A writer at Murdoch’s New York Post is really upset that comedians don’t make as much fun of Obama as they did of Bush, Cheney, or Palin:
We learn this from Jim Downey, the longtime “Saturday Night Live” specialist in political japery. “If I had to describe Obama as a comedy project, I would say, ‘Degree of difficulty, 10 point 10,’” the writer says in the expanded new edition of the “SNL” oral history book, “Live from New York.”
“It’s like being a rock climber looking up at a thousand-foot-high face of solid obsidian, polished and oiled,” Downey says. “There’s not a single thing to grab onto — certainly not a flaw or hook that you can caricature. [Al] Gore had these ‘handles,’ so did Bush, and Sarah Palin, and even Hillary had them. But with Obama, it was the phenomenon — less about him and more about the effect he had on other people and the way he changed their behavior. So that’s the way I wrote him.”
Therefore, the writer sees comedians as portraying Obama as “completely unmockable.” Despite, of course, the Downey quote being about how he mocked Obama. Talk about missing the point.
Not to mention that Obama has been the butt of his share of SNL skits and late-night comic’s barbs—just not nearly as often as many recent Republicans, and the jokes don’t sting as much. As if there could be no reason aside from bias as to why that’s true. The author of the NYP article makes the clear implication that it’s not because Obama is harder to make fun of, but simply that comedians give “Democrats like Obama a pass” because they’re biased—as if there is some equivalency of humor, that all subjects are equally susceptible to ridicule.
To prove his point, he reserves a whole paragraph for examples of how comics could easily mine a rich vein of humor that should make Obama just as ridiculous-looking as Bush or Palin:
Got that? The charter Choom Ganger, confessed eater of dog and snorter of coke. The doofus who thinks the language spoken by Austrians is “Austrian,” that you pronounce the p in “corpsman” and that ATMs are the reason why job growth is sluggish. The egomaniac who gave the queen of England an iPod loaded with his own speeches and said he was better at everything than the people who work for him. The empty suit with so little real-world knowledge that he referred to his brief stint working for an ordinary profit-seeking company as time “behind enemy lines.” The phony who tells everyone he’s from Chicago, though he didn’t live there until his 20s, and lets you know that he’s talking to people he believes to be stupid by droppin’ his g’s. The world-saving Kal-El from a distant solar system who told us he’d heal the planet and cause the oceans to stop rising. The guy who shared a middle name with one of the most hated dictators on earth.
Okay, let’s take a look at the list.
I had to look up what the hell a “Choom Ganger” was. Turns out it is, at least supposedly, the name chosen by kids at Obama’s high school to describe the kids who “choomed,” or smoked weed. Turns out I had not heard about it for the same reason I had to look up names like Frank Marshall Davis or Saul Alinsky—they are names that won’t roll off the tip of your tongue unless you watch shows like Sean Hannity all the time.
Here’s the thing, though: I do not recall anyone making fun of Bush being an alcoholic or a cocaine addict—which he was just as famous for as Obama was for his own past. Why? Because it’s not really funny to mock addictions people has earlier in life, partly because it comes across as caustic. Like making fun of someone who stuttered as a kid, or was overweight.
Did Obama eat dog meat? In his autobiography, he noted being “introduced to” several strange foods in Indonesia, which also included snake meat and grasshoppers. Obama was a child at that time. Not exactly super-funny stuff; this was more of a hardcore right-wing false-equivalency jab used to defend against the Romney story about driving with his dog on the roof of his car.
That Obama thought “Austrian” was a language: this actually did happen, in a passing remark, Obama noting that he didn’t know what a term was in “Austrian.” Turns out Austrians speak German.
Okay, you could maybe have fun with that—it is, in fact, possibly the only actual comic opportunity of the whole list—after a fashion. Maybe an SNL skit about Obama requiring translators for people who speak “Canadian” or “Australian,” and then asking for different interpreters for countries that all speak Spanish. If you had enough comedic flair, you could make that work.
The problem: as far as gaffes go, it’s pretty damned mild. Again, I had never heard of this one. I did hear about his “fifty-seven states” gaffe, but not many others—because, frankly, Obama doesn’t make very many gaffes.
