« The official Paris for President campaign ad; McCain says she's deeper than Obama! | Main | Citizens of the world, your vote will be counted! »

The Presidency Is No Laughing Matter

I've spent a bit of time talking about the senses of humor of presidential candidates, both this time and last time, and I like to think I've made myself into a little bit of an expert on the topic. It's become a bit of a fixation to me -- largely because there aren't many others who have chosen to talk about it, so I have, I guess by default, become "the" go-to person on the topic.

I've said before that, historically, the presidents with good sense of humor have been better than the ones who seemed to lack a funnybone. And while I am careful to avoid the "correlation means causation" fallacy, I think there is a link between the two.

Moreover, when I think about it, those people with a poor or no sense of humor are among the scariest people in the world.

I am indebted to Jon Stewart from The Daily Show for this observation. A couple of weeks ago, while discussing the New Yorker cartoon that depicted Barack Obama as a religious extremist (adn those who were bent out of shape over it), Stewart said the following:

"Obama is not upset about the cartoon that calls him a Muslim extremist. Who gets upset about cartoons? Muslim extremists."

There are quite a few humorless people in the world today. Muslim extremists are merely the most prominent. They are the ones who have literally killed people over cartoons -- and the people they killed weren't even the cartoonists, just convenient targets.

Feminists are also infamous for their lack of humor. "How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb? THAT'S NOT FUNNY!"

That's not fair. I give the feminists credit for one major contribution to humor. I strongly suspect that they were a primary factor in the development of one significant trend in TV sitcoms: the doofus dad.

Over the last 20 years or so, the doofus dad has become a sitcom staple. Pretty much every father on a sitcom has been a bozo, a buffoon, a dolt, a clod, a laughingstock. And I've laughed along with everyone else -- I watched "Home Improvement" from start to finish, and Al Bundy is a personal hero of mine. But I don't think that it's a good thing.

Dictators and tyrants are also notoriously humorless. Joking around in the Soviet Union or Cuba or North Korea or China could get you locked up -- or worse.

This has led to some very disturbing consequences. The Soviet Union's intolerance for mockery led to the immigration of Yakov Smirnoff, and inflicting him on the US was nearly an act of war.

Humor, for all its other benefits, helps us cope with unfortunate or terrible events. After 9/11, Art Buchwald wrote a book entitled "We'll Laugh Again." And Robin Williams came up with the first 9/11 joke that I found funny. Lemme paraphrase:

President Bush was awakened at 3 in the morning by a phone call from Yassir Arafat. "Mr. President, I wanted to offer the sympathies of the Palestinian people over the terrible terrorist attacks your country has suffered this day."

Bush, a bit groggily, answered. "What are you talking about?"

"FUCK! I forgot about the time zones!"

We've had our share of presidents with poor or no senses of humor. And they have consistently been ranked as poor presidents. Johnson, Nixon, and Carter were not exactly laugh riots, and they were horrible in office. Add in Coolidge, Grant and Pierce to that equation.

On the other hand, those presidents who are consistently ranked among the best are the ones who are often seen as the wittiest. Reagan, Kennedy, and Lincoln were the masters of the quips, the one-liners, the anecdotes, the bon mots.

It isn't just presidents, and it isn't just witticisms. Winston Churchill was one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century, and his rapier wit is the stuff of legend.

As I said at the outset, I am not arguing that a sense of humor is a surefire indicator of whether or not a president will be successful. Nor am I saying that it should be the sole criteria on which we vote.

But it does seem to be, historically, it seems to be a darned good bellwether and a reliable indicator of success.


TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi/30863.

Comments (46)

Hey, Jay Tea: Michelle Obam... (Below threshold)
Maggie Mama:

Hey, Jay Tea: Michelle Obama has virtually disappeared from the face of the earth since the New Yorker cover picturing her as Angela Davis.....could that indicate some "upset" on her part?

And what would that "say" about her? ? ?

Maggie Mama, you missed it.... (Below threshold)

Maggie Mama, you missed it. Last week, she gave a speech in Chicago, trying to rally women to support her husband.

But I'm not surprised that you didn't hear about it. We're not allowed to critique her campaign appearances any more, according to her husband, so it's safer to just not mention her at all.

J.

Was that last line of your ... (Below threshold)
Jamie:

Was that last line of your post straight from the department of redundancy department? :-p

Racist! How dare you mentio... (Below threshold)

Racist! How dare you mention the Messiah has no sense of humor. Maybe this is the answer to 'Does God have a sense of humor?'. No.

Skinner, do the following:<... (Below threshold)

Skinner, do the following:

1) Ask yourself "does God have a sense of humor?"

