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July 16, 2008

Shocker: Late-Night Talk Show Writers Can't Find Anything Funny About Obama

First rule about the New Messiah: You don't joke about the New Messiah.

What’s so funny about Barack Obama? Apparently not very much, at least not yet.

...

[T]here has been little humor about Mr. Obama: about his age, his speaking ability, his intelligence, his family, his physique. And within a late-night landscape dominated by white hosts, white writers, and overwhelmingly white audiences, there has been almost none about his race.

“We’re doing jokes about people in his orbit, not really about him,” said Mike Sweeney, the head writer for Mr. O’Brien on “Late Night.” The jokes will come, representatives of the late-night shows said, when Mr. Obama does or says something that defines him — in comedy terms.

“We’re carrion birds,” said Jon Stewart, host of “The Daily Show” on the Comedy Central channel. “We’re sitting up there saying ‘Does he seem weak? Is he dehydrated yet? Let’s attack.’ ”

But so far, no true punch lines have landed.

Why? The reason cited by most of those involved in the shows is that a fundamental factor is so far missing in Mr. Obama: There is no comedic “take” on him, nothing easy to turn to for an easy laugh, like allegations of Bill Clinton’s womanizing, or President Bush’s goofy bumbling or Al Gore’s robotic persona.

The thing is, he’s not buffoonish in any way,” said Mike Barry, who started writing political jokes for Johnny Carson’s monologues in the waning days of the Johnson administration and has lambasted every presidential candidate since, most recently for Mr. Letterman. “He’s not a comical figure,” Mr. Barry said.

Jokes have been made about what Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton really thought about Mr. Obama during the primaries, and about the vulgar comments the Rev. Jesse Jackson made about him last week. But anything approaching a joke about Mr. Obama himself has fallen flat.

When Mr. Stewart on “The Daily Show” recently tried to joke about Mr. Obama changing his position on campaign financing, for instance, he met with such obvious resistance from the audience, he said, “You know, you’re allowed to laugh at him.” Mr. Stewart said in a telephone interview on Monday, “People have a tendency to react as far as their ideology allows them.”

Despite audience resistance, Mr. Stewart contended, his show had been able to develop a distinctive angle on Mr. Obama.

Noting that the senator seems to emphasize the historic nature of his quest, Mr. Stewart said, “So far, our take is that he’s positioning himself to be on a coin.”

There is no doubt, several representatives of the late-night shows said, that so far their audiences (and at least some of the shows’ writers) seem to be favorably disposed toward Mr. Obama, to a degree that perhaps leaves them more resistant to jokes about him than those about most previous candidates.

“A lot of people are excited about his candidacy,” Mr. Sweeney said. “It’s almost like: ‘Hey, don’t go after this guy. He’s a fresh face; cut him some slack.’ ”

Justin Stangel, who is a head writer for “Late Show With David Letterman,” disputed that, saying, “We always have to make jokes about everybody. We’re not trying to lay off the new guy.”

But Mr. Barry said, “I think some of us were maybe too quick to caricature Al Gore and John Kerry and there’s maybe some reluctance to do the same thing to him.”

There you go.

Jon Stewart's Take on the New Yorker Cover: John Stewart is at the top of his game here, and by "the top of his game," I mean very so-so almost-funny and lecturing. He does make a decent point about the media's stupidity in falling for non-stories that are easy to report and easy to have an opinion about, and yet...

He of course misses an angle. Yes, the media is reporting on the New Yorker cover because it's an easy story to report on and hype up and so forth. But they're also going overboard because they -- like Jon Stewart's writers -- are hopelessly in the tank for Obama. They feel it is akin to a religious duty to make certain that everyone in the country knows this was a satire, and (in their estimation), a wildly off-base one, and no one anywhere should think Obama had a Muslim upbringing, or that his wife is a radical, or that he is, objectively, a terrorist sympathizer. Thus the wildly out-of-proportion denunciations from the so-called neutral and objective media.

And yeah, even at Fox, which is obliged to cover the hot story and, frankly, relies more heavily on easy-to-report controversies that can fill its programming day than, say, CNN.


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posted by Ace at 02:35 PM

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