Monday, October 27, 2008

That's Not Funny

Quick question: can Jon Stewart survive an Obama Presidency? Indeed, is political humor in general in peril?

For whatever reason, comedians have barely laid a glove on Barack Obama during this eternal campaign.

It’s tempting to blame it all on liberal bias – except that the Clinton Era was a bountiful feast for political humorists. It’s not race – Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Marion Barry have all been ripe targets for political satirists. It’s not newness – the evisceration of Sarah Palin is proof you don’t have to be around long to be ridiculed. And it’s not lack of material – the audacity to run for President moments after taking the Senate oath combined with the swooning adulation of his fans suggest there is comic gold in Obama’s messianic stature.

[Obama himself has mined the comic possibilities here. In his Al Smith Dinner speech, he said, "Americans have a big choice to make, and if anybody feels like they don't know me by now, let me try to give you some answers. Who is Barack Obama? Contrary to the rumors you have heard, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father Jorel to save the Planet Earth...If I had to name my greatest strength, I guess it would be my humility...Greatest weakness, it's possible that I'm a little too awesome."]

But something – perhaps a little bit each of the above factors – has left the person of Barack Obama a humor-free zone. This is no big deal for the Lenos and Lettermen of the world – they’ll always have Paris (and Brangelina and Britney and so on). But Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert, Keith Olbermann – their entire shows are built on the perceived follies of the Republican Party. When the Democrats run everything, what will these guys do? Supreme Court humor? Harry Reid material? Sarkozy schtick?

Sure, you can always count on some random Congressperson doing something he shouldn't do with someone he shouldn't know in some place he shouldn't be. But not every day. The Bush and Clinton Administrations have provided 16 years of consistent comic fodder - they were the gifts that kept giving.

I should point out that I’ve been wrong about Stewart before. I thought his show was in trouble when longtime producer Ben Karlin left, especially since he had lost so many of his best correspondents (Steve Carell, Steven Colbert, Rob Corddry, Ed Helms). But the show still delivers.

Besides, a few hours after Obama is sworn in*, the first Presidential hopefuls will arrive in Iowa and New Hampshire and the cycle will begin all over again…

* Yes, I’m aware he hasn’t actually won yet. But the premise of the piece is built on that assumption, so go with it…

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