Why Comedy Matters

I recently penned a piece in this space describing how Hollywood comedians refuse to hit President Obama. They claim he’s unmockable – which is itself a mockery. Obama is the most mockable president in American history. And it took Mitt Romney to show it.

Last week, at the annual Al Smith Dinner in New York City, Romney took a good-natured look at the Obama record. And it was knock-down, drag out funny. Here were some of his best lines:

I was actually hoping the president would bring Joe Biden along this evening, because he’ll laugh at anything.

Of course we’re down to the final months of the president’s term. As President Obama surveys the Waldorf banquet room with everyone in white tie and refinery, you have to wonder what he’s thinking. So little time, so much to redistribute.

In the spirit of Sesame Street, the president’s remarks tonight are brought to you by the letter “O” and the number $16 trillion.

Campaigns can be grueling, exhausting. President Obama and I are each very lucky to have one person who is always in our corner, someone who we can lean on, and someone who is a comforting presence. Without whom, we wouldn’t be able to go another day. I have my beautiful wife Ann, he has Bill Clinton.

Ouch.

President Obama’s humor was also funny, but oddly defeatist in the sense that it was at his own expense. Here were some of his best lines:

 This is the third time that Governor Romney and I have met recently. As some of you may have noticed, I had a lot more energy in our second debate. I felt really well rested after the nice long nap I had in the first debate.

Although it turns out millions of Americans focused in on the second debate who didn’t focus in on the first debate — and I happen to be one of them. I particularly want to apologize to Chris Matthews. Four years ago, I gave him a thrill up his leg; this time around, I gave him a stroke.

Monday’s debate is a little different because the topic is foreign policy. Spoiler alert, we got Bin Laden.

There’s something else worth noting about the comparative humor between the candidates. Obama’s humor was largely self-effacing; Mitt Romney’s humor was far more aggressive. That’s because Obama recognizes that he’s seen as mean and nasty at this point in the election cycle, and he wants to walk back that perception. Losers poke fun at themselves when it comes to the Al Smith Dinner; winners poke fun at their opponents.

Back in 2008, John McCain actually admitted that he was the underdog in the election, and proceeded to tell jokes targeting Bill Clinton and himself. Barack Obama aimed his fire squarely at McCain and the wealthy. Guess who won?

Humor is a weapon. And it hasn’t been wielded well by anyone on the Republican side of the political aisle since Ronald Reagan. Humor humanizes. And Mitt Romney went a long way toward humanizing himself at the Al Smith Dinner.

His increasing humanity in the public eye, in fact, is probably why his favorable ratings have been climbing steadily ever since the first presidential debate. According to the Pew Research Center, Romney has actually overcome Obama in the likability ratings – his favorability is 50 percent, compared with Obama’s 49 percent. Gallup agrees: Romney leads 49-48. Just eight months ago, Obama led Romney by a margin of 55 percent to 29 percent.

The greatest obstacle for Romney going into this election cycle was whether, after the dehumanization of hundreds of millions of attack ads, he could be restored as a decent human being in the eyes of the electorate.  And he has gone a long way toward doing it. The more the American public sees of Romney, the more they like him. And the more they see of President Obama, the more they don’t. That’s why the media has made it its mission to stop the public from seeing Romney. As Romney joked at the Dinner:

I never suggest that the — that the press is biased. I recognize that they have their job to do, and I have my job to do. My job is to lay out a positive vision for the future of the country, and their job is to make sure no one else finds out about it.

Humor cuts through the nonsense. It’s no coincidence that our most successful presidents have been funny. And it’s no coincidence that our funniest candidates have become president.

All of which bodes well for Mitt Romney.

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  • Stale Urbye

    This posting was quite far removed from the subject comedy in politics. It scores high on conspiration, but low on foresight and realism. Some people blame the Jews for everything that is wrong in this world.
    The crucial question is this: What kind of people are incessantly blaming the Jews?

  • oldtimer

    The 10th commandment: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house,……..nor any thing that is thy neighbour's." 0 and all those who say they are Christians and believe in his "spread the wealth" are breaking this commandment. If a man works hard and honestly becomes rich, he deserves his wealth. 2Thessalonians 3:10 "For even when we were with you, This we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat." Not every business owner is rich, and not everyone wants to own a business, it's a matter of choice and that is what makes this country great, Choice…. Don't fall into the pit that is being dug by 0.

    • "gunner"

      very good post oldtimer, even as a non christian pagan i recognise wisdom in the judeo-christian bible, and i agree with you, and that commandment. an honest man who works hard deserves the fruits of his labour, and while he may give of his own free will no one should be able to take from him against his will. the progressive's "redistribution of wealth" is simple theft by fiat, and dressing up with high sounding words makes it no prettier. i am not, and never will be "rich, but i have my own house, good food on my table and a loved and loving wife in my bed. that is enough, and i do not envy the "rich" nor wish to rob them of their goods.

  • Raymond in DC

    You left out Romney's other swipe at media bias – "Obama embraced by Catholics; Romney dines with rich people." Ouch!

    Romney at the Al Smith Dinner showed himself to be comfortable in his own skin, self-confident, gracious, and – yes – very funny. Obama not mockable? Ha!

  • amused

    You're out of ideas Ben .

    • Caved1ver

      And you apparently haven't a clue, since you haven't provided much of an alternative viewpoint. How dismissively Progressive.

      • amused

        uh ….yea ok dunce .

  • http://tarandfeathersusa.wordpress.com/ Iratus Vulgas

    Humor is basically well disguised aggression that allows us to laugh at the shortcomings and misfortunes of others. Way back when, I imagine that the first comedians learned that "The King sucks" was the sort of punchline that would cause one to forfeit their head. Comedy is both a science and an art. Underground cartoonist Art Spiegelman observed that we can laugh at a clown slipping on a banana peel. But if the same clown instead says, "I have cancer," the humor is gone. One of my favorite quotes comes from Will Rogers: "Everything is funny if it's not happening to you." Perhaps Laughing Joe could have benefited from that.

  • "gunner"

    i have already cast my vote for romney/ryan, i've known mormons, and while i disagree with their theology i've found them to be mainly honest and fair dealing folk. i remember the kerfluffle about john fitzgerald kennedy's catholicism, he was elected president and the first amendment freedom of religion clause still remained in force, the pope did not take over, when romney is elected the capitol will not be moved to salt lake city, and frankly i think our constitution is safer in his hands than it is with the present incumbent who appears to believe he is the law, and above the law.

  • http://www.resonoelusono.com/NaturalBornCitizen.htm Alexander Gofen

    Giggle giggle, what a joke! An impostor openly declaring his foreign origin in 2008 passes as a "natural born citizen"! Bush giggles, GOP giggles, Congress giggles, Supreme Court giggles, Army giggles…

    Since 2010 the impostor uncovered to be a criminal, a forger without any valid piece of docs. This literal 800 pound gorilla giggles, GOP giggles, Congress giggles, Supreme Court giggles, Army giggles, and amoeba Romney giggles.

    The forgeries of the gorilla are reported in the court of law, just recently, on October 22, 2012 in Indianapolis. Still African gorilla giggles, amoeba Romney giggles, Ben Shapiro and frontpagemag.com giggle in adulation… Comedy matters. What a comedy!…

    • amused

      Off your meds again are ya Alex ?

  • Caved1ver

    Humor is the pilot of reason.

    • amused

      That what your Mum said after dropping you on your head ?

  • Caved1ver

    "BHO is not mockable" is code for "We're afraid of all the Obots in the MSM, Academia, etc- who will prevent us from making a living because they're close-minded liberal fascist water-carriers for the BHO administration."