As a comic, I know that on stage, your mind goes a thousand times faster than normal. The brain gets hyper-vigilante, constantly sizing up the audience; "What's working, what's not working... Why was there an errant snicker right there? Did I mispronounce something? Is my fly open? Is there a thing in my nose? Did someone do that joke before me? Why didn't they laugh at that? And that other line that wasn't supposed to be funny - how come they laughed at that? What's happening?!" It's exhausting - the constant scanning and calculating, assessing and re-grouping.
Now. Magnify that by a gazillion, and imagine what it's like to run for President. With a bazillion eyes and ears zeroed in on your face, watching every breath, syllable, blink and cough, perversely hoping you'll do or say something that - they will argue - makes you come off as too elite, too street, insensitive, too sensitive, too black, not black enough, too confident, too weak, too different, too terrorist-y...
It's no way to live.
So my heart sank a bit yesterday watching our brave new leader in his first post-victory public address. I think we all can agree that if nothing else, Barack Obama is certainly intelligent, disciplined, thoughtful, and courteous. So it was odd to see him stumble through the "Nancy Reagan séance" moment. It wasn't a big deal, really. But I swear, I could see the gears in his brains grinding. Like watching a fellow-comic on stage panic about something that you - sitting in the comfort of the audience - know is nothing to panic about.
They asked him if he plans to confer with any former presidents.
He says, "Yes, I've conferred with all of them."
And in that half a nano-second, the vigilant candidate mind-set triggered an alert. "Oh, no! I just said I spoke to all the presidents. Like all 43 of them! Watch - that's going to be the friggin' headline: 'Exhausted Obama Delusional. Claims to Chat with Jefferson, Madison and Lincoln. Lunch with Garfield, McKinley and Roosevelt Set For Early Next Week!' I better explain."
"I mean, y' know... All the living ones."
Now to me, it didn't seem like he needed to go there at all. I didn't think anyone misunderstood "I spoke to all of them." Obviously that means "all the living ones." Duh.
But I'm not him. I haven't just done eleven shows a night for 22 months. Having just stepped off the longest, most brutal campaign ever, with verbal minefields and political death looming at every turn, you can forgive the man for still being a little tightly wound. (Having the weight of the world's expectations on your shoulders can do that, I would imagine.)
So, when someone in the room snickered at "You know, I mean, the living ones," President Elect Obama, the comic-who-was-doing-fine-but-thought-he-was-losing-them had to now explain that one too. "You know, I didn't want to get all Nancy Reagan-y séance on you." ("Oh, no - now they're going to jump on that! 'Wet-Behind-The Ears Democrat Ridicules Republican Icon! Pictures at Eleven!')
Then it just keeps snowballing. Like the comic who accidentally swears on stage and then can't stop. ("Oh fuck, I just said shit.")
Somewhere in his brilliant performer mind, Obama must've known it was time to go to a new bit. ("C'mon, someone give me another question. Something easy. Oh good... something about the dog.")
Of course, two seconds later, the mind was back in red alert. ("Oh, shit... I just called myself a 'mutt.' Oh, fuck, I just said shit again!")
He was trying to put out a fire that wasn't really there, and in the process, made a silly joke. Clearly, there's some sort of transition time needed between campaigning (" I really want to convince you why I'd be good at this job.") and having won. ("Wow - I actually have the job?") I'm not sure how long it takes to make that adjustment, but knowing what we know of Barack Obama, I'm pretty sure he's already made it. Let's cut the guy some slack. And don't forget folks: please - tip your waitress.