’s and there’s surely more than enough material to guarantee a level satirical playing field. To paraphrase the man himself, “I believe comedic change is possible.”

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