On a night when some said, in light of recent tragic events, that he should scale back the comedy, or not try to be funny at all, President Obama once again turned in a stellar standup comedy performance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.
Other presidents have sometimes been funny, but only President Obama has the comedy chops to deliver material with the timing and attitude of a seasoned comedy professional. His dinner jokes were so effective in mocking his Republican opposition and the breathlessly inaccurate attacks of the conservative media, that Obama should employ his playful yet edgy comedic skills to rally public opinion and even persuade Republicans to vote sensibly on the pressing issues of the day.
The president's standout standup was as unexpected as a Republican filibuster, but the real surprise was what I consider to be Conan O'Brien's funniest and most convincing performance ever. After receiving a somewhat tepid crowd reaction in his initial WHCD stint as a newly minted talk show host in 1995, O'Brien rocked the ballroom with a confident demeanor and exceedingly well chosen material that most effectively lampooned the media industry sitting before him.
Perhaps O'Brien was driven by even more than his usual work ethic. He may have wanted to erase the memory of that prior performance. Or perhaps his lingering resentment towards Jay Leno might have pushed him to surpass Leno's barely adequate performance in 2010. Where Leno seemed ill-prepared and indifferent, O'Brien brought boundless energy, a knowing sense of what was right for the room, and the best of the fine material his writers provided him.
O'Brien's ultimate motivation might have been to use his comedy to heal the wounds of his beloved Boston, where he attended Harvard, and where some family members still live in Watertown. And one of the heartiest laughs of the evening came when he described how Boston is the last place a criminal should target, since "9 out of 10 people in Boston are related to police officers."
The powerfully funny comedy of Conan O'Brien and his opening act Barack Obama would be right for any night, but it was especially welcome at this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner, after all the country has been through lately.
Those who argue that this was not a time to laugh should heed the words of George Bernard Shaw.
Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.