When asked if they’ll be watching the Republican Convention this week -- or the Democratic Convention next week -- many Americans demur with the same two excuses: “Nah, they’re boring” or “I prefer to watch sitcoms.”
But, ironically, that’s precisely why we should be tuning in to the festivities. Although politicians are famously buttoned-up and skillfully practiced in the art of careful spin, they have also been the source of some of our best entertainment -- and laughter -- over the past half-century. And it’s always by accident. A slip of the tongue, a botched photo op, a vacant-eyed brain-freeze and -- wham! -- suddenly an ordinary speech (or even a simple exit from Air Force One) can become an overnight viral sensation.
Memo to pundits everywhere: politics is not always serious business.
Who can forget President Gerald Ford’s unfortunate trips and stumbles, which gave birth to Chevy Chase’s famous prat-falling parodies on Saturday Night Live? How can we not laugh again and again at those strange and unexpected eruptions -- Howard Dean’s banshee scream, the photo of John McCain’s “zombie pose” -- that can turn a mundane moment into an instant Did-I-Just-See-What-I-Thought-I-Saw classic? How did any of us ever keep track of Dan Quayle’s endless tongue-challenged speeches, which made us pull closer to our TV screens whenever he stepped up to a podium?
They say politics makes strange bedfellows, but it also makes for some downright hilarious viewing.
So take a look at this collection of pics and clips we’ve put together for you -- and remember: regardless of who you’re voting for, laughter is always bipartisan.
Exit Stage Right
In 2005, after a brief press conference in Beijing, China, President Bush tried to make a hasty exit from the stage. Unfortunately, he went the wrong way and encountered two huge locked doors. After a few awkward moments of <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHjIb6trxBI" target="_hplink">wrestling with the doors</a>, he turned to the assembled reporters and quipped, "I was trying to escape. Obviously, it didn't work."
The Photo Op That Tanked
During the 1988 presidential campaign, democratic candidate Michael Dukakis posed for a photo op riding in a tank with a helmet on. While the image was meant to convey strength and courage, Dukakis ended up looking more like a little kid playing war games. The Republicans even used the footage in a TV ad to portray him as soft on defense.
I Have a Scream
In 2004, Howard Dean was an early front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. But after a disappointing third-place finish in the Iowa caucus, Dean addressed his supporters in what he hoped would be a rousing rallying cry. Instead, his "crazy, red-faced rant" (as he himself later described it) quickly became fodder for TV comedians and a video viral sensation. Many say that his campaign ended that night with his "I have a scream" speech.
In one of the most cringe-worthy moments in the history of Republican debates, Rick Perry suffered a major brain freeze when asked which three government departments he intended to axe. After naming two, then fumbling helplessly, he admitted he couldn't think of the third department, and summed up the whole episode with a shrug and an "Oops." His campaign ended soon afterwards.
"You Know Who I Am"
When the presidential seal feel off the podium during President Obama's speech at Fortune magazine's Most Powerful Women Summit in 2010, the president quickly covered by saying, "That's all right, all of you know who I am." The line got a lot of laughs, but he got an even bigger laugh when he followed up, "But I'm sure there's somebody back there that's really nervous right now, don't you think?"
Love Your Speech
In 2011, President Obama gave a speech on the budget deficit that Vice President Joe Biden clearly found riveting. Biden appears to doze off for a full 30 seconds before returning from his peaceful slumber.
Fool Me Once...
In 2002, while addressing a crowd in Nashville, Tennessee, George W. Bush had a little trouble with the old aphorism, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."
I Can See Russia From My House!
Sarah Palin's disastrous interview with Katie Couric is now legendary. In fact, it was parodied on SNL by Tina Fey without the writers having to change a single word. The sketch was hilarious and Tina Fey's impersonation was flawless. Here, Palin discusses her foreign policy credentials.
Watch Your Step!
It was moments like these that contributed to President Gerald Ford's reputation as something of a klutz. Chevy Chase launched his career parodying Ford's fumbles, and though his stumbles were never really that numerous, the reputation stuck because everybody loves a good stumble.
When it comes to political bloopers and gaffes, some politicians really stand out. Dan Quayle earned a reputation as a blunderer extraordinaire as he fumbled his way through four years as George H. W. Bush's Vice President. He once famously attended an elementary school spelling bee in which 12-year-old William Figueroa correctly spelled the word "potato" on the blackboard. Quayle, however, told the boy that he needed to add an 'e' on the end. It was just one of many blunders. <strong>Correction</strong>: Originally this caption stated that Quayle had been VP for eight years instead of four. We regret the error.
Oh, That's Awkward
After ceremoniously pardoning a turkey in her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, then-governor Sarah Palin spent a full six minutes taking questions from reporters. Unbeknownst to her, several turkeys were being unceremoniously slaughtered directly behind her for the entire duration of <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYxn2vlhtWo" target="_hplink">the interview</a>.
John McCain's Zombie Pose
Immediately following one of their 2008 presidential debates, Barack Obama and John McCain were exiting the stage when Mccain inexplicably struck what many have referred to as a classic "zombie pose." It was a random moment to be sure, but it provided late-night comedians and PhotoShop geeks with endless amounts of fun.
"Who Am I? Why Am I Here?"
In the 1992 election, independent candidate Ross Perot chose a decorated war hero, Vice Admiral James Stockdale, to be his running mate. Stockdale was one of the most highly decorated officers in the history of the US Navy, but despite his impressive career up until that point, Stockton unfortunately turned up at the Vice Presidential debates woefully underprepared. He was unfamiliar with the TV format, his hearing aid was not turned on, he seemed disoriented and his cringe-worthy performance was seen by millions. He -- and his reputation -- never fully recovered from his opening lines, "Who am I? Why am I here?" Perot and Stockdale went on to receive just 19% of the general vote.
In speech about America's participation in the space race, President John F. Kennedy made an uncharacteristic verbal blunder: Instead of saying an upcoming launch would be the largest "payload" in history, he accidentally said it would be the largest "payroll" in history. His recovery was beautiful, and the crowd ate it up.
In a scandal that truly represents the age we now live in, New York Rep. Anthony Weiner famously tweeted a photograph of... er... himself that ultimately derailed his political career. Though the post was quickly deleted, and the denials quickly followed, it was too late. The scandal was a media sensation, with the New York tabloids gleefully trying to outdo one another with headlines filled with puns and jokes.
Too Much Information?
At a 1965 news conference at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Washington, President Lyndon Johnson infamously surprised everyone by suddenly lifting his shirt to reveal the scar from his recent gall bladder surgery and kidney stone removal. The spontaneous incident resulted in snorts of disapproval and embarrassment across the country, as well as several famous cartoons.