Apparently comedy writers all across the country have found themselves in quite the quandary. Try as they might, they just can’t seem to find an angle on this Barack Obama fellow. According to this New York Times article, the people behind people such as David Letterman and Jay Leno are at a loss to find anything comical about the man.
Now I suppose that it is possible that Obama just happens to be the rare type of human who has no character traits which are worthy of jokes. But I really doubt that’s what going on here. It’s generally understood that he has trouble speaking off script and has already committed numerous gaffes while out campaigning (the 57 states remark, for example).
There’s also the near messianic zeal surrounding his whole campaign. One would think that writers would be chomping at the bit to take a campaign like that down a notch or two. But I’ve not really seen too much on that front either.
The article does touch on a few explanations for why comics seem so gun shy about Obama. For one thing, the majority of them are white. So it isn’t difficult to imagine that they are worried about doing anything that could be construed as racist. There’s also the fact that a large percentage of their audience is very supportive of Obama and not predisposed to finding jokes about him entertaining. Jon Stewart actually resorting to telling his audience that it was ok to laugh during one poorly received segment on Obama.
I don’t doubt that those factors play a role in the Obama comedy drought. But I think there is a motivation that plays a much bigger role in their lack of jokes. A writer for Conan O’Brien named Mike Sweeney had this to say.
“A lot of people are excited about his candidacy,” Mr. Sweeney said. “It’s almost like: ‘Hey, don’t go after this guy. He’s a fresh face; cut him some slack.’ ”
I think this gets to the root cause of the situation. Most of the writers are probably supportive of Obama’s candidacy and don’t want to do anything to harm his chances of winning. But would some jokes on late night television really be a threat to Obama? Most definitely.
I think that Senator Obama is first and foremost an image candidate. His popularity is due almost entirely to the perception that he is a different sort of politician. His mystique is his most important asset. If comics started ripping on him in the same way that they do on other candidates, it will make him appear to be just another politician. And that is the one thing that he cannot afford to have happen.