Television personality Bill Maher participates
in a press conference during the Toronto International Film Festival in
Toronto on Sept. 7. (AP / Evan Agostini)
November 8 2008
For the last eight years, U.S. President George Bush has given North American comedians ample fodder for their routines. His political foibles, international follies, and linguistic challenges provided comics a gold mine of material.
But now, comics across the continent are worried Tuesday’s election of Barack Obama may have been the day the laughter died. Generally speaking, they say their lives aren’t made any easier by a subject who appears to be competent, knowledgeable, and in control.
The impending comedic recession has Bill Maher so worried, he’s already calling on Obama to give comedians a bailout package.
“New Rule! Barack Obama has to give comedians something to work with,” Maher declared last month in a segment that has become the mainstay of his show “Real Time.”
“Seriously, here’s a guy who’s not fat, not cheating on his wife, not stupid, not angry and not a phony. Who needs an a–hole like that around for the next four years?”
In the end, though, Maher didn’t need much help from Obama. The “politically incorrect” comedian belted out a series of cracks about the president-elect throughout his show, including one about Obama’s middle name Hussein.
“Americans were so sick of Bush,” Maher noted, “that seven years after 9-11, they said, “You know what sounds good? A black guy with a Muslim name.”
Not quite done, he added, “You know, a year ago, if you had told me the next president would be a black liberal, I would have said, “Stop BS’ing me, Woody Harrelson, and pass that bong!”
Despite their feigned concerns about a joke-free White House, Vancouver-based comedian Simon King says most political comics won’t have any problems coming up with new punch lines. In fact, he says the Obama jokes in his act have been getting big laughs since the primaries.
“People were surprised that Obama beat Hillary (Clinton),” he told CTV.ca from Vancouver, noting he wasn’t shocked at all.
“When you have a 47-year-old black man in a race against a 61-year-old white woman, the black man is going to win.”
King’s joke, while a favourite with audiences, touches on a matter that is particularly sensitive for comedians — that of race. King says it’s all about context.
“It’s not what’s said. It’s how it’s said. (The audience knows) where I’m coming from. It comes from a good place,” he said.
King points out that when it comes to political comedy, everything is fair game, including the topic of presidential assassinations.
In one of his routines, he asks his audience rhetorically: “Who’s going to assassinate John McCain — Father Time?”
He continues with another joke that some would consider over the line. Recalling the end of what was a tough election battle, King said he couldn’t believe the enormity of the McCain defeat.
“The last time that McCain got a beating like that, the guy doing it was speaking Vietnamese,” he said.
Those in the comedy business say the only thing that should be off limits in a joke is something that doesn’t make people laugh.
“I think comedians tend to draw the line only at what they think the crowd won’t find funny. Otherwise, they will push it as far as they can,” said Matthew Wall, the manager of Yuk Yuk’s comedy club in Vancouver.
Still, even the best-known comics say they went into panic mode after Tuesday’s election results came in.
“It’s tragic. Obama doesn’t make that many mistakes. How can I do my job? I’m getting a little panicky,” CBS “Late Late Show” host Craig Ferguson declared this past week in a faux rant.
“A dignified African-American man — what the hell can I do with that?”
And then, like a bolt of lightening, the answer dawned on the newly-minted American citizen: “My only hope is Biden!”
OK they have a good point. Really they do.
How could Obama possibly top Bush in the Blunders and Bloopers department?
By any stretch of the imagination is just can’t be done.
The comedians must be shaking in their booties.