Election 2008

Phil Sandlin/AP

What’s So Funny About Obama?

November 07, 2008 12:55 PM
by Rachel Balik
Comedians wonder whether the president-elect will provide them with good material.

Yes We Can, But Can We Joke About It?

After the election, a panel of experts gathered at the New York Comedy Festival to give serious thought to the future of America under its new leadership at a session titled, “We Have a Winner.” A group of professional comedians and pundits discussed whether Obama’s term was likely to produce any laughs.

The discussion often touched on serious matters, such as the wars in Afgahanistan and Iraq, causing some audience members to walk out. But ultimately, the members of the panel decided that Obama could provide material for comedians. Roseanne Barr believes the president-elect might even bring a higher level of humor to the White House; cartoonist Ted Rall pointed out that even though John F. Kennedy was revered, he was still a good source of jokes.

Obamedy on the Campaign Trail

In July, The New Yorker attempted to mock some of the common misconceptions about Barack and Michelle Obama by illustrating them on the cover of the magazine. The response was one of total indignation, says The New York Times. Beyond that singular effort, comedians across the board were saying that Obama simply hadn’t done anything worth making fun of yet. Mike Barry, a writer for David Letterman, declared point blank, “He’s not a comical figure.” Many of the comedians also voiced significant concern about mentioning Obama’s race.

But Los Angeles Times columnist Joel Stein argued at the time that if you’re willing to touch on some of the more sensitive subjects, such as Obama’s race, his skinny frame, his unflappable sincerity or his grandiose rhetoric, there’s plenty of material for Obama jokes. He enlisted the advice of some comedian friends and gathered quite a substantial body of material about the Democratic candidate, which he posted to prove that yes, we can laugh.

Related Topic: 2008 Republican parodies join the canon of great comedy

The Democrats may have survived the campaign without suffering too much mockery, but the Republican team of John McCain and Sarah Palin took a beating in the months leading up to the election. Political caricatures have always made for some of the greatest moments in comedy. Chevy Chase, Will Ferrell and Dana Carvey were almost more famous than the politicians they lampooned, and former “Saturday Night Live” regular Tina Fey broke ratings records with her impression of Palin; those numbers were only exceeded when viewers tuned in to catch Palin’s own appearance on the show.

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