I’m torn. On the one hand, this is the sort of straining-to-find-fault piece I would have expected of the press if Bush was still president. So kudos, I guess, for even-handedness.
On the other hand, being roastmaster-in-chief is now somehow beneath the office? Really?
Obama’s derisive tone surprises and dismays some of the people who’ve written jokes for presidents past.
“With these dinners you want the audience to like you more when you sit down than when you stood up,” says Landon Parvin, an author and speechwriter for politicians in both parties, and a gag writer for three Republican presidents (Reagan and Bushes I and II). “Something in [Obama’s] humor didn’t do that,” he said Sunday.
Parvin advises his political clients to practice a little partisan self-deprecation when they make lighthearted remarks: “If you’re a Democrat, you make fun of Democrats and go easy on the Republicans; if you’re a Republican, you do the opposite,” he says…
Former Clinton speechwriter Mark Katz calls Obama’s humor “a work in progress.” Katz recalls that before Clinton made his first White House Correspondents dinner speech, he asked his speechwriters why there weren’t more jokes about his political enemies. Clinton’s speech drew criticism after he inserted his own somewhat hostile jokes.
“He took aim at people he should not have aimed at,” says Katz. “He learned his lesson and took greater aim at himself. He learned that the right joke about yourself can be as Machiavellian as anything Machiavelli dreamed up.”
That’s fine, but it’s missing the point. An audience as media-heavy as Saturday night’s was likely to be packed with “Daily Show” groupies, and The One knew it — so much so that he got “Daily Show” staff writers to help out on his speech. If you know you’re facing a crowd that loves Stewart’s use of derisive humor in the service of (mostly left-wing) political attacks, naturally you’ll want to borrow it. Which is what Obama did, even relying on “Daily Show”-esque mock graphics as sight gags when goofing on Politico. The TDS style is a good fit for The One personally too, since (a) his comic timing is sharp enough to carry it off, (b) the contrast with Leno, whose material was even more stale than first thought, made him seem even funnier by comparison, and (c) the Obama White House is, of course, famously thin-skinned and controlling, in which case why would they pass up a free chance to take shots at people? You didn’t really think Politico would be spared after dropping this piece last week, did you?
As for his suddenly infamous joke about using a predator drone on the Jonas brothers, it’s fun watching “impartial” reporters tacitly express their disapproval by doing round-ups of quotes from people who aren’t quite as impartial.