Sure, he mispronounced “corpsman,” and you can find others. He misstated the number of dead from a tornado as “ten thousand” when it was actually twelve. He said that “Israel is a strong friend of Israel’s.” He once even slipped up and said that McCain talked about “my Muslim faith,” immediately correcting himself. He said, “The Middle East is obviously an issue that has plagued the region for centuries,” and “We’re the country that built the Intercontinental Railroad.”
The thing is, that’s a pretty exhaustive listing of his verbal gaffes—and that’s the point, that he’s not known for them. For every true Obama gaffe, you can find a dozen from Bush, most of them a hell of a lot funnier. Yes, he called Sunrise, Florida, “Sunshine,” referred to being in Asia while in Hawaii, and called Kansas City “St. Louis.” Which are pretty much par for the course, as anyone traveling so much will inevitably make mistakes about location. Probably any president, national politician, singer, comedian—you name it—will have a list of such errors as long, and probably most will have lists much longer.
If you look up lists of Obama gaffes beyond that, they are either about insensitivity (referring to Nancy Reagan’s seances, or his bowling belonging in the Special Olympics) or include a lot of statements which conservatives simply disagree with, and are not gaffes in their own right.
What it comes down to is that you’re not funny because you make the same number of gaffes as most people in your position, you’re funny because you make an unusually large number of gaffes. Which is why Dubya and Dan Quayle are ridiculed for gaffes, but not Reagan or H.W. Bush. Biden is commonly mocked for swearing and having poor impulse control in speaking. Why? Because comedians are biased right-wingers? No, it’s because he does it more.
About ATMs being “the reason why job growth is sluggish,” that’s not really true. He gave ATMs, along with automated airport kiosks, as being examples of automation, which was one way that businesses cut payroll costs—by being “much more efficient with a lot fewer workers.” Which, actually, is exactly true. It’s not a gaffe, it’s a political attack which takes something out of context. So, not so funny.
Was Obama an “egomaniac” because he gave the queen of England an iPod “loaded with his own speeches”? Actually, no, that was mostly made up also. The iPod was loaded with songs from Broadway musicals, which the queen is noted as being a fan of, and a number of videos of the queen herself. The only Obama speeches on the iPod were Obama’s 2004 convention speech and his inauguration speech. Obama was no more an “egomaniac” for adding a few of his speeches to the iPod than the queen was an egomaniac because her gift to Obama was an autographed photo of herself.
As for Obama saying that he was “better at everything than the people who work for him,” I couldn’t even find that one. Sounds like ironic self-deprecation, but I couldn’t say without the original quote.
He did write that he felt like “a spy behind enemy lines” when he worked as a research assistant at a multinational corporation, because he was used to working for civil rights causes—not big corporations, which do tend to occupy the other end of the spectrum from activism. Many young activists would see working for Wall Street as “selling out.” Which makes what Obama said not a gaffe, nor anything to make fun of, really. As a young man, he was idealistic. So?
You can see the list deteriorating around here, and from then on, straight through to the “punch line” that his middle name is Hussein, it’s just the same hateful, vindictive spew that you hear on any right-wing blog.
So, what do we have? Obama smoked weed as a young man, had a fewer-than-average number of verbal slip-ups, gave the queen of England an iPod which contained a few of his speeches along with lots of other music and videos, and said some things that rankled conservatives—and Obama is a fake Muslim tree-hugger who thinks you’re stupid!
That’s pretty much the case for how much fun we could have doing nothing but 24-7 comedic jabs at Obama. Yeah, that’s gonna sell a lot of tickets.
The thing is, it was tried—on Fox News, which should have been the perfect platform for such a show—and it failed, even with that audience. The NYP author’s list is really just another example of why conservatives have a hard time with humor—because their idea of a good guffaw is for an environmental activist to get set on fire, or someone making fun of Obama’s family, listing them as crack addicts, gay porn stars, and assorted criminals. It’s bully humor, and is mostly just funny to the bully.
The reason comedians made a lot of fun of Bush was because he was a non-stop gaffe machine who truly looked stupid and foolish a lot more than is usual for a president. Sarah Palin is an endless cornucopia or word salad, and says stuff like that she’s a foreign policy expert because you can see Russia from Alaska, and Putin flew over her head. And Cheney—jesus, Cheney shot his friend in the face.
You could write a book about how these people are far richer comedic fodder than Obama. It’s not bias. It’s how ridiculous you look. Criticize Obama all you like, you just won’t get many people agreeing that he’s particularly ridiculous.