Wednesday, May 6, 2009

No Laughing Matter

We saw it during the campaign; people commented about it, and it got noticed. But we were assured that it was just because of the campaign. They were nervous, these professionals. They didn't know how to strike the right notes when it came to Barack Obama. Just let him be elected, though, and they'd find their voices again.

They were wrong:

What's so unfunny?

That's what some comics - citing the scarcity of satire directed at President Obama and his administration - want to know.

Claiming that his peers are "panicky" about "being called a racist," stand-up legend Jackie Mason said too many once-fearless satirists are settling for "hero worship" of the new U.S. president.

The Great Presidential Comedy Drought of 2009 can't be chalked off to a lack of satirical fodder, said comic Jeffrey Jena, founder of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy blog. ("Looking at politics and life from the right side," proclaims its motto.)

"Letterman used to do a 'Bushism of the Week.' " Why hasn't he started one with Obama?" Mr. Jena said. "There's plenty of those moments, the 'Ohs, and 'Umms' or 'I don't speak Austrian.' "

"Late Show" host David Letterman was scathing in his mockery of President George W. Bush. But on his show recently, he scolded those who would mock the new president's reliance on the teleprompter for "political nitpicking," saying Mr. Obama is "at least out there trying" to cope with "impossible" political challenges.

"What really can you say wrong" about the determined new president, Mr. Letterman asked rhetorically while introducing a short film called "Teleprompter vs. No Teleprompter." The segment contrasted a clip of a fluent passage of rhetoric from a formal Obama address to Congress with one of a tongue-tied Mr. Bush trying to extemporize in a televised informal question-and-answer format.

Can you imagine Letterman ever scolding anybody for criticizing Bush? Ever?


Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show," another erstwhile scourge of presidential foibles during the Bush years, has morphed into a political loyalist, rising to the defense of Mr. Obama with angry rants against critics of the president such as CNBC's Jim Cramer and Internet news aggregator (and Washington Times columnist) Andrew Breitbart.

To some, like self-identified Christian comic Brad Stine, the kid-gloves treatment of Mr. Obama is blatant political cheerleading.

"Because their candidate was elected, they're hesitant to mock that thing which they approve of," Mr. Stine said.

Oh, but that can't really be the reason, according to comics. No, it's the audience's fault:

Others see comics simply deferring to the sensitivities of audiences who aren't ready to a laugh at a president who's not just a political leader but a transcendent historical symbol of black achievement.

"In New York, nobody wants to hear anything anti-Obama," said Linda Smith, a stand-up comic, Obama booster and teacher at Caroline's School of Comedy in New York. "And even if they do, right-leaning comics must walk through a historical minefield to mock the first black president."

So, is it racist to make jokes about Obama--even though he's the president? Or is it racist to declare him off-limits?

Between yesterday's love-in with the press corps at the burger joint, and this article detailing the trouble comedians are having poking gentle fun in the great American tradition at the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania, I think the only joke being told is the one about the objective, nonbiased media--have you heard that one?

I won't bother telling it. These days, it's not very funny.


Daddio said...

I think they're coming around. SNL and Leno have gotten their jibes in. Remember the respect and deference that Bush had for several months following 9/11. I don't think they'll ever be as harsh as they were on Bush, but they're warming up.

Gary Keith Chesterton said...

If there is one thing the press loves more than Obama, it's turning on those they once loved. They'll destroy him. It will take time, but they'll eat him alive. As Vince Foster said, in this town ruining people is sport.