2) Google up images and information on the duck-billed platypus.

3) Laugh.

Robin Williams talked about if God ever gets stoned. "Ever see a playpus? I think so. (fakes toking a joint) 'Let's take a beaver and give it a duck's bill. It's a mammal, but it lays eggs! Hey, Darwin, up yours!"

J.

So, Mr. Tea and others like... (Below threshold)
Herman:

So, Mr. Tea and others like funny presidents? Well, here's a video depicting (for those who haven't seen it) our president's activities on stardate, August 6, 2001, precisely six years ago today:

http://www.toostupidtobepresident.com/shockwave/startrek.htm

My mistake above: I meant ... (Below threshold)
Herman:

My mistake above: I meant not 'six years ago today' but '7 years ago today'

I don't know if any preside... (Below threshold)

I don't know if any president has ever matched the wit and wisdom of John Kennedy. He's perhaps the ultimate role model for the perfect balance of intelligence and humor.

"Silent Cal" had a sensayum... (Below threshold)

"Silent Cal" had a sensayuma. I've heard a couple of anecdotes. The woman who, seated next to him at a dinner, said, "I bet (someone else) that I could get you to speak three words."
Cal: "You lose."
And of course, the old visit to the chicken farm line.

I don't know if an... (Below threshold)
I don't know if any president has ever matched the wit and wisdom of John Kennedy.

Two words: Ronald Reagan.

Even if you don't appreciat... (Below threshold)
Anon Y. Mous:

Even if you don't appreciate Cal's understated humor, why would you classify him as a poor president? Wikipedia sums it up nicely:

In many ways Coolidge's style of governance was a throwback to the passive presidency of the nineteenth century. He restored public confidence in the White House after the scandals of his predecessor's administration, and left office with considerable popularity. As his biographer later put it, "he embodied the spirit and hopes of the middle class, could interpret their longings and express their opinions. That he did represent the genius of the average is the most convincing proof of his strength."

Many later criticized Coolidge as part of a general criticism of laissez-faire government.His reputation underwent a renaissance during the Reagan administration, but the ultimate assessment of his presidency is still divided between those who approve of his reduction of the size of government and those who believe the federal government should be more involved in regulating the economy.

Reducing the size of the federal government? Sounds like a plan to me.

J.I always thought... (Below threshold)
Matt:

J.

I always thought Jimmy Carter had a great sense of humor. How else could you explain his VP and cabinet picks?

Only a president with a great sense-of-humor and appreciation for the comedic, would of been caught whacking a bunny on the head with an oar.

If McCain plays up his sens... (Below threshold)

If McCain plays up his sense of humor and Obama is forced repeatedly to show he has none, it'll go far with the general public, who don't follow the inside-baseball aspects of politics as played on the internet and directly within campaigns. Blogs score hits against each other but it means little if it doesn't make its way out to Jane and Johnny Sixpack. I'd like to see all the center-right blogs focus on getting out their messages better, and hopefully the lefty blogs will continue to target only their own readers.

Jay - I have to come to Gra... (Below threshold)

Jay - I have to come to Grant's defense. He may not have had a great sense of humor in public, but he was never stuck on himself.

And he was, in fact, a decent president. History and historians have done violence to his presidency, and only since the late 1990s has Grant's presidency gotten a fresh -- and positive -- rehabilitation.

http://thepresidentsatbigmo.blogspot.com/2007/10/number-18-ulysses-s-grant.html

Grant was a very private man and only opened up to the closest of friends. It doesn't mean he was humorless, though.

Jay Tea,You wield ... (Below threshold)
jpm100:

Jay Tea,

You wield incredible influence. Apparently you've called out Obama. Both McCain and Obama are going to make an appearance on a comedy show.

http://wizbangpop.com/2008/08/05/barack-obama-and-john-mccain-go-for-laughs.php

And Obama's scripted sample of one appearance will prove you all wrong.

"And Obama's scripted</b... (Below threshold)
sshiell:

"And Obama's scripted sample of one appearance will prove you all wrong."

Heavy emphasis on scripted!

I agree with the premise th... (Below threshold)

I agree with the premise that a good sense of humour is a decent indication of a full character. Of course, there are always exceptions...Clinton, for example. Then again...he WAS the biggest joke in office, so nevermind!

And the doofus Dad phenomenon is solely responsible for the decline of sitcom watching in our household...it tries even my avid sense of humour.

And Obama's scripted sam... (Below threshold)
Brian:

And Obama's scripted sample of one appearance will prove you all wrong.

Obama already appeared on SNL.

Homer Simpson. Best. TV. Da... (Below threshold)

Homer Simpson. Best. TV. Dad. Ever.

