THE TV – “President Obama walks into a bar and asks for a black Russian. The bartender says — oh this is great — ‘I thought you were one.’ Hilarious. No?” No. For almost eight long and dull years comedy writers have been desperately trying to come up with Obama jokes. There aren’t any. He’s not called No Drama Obama for nothing. He is leaving office in less than a year, and goes with a sigh of relief from those poor wretches who sit around a TV network office trying to come up with something funny and topical about the current administration. The only people happier to see him go are the millions of undocumented aliens because this President has deported more of them than any other President in the nation’s history.
Think of it: when was the last time you heard a funny Obama joke? For all his failures to get bills and appointees past Congress, this administration has been relatively if not completely free of scandal, although the GOP would say his entire administration is one big scandal. I miss the Bill Clinton sex jokes – his gravelly voice and Arkansas accent always brought a laugh. George W. was a master at mangling the English language: “I understand small business growth. I was one.” And: “It’s clearly a budget. It’s got a lot of numbers in it.” Those were golden days for comics.
Jimmy Carter had a wonderful Southern drawl that was easy to imitate, although he wasn’t much of a source for humor. The only laughs came at the expense of his brother, Billy, who was right out of “The Dukes of Hazard.” While today Ronald Reagan is sanctified by conservatives, Reagan’s administration had a huge number of scandals: Iran-Contra, Oliver North, etc., resulting in the investigation, indictment, or conviction of over 138 administration officials, the largest number for any U.S. president. They all made for late-night TV laughs. George H.W. Bush ran a strict Ivy League administration which generated jokes only when he vomited on the prime minister of Japan.
Our current leader is the target of mean-spirited ridicule and hate-mongering – listen to any Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh show. Those are third-graders’ insults, not humor. We are discussing the more sophisticated and intelligent putdowns and knee-slappers such as those by Mark Twain: “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” Will Rogers: “The trouble with practical jokes is that very often they get elected.” Bob Hope and Johnny Carson, Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert (who was much funnier in his old show – his current late night gig on CBS is so boring the network suits are bringing in a new producer).
While Obama may be a desert for laughs, Calvin Coolidge was the worst. Silent Cal once sat next to a young woman at a dinner party who confided to him she had bet she could get at least three words of conversation from him. Without looking at her, Coolidge quietly retorted, “You lose.” However, Abraham Lincoln had a dry wit. The rather craggy-looking president, noting that his political opponents called him “two faced,” said, “If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?” JFK could toss a good bon mot, noting that, “Washington is a city of northern charm and Southern efficiency.” And some of our more recent presidents have had a hidden talent for humor. Each spring, Washington holds the White House Correspondents Dinner in which the President gets to fire back (sometimes humorously) at the Fourth Estate. I have attended a few such occasions, and was surprised at the talent. OK, they all had top-flight writers, but Reagan, an actor by trade, had wonderful timing. The two best where the Bushes – George W. and Laura. Separately, at two different dinners, they were hilarious.
In America, joking about our leaders may ruin your chance for dinner at the White House, but in other countries such humor can be hazardous to your health. The latest incident concerns a German comic named Jan Boehmermann, who recited a satirical poem on television which made sexual references to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Big deal, you say. Actually Germany has an obscure law concerning insults against foreign heads of state, and Turkey wants justice.
However gloomy the humor front has been, there is hope among our presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton is already a steady diet for “Saturday Night Live,” and Bill is still low-hanging fruit for the jokers. If Bernie Sanders gets elected, he will be our first Jewish president, and he is old. As long as the jokes are about his age and are not deemed anti-Semitic, he’s fair game. Then we have Donald Trump, the answer to prayers of every joke writer in the land. Indeed, like Hillary, Trump is already steady feedstock for late night comedians. Ted Cruz would be so-so as joke material, although some of his statements and positions are in themselves quite laughable. The wordsmiths’ worst nightmare (excuse the cliches) is John Kasich, the Ohio governor who is probably the sanest of all the candidates, but is so very dull, noncontroversial and blah, that if he is elected it will be four more years of No Drama.
There is another group that is looking forward to a world without Barack: editorial cartoonists. Obama did not do anything dramatic that lends itself to caricatures and ridicule (when you can’t do much, what’s to laugh at?). Also, Obama does not sport a distinctive face, except for those ears. Newspaper editorial pages have suffered for it. Hillary is easily identifiable, but no home run. Trump, Cruz and Sanders are the best targets for a wicked pen.
Where, oh where, is George W. when we need him? “We ought to make the pie higher.” “I think we agree the past is over.” Who can forget: “Rarely is the question asked: is our children learning?”
Ashby is laughing at firstname.lastname@example.org