I was originally going to use the phrase "President Obama Kills" in the title of this post, which is how standup comedians often describe a winning performance. But I thought better of that, given the Right's tendency to seize upon ridiculous rumors and repeat them until half their constituency believes them to be true.
The President once again displayed terrific comic timing at Saturday's annual White House Correspondents' Dinner:
There are some who feel that this type of event, where our leaders entertain and hobnob with journalists and celebrities, is in poor taste -- especially when the American people are suffering from high unemployment, the effect of three or four wars (depending upon who's counting) and natural disasters (such as the horrific tornadoes that killed hundreds of Americans in the South last week).
That's a good point. However, I think one of the best qualities of the American people is our sense of humor, and the ability to laugh, even when it hurts. Life's funniest moments are the ones that touch your heart. It's hard to keep your head up when you're dealing with unrelenting tragedy; I see nothing wrong with a few hours of levity -- so long as the comedy is not insensitive to people who are hurting.
Besides, this was a show a liberal could really love. President Obama's routine allowed him to get a few digs in to those who must have gotten on his nerves at least a bit over the last three years: Fox News, Paul Ryan, Michele Bachmann, and most pointedly, Donald Trump, who didn't look happy at being the butt of so many jokes. Emcee Seth Meyers dug in even deeper.
The President's jokes had to have been written by pros: after last year's dinner, Mediaite outed Daily Show contributor Kevin Bleyer as Obama's joke writer, and while so far no one has come forward claiming authorship for last night's performance, it was too funny to have been penned by amateurs.
I know this from experience. Back in the mid-80's, I worked as a writers' assistant on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, with a head writer who had worked in the Nixon White House ("I know a lot of jailbirds," he once told me). He continued to keep his hand in politics by moonlighting as a joke writer for the then-current occupant of the White House: Ronald Reagan.
So whenever there was a special event that required the politicians to get up and do a monologue or sketch, my boss would pull me off Tonight Show business to type pages he'd written for his friends in Washington.
And I remember his return from one year's Gridiron Dinner, where he'd been a guest of his good friend, the then Vice President, George H.W. Bush. He'd contributed material to both members of the ticket that year. "Reagan killed," he said (yes - using that word). But Bush didn't have the President's communication skills, especially the ability to tell a joke. "I told George not to give up his day job," my boss said.
Standup comedy is scary, even for someone accustomed to public speaking. Once again, the President makes it look easy.
See the entire 2011 White House Correspondents' Dinner at C-SPAN.