"Son, I've learned that life is one crushing defeat after another until you just wish Flanders was dead."

Obama already appe... (Below threshold)
Obama already appeared on SNL

Didn't help. Compared to Obama, Michael Dukakis looks like a comedy genius.

Obama already appeared o... (Below threshold)

Obama already appeared on SNL.

In a very unfunny cameo.

Well of course you're not g... (Below threshold)
Brian:

Well of course you're not going to think any of Obama's "funny" appearances are funny. That's your subjective take. But the fact remains that he did appear before, contrary to the previous statement.

But does Obama have ... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:


But does Obama have a sense Of humor?

Very OT, I realize (so s... (Below threshold)
irongrampa:

Very OT, I realize (so sue me), but I just posted on wizbang Blue--something I'll not do again--that isn't the place to find reasoned debate.

You may now return to your scheduled programming.

Oregonmuse, I do agree with... (Below threshold)

Oregonmuse, I do agree with you that Ronald Reagan was often very funny and charming. There's so many of his quotes that are some of the best and most notable statements ever made.

Well of course you're no... (Below threshold)

Well of course you're not going to think any of Obama's "funny" appearances are funny.

No, his appearance on SNL was just plain unfunny, Brian. SNL writers couldn't even give him a good line/joke to tell. On top of that, his "performance" was self-conscience (he smiled to the audience) and his dialog consisted of politically promoting himself instead of pulling off a good joke. I'm not blaming him for that; I blame the sorry state of SNL writing.

Objectively. Not. Funny.

But does Obama ha... (Below threshold)


But does Obama have a sense Of humor?

OK, that was a decent, off-the-cuff one liner. Kudos.

Of course it was political eons ago, so there's that...

Bush is one of the funniest... (Below threshold)
Dave:

Bush is one of the funniest presidents ever but he turned out to be one of the worst presidents ever. Then again Bush usually isn't trying to be funny.

So you think, Dave. Let's ... (Below threshold)
JLawson:

So you think, Dave. Let's wait a few years and see what real historians have to say. Lincoln, after all, wasn't exactly loved in his time either.

JLawson,Bush is no... (Below threshold)
Dave:

JLawson,

Bush is no Lincoln.

Neither was Lincoln... THEN... (Below threshold)
JLawsonn:

Neither was Lincoln... THEN.

Now? Different story altogether.

Didn't help. Compared... (Below threshold)

Didn't help. Compared to Obama, Michael Dukakis looks like a comedy genius.

Even without the helmet and tank.

On top of that, his "per... (Below threshold)
Brian:

On top of that, his "performance" was self-conscience (he smiled to the audience)

Yeah, Chris Farley and Mike Meyers were notorious for being unfunny simply because they smiled at the cameras.

Objectively. Not. Funny.

Well, nice to know that you can declare something as subjective as humor to be objective. It explains a lot of your opinions, actually.

JLawson,You might ... (Below threshold)
Dave:

JLawson,

You might find this interesting on Abe Lincoln

Unlike Bryan, I've seen the... (Below threshold)

Unlike Bryan, I've seen the Obama skit. There's a costume party going on. (It was around Halloween.)

Here's the transcript of the relevant portion:

Bill Clinton: [ looks off=screen ] Hey! Great Obama mask!

Hillary Clinton: Yeah!

[ a man wearing a Barack Obama mask steps up ]

Hillary Clinton: Who is that under there?

[ the man removes his mask to reveal that he really is Barack Obama ]

Barack Obama: Hello, Hillary. Hello, Bill.

Bill Clinton: Nice to see you.

Hillary Clinton: Yes, nice to see you, Barack. So, you're dressed as yourself?

Barack Obama: Well, you know, Hillary, I have nothing to hide. I enjoy being myself. I'm not going to change just because it's Halloween.

Hillary Clinton: Well, that's.. [ frowns ] that's great..

Barack Obama: [ laughs ] And, may I say, you make a lovely bride.

Bill Clinton: She's a witch!

Hillary Clinton: Bill!! [ Bill shrugs his shoulders ] Please, excuse my husband, Barack. Now, were you saying something?

Barack Obama: Yes. I just wanted to let the American people know that.. "Live, from New York, it's Saturday Night!"

Here are excerpts of their SNL appearances -- Hillary joking about how her campaign is going, and McCain talking about gaydar.

Yup, the guy's a regular laugh riot. Blows Hillary on the Daily Show or McCain singing Streisandr out of the water.

J.

Well, nice to know that ... (Below threshold)

Well, nice to know that you can declare something as subjective as humor to be objective.

