A second possible explanation for the president’s inadvertent comedic prowess is that people want to laugh with him. Comedians benefit from an audience that has deliberately come to see them, and Obama profits from congregations containing only the well disposed. When exposed to the president in close quarters, people of a certain disposition have a tendency to weep, faint, declare their love, shout platitudes, become manic, and smile like the cat that got the cream. Given that, as Provine argues, “laughter is primarily a social vocalization that binds people together” — and one that is “extremely difficult to control consciously” — there is no good reason that laughter should be absent from this assortment of reactions, especially as it would take only a couple of people to set it off. Witness the number of people at the Democratic convention who were driven to tears by an acceptance speech that the less casually lachrymose found, at best, pedestrian.
People used to behave strangely at Elvis concerts, too — even in his later years, hero worship was enough to spin straw into gold — and, while the more republican among us may find it distasteful, to treat politicians as rock stars is a very real phenomenon. Martin Luther once wrote that “you have as much laughter as you have faith.” This seems a fitting suggestion in the Age of Obama and among those for whom politics has become a religion of sorts. There was no word on what to expect of unyielding devotion, but one can only presume it accompanies hilarity.