You've seen clips of President Obama speaking at those Washington Press dinners, doing shtik. When he comes to a good joke, he suppresses a chortle, and then burps the punch line out, as pleased with himself as a third-grader who's just spelled "Mississippi." Obama's highly touted roast of Rahm Emanuel should be studied for how not to deliver comedy.
Of course, those funny lines were written by someone else - in that sense, Obama is more like a comedy performer than writer. But he's poor at both jobs.
Why is that? What qualities would make him better in the comedy field? Truth is, in reviewing these traits, we realize they're the opposite of what makes for a caring, effective chief executive.
Detachment and irony. Comedians detach themselves form their surroundings, observing their social settings critically. In doing so, they put themselves outside the fray. People don't want their elected officials outside the fray. They don't want to be led by a person observing, perhaps mocking them.
Perspective shifting. Comedy is about creating and delivering lines that jar our ordinary sense of events - "you know, you could look at this a whole different way - your reality is pretty strange from an alternative perspective." Americans don't elect presidents to help them shift their vision of themselves and their worlds - that's why, even if they were legalized, hardly anyone would use hallucinogenic drugs.
Either/or - it's all the same. Comedians are in the business of relativity - not good or bad. That's why comedians noted for one type of a political slant are unreliable ideologues - they'll often shift to a position equally offensive to their own team at certain moments. Stephen Colbert seemed like a fairly safe choice to roast George Bush at the 2006 White House Correspondents Association dinner - certainly more so than his Comedy Central cohort, Jon Stewart. Wrong - if there was ever a more uncomfortable roast of a political figure (look at Bush's smile), I'd like to see it.
This is serious - not! And when a crisis arises, we want the President standing four square, somber-minded, before the nation (even if he or she is cowering under the bed off camera). Not some joker looking to reassure himself by making light of the situation - "It could be worse - George Bush could still be President!"
Don't rely on me. In combination with the above, comedians are telling you - "Don't count on me to be there for you - go to your priest for support and solicitude. I'm looking for a laugh." A comedian just doesn't work if you're looking for a Gibraltar.
In other words, even if Obama could come up with a good line, he would doubtlessly decide not to utter it - it works against the image he is seeking to create.
P.S. Have you noticed how unfunny Al Franken has gotten? His first remarks delivered after finally winning the recount of the Minnesota senatorial election seem to have been designed to eliminate any hint of humor. From Stewart Smalley, to political humor, to humorless. Maybe he still has a chance to lead our nation!
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