No kidding!

From the Los Angeles Times:

On his HBO show, “Real Time With Bill Maher,” the comedian routinely makes vicious fun of celebrities, politicians, presidents and even God. But he’s learned that, for much of his audience, Barack Obama is off limits.

Original DVD cover

Not long after the historic presidential election, Maher joked that Republicans were feeling particularly superstitious: “They say the country is having bad luck because there’s a black cat in the White House.” The studio audience erupted in loud groans and boos — a reaction, Maher observed in a recent interview, that exceeded his often scathing attacks on organized religion.

“Obama is the new God,” quipped Maher of the poorly received dig, which he pointed out pokes at conservatives more than the commander in chief.

The heckling response to Maher’s gibe is hardly an anomaly. As late-night talk show hosts and other television comics who trade in political humor know, cracking wise about the new president, who marked his 100th day in office last week, is apparently not very funny for most of the people, most of the time.


Obama has cast so many political humorists into a bad spot because he lacks the obvious defining qualities — both mentally and physically — that transformed previous Oval Office occupants into comedic catnip. He doesn’t have a strong regional accent and didn’t have a strange job before his political rise (former peanut farmer Jimmy Carter). He doesn’t fall down (Gerald Ford). He is not regarded as aging or forgetful (Ronald Reagan). He hasn’t been dubbed a “wimp” (George H.W. Bush). He is not tainted by scandal (Clinton). He doesn’t stumble over the English language (George W. Bush).

The 44th president’s elusiveness as a comic target is more than just superficial, however, and reveals deep national reluctance toward mocking a leader in crisis and toward discussing race. Much of humor’s punch derives from the humbling of the mighty, but that card has, for now, been greatly diminished in the wake of the financial meltdown.

Obama didn’t create the economic mess, and Americans see him earnestly struggling to clean it up.


But it’s Obama’s African American heritage more than any other single factor that has perhaps frozen comics’ pens and keyboards. Political humorists, most of whom are white, have never dealt with a black president and aren’t sure how their material will be received. Is an Obama joke truly aimed at the office and its policies, or is it merely a smokescreen for racial prejudice?

“You don’t want to appear racist,” said Buddy Winston, a former writer for the “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.” “You can’t do the stereotypical thing. Someone who’s a Texan or an elite is much easier to attack.”

Black comedians encounter similar difficulties in crafting humor at the new president’s expense, said David Alan Grier, star of Comedy Central’s short-lived “Chocolate News.” “Some people in the black community see any sort of criticism of Obama as a betrayal,” said Grier. “But my thing is, it’s not a betrayal. It’s just jokes. That’s what comedy is.”


Meanwhile David Letterman, who regularly bashed Bush, has repeatedly praised the new president (“You gotta like this guy . . . by God, this guy is out there, doing stuff. He’s always got stuff going on”).

In fact, the CBS late-night host has used Obama to set up jabs at Bush. In one monologue, he noted Obama’s recent trip to South America, where his lack of knowledge of Spanish prevented him from reading a book presented to him by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: “It would be like handing George Bush any book.”


To be sure, Obama is not getting away scot-free. In recent weeks, “The Daily Show” has jabbed the president for the tax problems of his Cabinet nominees and his indulgent fondness for private White House performances from such artists as Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire.

It’s also important to remember that television audiences aren’t a scientific sample of the nation and might be distorting the true appetite for Obama humor, said Maher. He contends most of his TV audiences are “limousine liberals” who are overly sensitive, particularly about race. But he says when he’s on the road performing in arenas, jokes about Obama having a shark tank in the White House earn big laughs.


But in comedy, it’s all about timing. More than 100 days into the new administration, Ian Cameron, executive producer of ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” said that it may still be too early for Obama-based material to emerge.


“There also has been more of a track record with Bush, when there were eight years,” said Cameron. “A lot of comedians are still feeling their way. There’s still the ‘Obama walking on water’ jokes.”

Obama will fall into the water somehow, and when he does the comedians will be there, said Malcolm Kushner, a scholar of presidential humor who co-created the humor exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

“Everybody thought 9/11 would be the death of comedy, and it wasn’t,” he said. “It will happen.”

The irony, of course, is that, after 8 years, we finally have a president who would actually get the jokes!


Filed under 9/11, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Chimpy, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, humor, movies, parody, politics, Racism, Republicans, Ronald Reagan, September 11, snark, television, Wordpress Political Blogs

31 responses to “No kidding!

  1. Here is my philosophy when it comes to humor…. no discrimination! Mock EVERYONE- including yourself.

    • so far, he hasn’t done anything that is comedy gold, fran. when he does, it will take one comedian to break the ice, and then it will be a free-for-all, just as it should be.

  2. Jenn/jlms qkw

    at least we can laugh at the republicants!

    poor maher – /snark

  3. I think the nation is so relieved to have a hard working intellectual in the White House, we don’t want to jinx it by fucking with him.
    We got so tired of making constant fun of that idiot Bush, maybe we’re taking a break?
    Obama is vulnerable in one area: repeating the secrecy of Bush and adapting some of that administration’s creepier national security tactics.
    If it keeps up, I’ll be among the first to start cracking wise.

    • i think the article is correct. a lot of writers are not only afraid of being accused of being racist, but they are more likely to be liberal, so they wouldn’t be criticizing obama anyway. plus, he hasn’t really done anything that would translate well to comedy yet. i think what the article missed is that so many people are in financial hot water, and they are angry. however, they aren’t angry at obama; they’re angry at chimpy. it happened under his watch. therefore, they are more likely and more anxious to laugh at him than at obama. they want to have faith that obama can fix what’s broken.

