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Surviving the Obama Comedy Crisis

A Report from the Front Lines


Obama comedy crisis

Will Obama bail out the comedy industry too?

For those in the business of political mockery, the last 16 years have been a glorious golden age. If Bill Clinton was a full-employment act for political comedians, then George W. Bush was a welfare program.

But when Barack Obama takes the oath of office on Jan. 20, the era of easy presidential punch lines may be coming to a close. As it has been widely noted in humor circles, Obama remains a tough target. So far, the most memorable Obama mockery has ranged from the utterly atrocious (see: the "Barack the Magic Negro" song parody debacle) to the mildly amusing (Fred Armisen's competent but guffaw-free impersonation of Obama on "Saturday Night Live").

What's in store for political humor in the age of Obama? Will he be the president who presides over the bursting of the comedy bubble? Or can he find a way to bail out the comedy industry too? There's no better way to find out than directly from those on the front lines of the comedy crisis -- the comedians, joke writers, and satirists tasked with the urgent work of fortifying our nation's strategic humor reserves.

These intrepid souls were asked to weigh in on the pressing comedic question of the day: How do you plan to survive the Obama years? Their testimonials follow:

Joe Grossman, writer, "The Late Show With David Letterman":

My best guess is that the late-night hosts will have to reinvent their shows now that political humor will cease to exist. Most likely, you'll see Letterman replace all of his comedy material with cooking segments, household safety demonstrations, poetry readings, and public service announcements imploring America's teenagers to practice sound physical and social hygiene. Either that, or the Obama administration will prove fallible, and mockery of government will continue as it has for most of recorded history. Could go either way.

Michael Colton and John Aboud, screenwriters, VH1 talking heads, and writers for Fox's upcoming animated comedy "Sit Down, Shut Up":

Barack Obama is a transformational figure who represents the fulfillment of the American dream and the end of all humor. His wisdom and judgment will erase every single social and political discontent that fuels comedy, including marital strife, the inconveniences of air travel, and D.M.V. wait times. He will cause humans to cease breaking wind. We forecast the last joke in America will be told on Aug. 5, 2009 -- a tepidly received one-liner conflating Leon Panetta with the foodstuff "pancetta."

Kevin Bleyer, writer, "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart":

On the contrary, I'm thrilled about an Obama presidency. During the Bush years, all my jokes were written by a team of Chinese pre-teens in a Shanghai sweatshop. Not that they didn't do a superb job -- I thought their take on seating the Michigan delegation was especially insightful -- but I'm just happy to have my job back.

Peter Gwinn, writer, "The Colbert Report":

We do face a serious problem, because now that George Bush is no longer president, nothing is funny in the entire world. I expect that in 2009, most of my own comedy will consist of reading Laffy Taffy wrappers out loud: "Why are rhinos so wrinkly?" "Because they're hard to iron." That joke right there will always be comedy gold, at least until America elects a rhino president.

Baratunde Thurston, self-described comedian, vigilante pundit, and Web and politics editor for The Onion:

For the first few weeks, I plan to scream for joy and hug strangers on the street as I've done continuously since the night of Nov. 4. Then I plan to keep writing material that uniquely illuminates this country's socio-political reality while causing laughter and self-urination among my audience. That's what political comics do. Too many people had one Bush-is-dumb joke and thought that made them the next Mark Twain. The arrival of a president fluent in English should raise the bar.

Charlie Kadau, comedy writer and senior editor, MAD magazine:

Commanders-in-chief who exhibit competence and self-control are never mother lodes for jokes, so we'll have to start slow: we now have a President who's having a problem quitting smoking, he's obsessed with his Blackberry, he lives with his mother-in-law...given that, let's be thankful there are still plenty of Republicans in D.C. Of course, we can always go at it from a different direction -- the current MAD has a side gag in a piece on the inaugural in which Rev. Jeremiah Wright is saying to William Ayers, "Goddamn nice of the RNC to get us tickets to this!" Ultimately, why am I optimistic? Look who Obama has included in his inner circle -- the Clintons! Talk about a humor stimulus package!

Raymond Lesser, editor, The Funny Times:

I don't think Obama will be hard to make fun of. Cartoonists and comedians just need to get to know him better. But I think he'll be much more like Bugs Bunny than Bush, who has pretty much turned into Elmer Fudd. (Or am I thinking of that other great hunter, Dick Cheney?) Anyway, people love Bugs Bunny and wind up laughing much more with him than at him.

Rusty Ward, writer, BarelyPolitical.com:

When Lex Luthor first encountered Superman he faced a difficult dilemma, how do you stop a man who is unstoppable? Comedians face a similar dilemma in 2009: how do you make fun of a president who is unmake-funnable? Eventually, Lex discovered kryptonite. I'm confident BarelyPolitical will find Obama's comedy kryptonite (his Hawaiinite, if you will) but if by some chance we fail to do this we'll fall back on our strengths: Hillary Clinton impressions, girls dancing, and grown men running around the city in animal costumes.

Next > More Wit and Wisdom from Top Comedians, Joke Writers and Satirists

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