Is political comedy in trouble? Will there be no funny in the future with an Obama administration? Is Barack Obama bad for comedy?
Disregard all the non-comedians' fears that Saturday Night Live will go the way of Circuit City. Ignore all the yammers about how Barack Obama is bad for the professionally funny. Forget them all. These are the same prognosticators who said irony was dead after 9/11. Yes, they said that. The terrorists killed irony. Try even saying that without utilizing sarcasm.
"Where's the funny in Barack Obama?", asked the Canadian Press on November 9th. Politico asked the day after the election, "Can 'The Daily Show' survive Barack Obama?" Gawker called the Obama presidency a "Crisis of Comedy".
So Barack Obama, about to be the most powerful man on the face of the planet, just wiped out all human stupidity? There's the joke right there.
George W. Bush was bad for comedy. First, he hated dissent. Dubya said that the terrorists on 9/11 were cowards. Bill Maher, noting it was absurd to say that flying yourself into a building was cowardly, said so on television. Maher was fired from single digit channels for pointing that out. Banned to pay cable for eternity. Bush's then press secretary, Ari Fleischer, told the nation they needed to watch what they say. And people took note - they started watching what they said. Was that good for comedy?
Ron Suskind's piece in Esquire had a chilling disclosure of the way Bush operates:
According to senior administration officials who learned of the encounter soon after it happened, President Bush looked at the man. "I don't ever want to hear you use those words in my presence again," he said.
"What words, Mr. President?"
"Bad policy," President Bush said. "If I decide to do it, by definition it's good policy. I thought you got that."
The adviser was dismissed. The meeting was over.
Questioning Bush was banned within his inner circle and anywhere else it popped up. His dissenters were taken down. Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson wrote an op/ed questioning Bush's statement in the 2003 State of the Union Address about Iraq's desire to purchase yellow cake uranium in Africa. Then as a repercussion his wife Valerie Plame was outed as a CIA spy by longtime Karl Rove crony Bob Novack. And thus ended her career. They went after an op/ed author's wife? Was that good for comedy?
There was a notion among people in the United States that no matter how dumb Bush appeared to be - he was the only one who was going to keep us secure so criticizing him was an affront to our safety. I was touring the country as a stand up during the first Bush term. It was not good for comedy. Bush jokes were not welcomed. Not just in the red states - but in general. He was what everyone was going to the comedy show to escape: the know-nothing boss with your livelihood hanging in the balance of his incompetence.
But it was the fumbling of Hurricane Katrina that broke the levee of criticism. It was just shortly after Bush's narrow re-election and suddenly ineptitude and cronyism looked like a bad thing. Then it was over. Bush's number's never recovered. Congress was lost to the liberals and Bush was a punchline. Every dumb thing he said was a gem. The whole country was waking up from a stupid stupor. And they wanted Bush jokes and they got them. Late night television, comedy clubs, blogs - bathroom stalls - they were everywhere. Bush was good for comedy for a couple minutes but then he still had three and a half whole years left in office.
Two years after Katrina, George Bush became akin to airline food and Viagra jokes: cliche and overdone. But we were given a gift - the longest presidential campaign in history. A full two years of Bush-free (the Democrats) and Bush-lite (the Republicans). Think of all the Kucinich and Mormon jokes we had. Fred Thompson! Remember Fred Thompson ran for president? His whole campaign was like Darth Vadar sleeping through his alarm, "Wake up Darth! There are millions of voices crying out in terror that could be suddenly silenced - but you have to wake up!" Tom Tancredo ran for president after saying we should bomb Mecca. Nice foreign policy dude! These guys were gold. There was a candidate named Huckabee, a governor from Arkansas that lived in a triple wide trailer when the governor's mansion was under construction. Gold!
Currently, as I write this, Bush jokes are stale. Most of the country has forgotten he's still in power. Last April, I was at a book conference and one of the speakers without realizing it referred to Bush as 'our former president'. That's nine months before his term in the White House expired. He's not good for comedy.
Comedy - or at least political satire - speaks truth to power. It's much better when that power isn't tapping your phone without a warrant and suspending habeas corpus.
The Bill of Rights: Good for Comedy.
So relax, don't believe the hype - political comedy won't suffer under an Obama Administration. The question is: Will an Obama Administration suffer under political comedy. That'll test mettle.