  4. Joe Biden in the meantime is walking around with the comedy lightning rod bolted to his head. I don’t like Obama’s education secretary for a lot of reasons and it would be nice if anyone in the cabinet had a fucking HR Block in their neighborhood but I agree with KZD I think having an intellectual in that job is so cool I don’t need 100 % from him. The Republican’s daisy chain of seppuku has been such great entertainment that I don’t think we really need to go after the O any time soon.

    • As Charles Osgood said on CBS Radio, “We have a president who goes everywhere with a teleprompter and a vice-president who should.”

      • perfect! πŸ˜† to tell you the truth, i bookmarked the original poster thinking that it would be obama with his hand over joe biden’s mouth. however, i admit to being biased about joe. i saw him in person, and i was so impressed by how he relates to people that i didn’t have the heart to diss him. when i read the article about the comedians, i figured it was a good opportunity to use the movie without joe.

        • I had the same experience with Biden, Nonnie. He’s very personable, and his honesty is not scripted. I’m glad he’s the veep.

          • if all campaigning was done person-to-person, joe would win every election. he’s like your favorite uncle, the guy next door, and your best friend all rolled up in one.

    • if you take away the spontaneity, then you no longer have joe biden. i’ll take him, gaffes and all. in fact, that might be one of the reasons why obama picked him as veep. he’s the id to obama’s superego. joe can speak the truth, and obama can make the angry parent face, but the truth will still be out there.

  5. Dusty

    Neon Vinny..thats perfect!

    People are being very PC with Obama. Anyone that actually, like Maher, attempts to ridicule him does so at his or her own risk.

    I think we should poke fun at him, on a superficial level. He isn’t Gawd and we should never treat him like one.

    Good poster Nonnie πŸ˜‰

  6. Awesome poster nonnie! I agree with you all, well said. Obama isn’t a buffoon, and we’re so used to 8 years of buffoonery, the relief at having a professional in office is almost too much. I agree with KZD, we’re sort of afraid of jinxing it!!

    Obama will get his, eventually, it’s inevitable – but I doubt to the extent the shrub does. And yes, that’s just as it should be. He’d have to fuck up pretty badly to ever measure up there with the shrub. I honestly don’t think that’s possible.

  7. Oh and frankly, I laugh when Maher makes fun/light of Obama.

    • helen! πŸ˜€
      we don’t see you around here often enough lately.

      there will come a time when obama gets skewered just like everyone else. i don’t mean the way the wingnuts are doing it now, with their racism and ugliness. it will be just like every other president has been skewered, and that will be a good thing. it will mean that we’re starting to look past skin color and concentrating on what a person does, not what he looks like.

  8. dusty

    Did I overstep by calling Vincent ‘Vinny’?

    It is just a great quote, and we have to be able to laugh at our leaders I think.

    • i love the nickname, neon vinny, but i will wait until neon vincent weighs in on it.

      • Dusty and Nonnie, I generally don’t care for Vinny, but I’ll make an exception. You’re both allowed.

        • thanks, neon vincent. i like the nickname, but it’s something i will only use the one time. it sounds like someone from the sopranos, and i don’t picture you that way, so i will continue to call you neon vincent. πŸ˜‰

  9. Dusty

    Vincenzo has a nice right to it Neon Vincent…which one do you approve of? πŸ˜‰

    Just playing with you, if Vinny isn’t your cup of green tea..I will refrain from addressing you that way.

    • dusty darling,
      under each comment in blue and underlined, it says reply. you can comment directly under the comment you’re answering rather than land all the way at the bottom.

      p.s. i love green tea. i keep some in the fridge and have a glass every day. it’s got citrus in it, and it’s yummy!

  10. Found this as a link on my blog. Fun to read almost a year later when the public is turning on this guy in the WH. I love how recently there were comments about the “vitriol” and “hate speech” directed toward ODrama and the Dems and here we have Libs in May 2009, about 11 months ago, calling George Bush “chimpy” and “idiot” and Dick Cheney “Deadeye Dick” and saying dissenters are “wingnuts” who speak with “racism and ugliness”. I was not the biggest supporter of W, but I recall 7 years of hate speech from the Left, even calls to harm the President and his family and people in his administration. And even though I mercilessly skewer ODrama and his sycophants in my blog, I would never engage in the same sort of hateful rhetoric as I saw people on the Left do (and are still doing with new Conservative & Repub targets)
    Anyway, this was fun! Let’s do it again sometime!

    • there’s a vast difference between calling a mental midget like george w. bush ‘chimpy’ and calling someone who shot his friend in the face and didn’t report it until he had to ‘deadeye dick’ and bringing guns to political rallies and calling for the assassination of politicians.

  11. Well said, my dear! As head archivist and bottle washer, I’m perusing the last week-a-year ago on weekends and find this gem. Seems a bit odd his cutsy name is ok but you have defiled sensibilities by giving monkey comparison to George SFB 43. Recomend new readers check posting #1 for the raisin d’etre, et al, he chimps, she nons. (whew, almost said El Al!) I would recomend a cross posting of a protest sign; “We didn’t bring Raisins, THIS TIME” to show we mean business. But alas, karma will always catch up to the guy. He will be at a $5,000 a plate fundraiser some night for the Princess and half way through the yummy desert a startled waiter will stop, look down, and whisper in his ear “those aren’t raisins”.

    • notice he never came back, jerry? he’s afraid of being pelted by raisins. we really should organize a raisin protest. we just have to figure out which issue will be our bΓͺte noire.