So you found Obama funny? Really? If so, that's kinda funny in itself.

It explains a lot of your opinions, actually.

Right back at ya, wisenheimer.

Yeah, Chris Farley and Mike Meyers were notorious for being unfunny simply because they smiled at the cameras.

Oh how cute! Sarcasm from Brian! That never happens! (Or heck, considering you possibly think Obama's cameo was funny, I wouldn't put it past you to think Myers and Farley are unfunny. Who knows.)

Anyhowsers, it's called "comedic timing". Throwing well-timed knowing glances and smirks to an audiences are part of any comedian's arsenal. Barack simply didn't have it with his smile. No big deal. But it wasn't funny or even smirk-worthy.

Very OT, I realize... (Below threshold)
Very OT, I realize (so sue me), but I just posted on wizbang Blue--something I'll not do again--that isn't the place to find reasoned debate.

Not only that, but you'll probably be banned for daring to voice a dissenting opinion. They will not tolerate dissent over there. Heck, they even banned mantis, and he's more on their side of the aisle than ours.

So now instead of picking a... (Below threshold)
WorldCitizen:

So now instead of picking a president by the rubric of which one you would rather have a beer with we should pick the one that makes us laugh.

Anyhowsers, it's called ... (Below threshold)
Brian:

Anyhowsers, it's called "comedic timing".

Wow, criticizing a politician for not having comedic timing. Finally, a discussion about the real issues facing our country!

Wow, criticizing a polit... (Below threshold)

Wow, criticizing a politician for not having comedic timing. Finally, a discussion about the real issues facing our country!

Wow! Even MORE sarcasm from someone who clearly needs to get a new schtick! That never happens!

I think you're right, Jay. ... (Below threshold)
LaMedusa:

I think you're right, Jay. Part of this is because these men weren't just smart, they chose not to take themselves too seriously in the grand scheme of things. When you can laugh at yourself, your perception is greater because of the awareness of human fallacy. They each had their sobering moments when needed the most, however, which made them champions of justice in spite of their flaws.

Skinner, do the followin... (Below threshold)

Skinner, do the following:

Jay,

My comment was a failed attempt of calling Obama Messiah or God, him not having a sense of humor, therefore God does not have a sense of humor. A failed attempt. As it's said, if you have to explain a joke, it's not funny.

Wow! Even MORE sarcasm f... (Below threshold)
Brian:

Wow! Even MORE sarcasm from someone who clearly needs to get a new schtick!

Sorry, but your posts are just too perfect set-up material for a sarcastic smack-down.

Sorry, but your posts ar... (Below threshold)

Sorry, but your posts are just too perfect set-up material for a sarcastic smack-down.

So perfect, yet this is your witty retort.

Weak sauce.

"Wow, criticizing a poli... (Below threshold)
Oyster:

"Wow, criticizing a politician for not having comedic timing. Finally, a discussion about the real issues facing our country!"

Important enough for you to comment 5 times.

Solzhenitsyn has just passe... (Below threshold)
mathman Author Profile Page:

Solzhenitsyn has just passed.
Why did he go into the Gulag Archipelago?
Because he observed in a private correspondence that Josef Stalin had a big nose.
In his case truth was no defense.
And that is the trouble with lacking a sense of humor.




Advertisements









rightads.gif

beltwaybloggers.gif

insiderslogo.jpg

mba_blue.gif

Follow Wizbang

Follow Wizbang on FacebookFollow Wizbang on TwitterSubscribe to Wizbang feedWizbang Mobile

Contact

Send e-mail tips to us:

[email protected]

Fresh Links

Credits

Section Editor: Maggie Whitton

Editors: Jay Tea, Lorie Byrd, Kim Priestap, DJ Drummond, Michael Laprarie, Baron Von Ottomatic, Shawn Mallow, Rick, Dan Karipides, Michael Avitablile, Charlie Quidnunc, Steve Schippert

Emeritus: Paul, Mary Katherine Ham, Jim Addison, Alexander K. McClure, Cassy Fiano, Bill Jempty, John Stansbury, Rob Port

In Memorium: HughS

All original content copyright © 2003-2010 by Wizbang®, LLC. All rights reserved. Wizbang® is a registered service mark.

Powered by Movable Type Pro 4.361

Hosting by ServInt

Ratings on this site are powered by the Ajax Ratings Pro plugin for Movable Type.

Search on this site is powered by the FastSearch plugin for Movable Type.

Blogrolls on this site are powered by the MT-Blogroll.

Temporary site design is based on Cutline and Cutline for MT. Graphics by Apothegm Designs.

Author Login



Terms Of Service

DCMA Compliance Notice

Privacy Policy