President’s Striking Comedy Gold at WHCD Again Serves as Valuable Lesson for 2016 Contenders
So much money is spent and wasted by political campaigns these days, it’s almost impossible to keep track of ($5 billion will likely be raised in the next general election). But one investment that every politician–especially on the Republican side–should and must make is in the speech-writing department.
And we’re not just talking a Ted Sorensen type…the guy who helped turn Kennedy into a great orator. Soaring words and hyperbole are almost expected of every president and contender for the White House these days. What is needed more than ever is the ability to make the Commander-in-Chief genuinely funny while not damaging the gravitas of the office in the process.
Enter David Litt.
Just 28-years-old, Mr. Litt served for the fourth straight year as chief comedy writer for President Obama’s speech/standup at the annoyingly-named “Nerd Prom” otherwise known as the White House Correspondents Dinner Saturday night.
“We’re always looking for jokes that are only funny — or, at least, especially funny — if the person saying them is President Obama,” explains Litt–who graduated Yale, wrote for the university’s comedy paper (the infamous Yale Journal) while also performing Improv on campus and interning at The Onion — who tells The Los Angeles Times, “The No. 1 priority is to make it funny. A little truth-telling will be a bonus.”
To that end, if you watched the WHCD last night or wish to in our video embed below, what you’ll see and hear is some truly hilarious, biting stuff from the president that can’t be considered nasty or too partisan to those owning any semblance of objectivity. Given this is the president’s sixth Correspondents Dinner, here’s his Top Six lines of the night, which were delivered with the just the right pace and precision:
– Mr. Obama said he’s asked, ” ‘Do you have a bucket list?’ I say, well I have something that rhymes with bucket. Immigration executive action? ‘Bucket!’ Stricter climate rules. ‘Bucket!‘”
– “I look so old…John Boehner’s already invited Netanyahu to speak at my funeral.”
– “Michele Bachmann predicted I would bring about the Biblical end of days. Now that’s big. … Lincoln, Washington — they didn’t do that.”
– The economy’s gotten so bad for some people that…”I had a friend, just a few weeks ago, she was making millions of dollars a year, and now she’s living out of a van in Iowa.”
– Speaking about his fondness for Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who could run for the Democratic nomination: “Apparently people really want to see a pot-smoking socialist in the White House. We could get a third Obama term after all.”
Rest assured, these lines (along with a tremendous performance by Keegan-Michael Key as “Luther the Angry Translator”) will be played all morning on the Sunday talk shows (with anchors/hosts/moderators all laughing/grinning/chuckling out of the bites and acting as if it’s the first time they’re hearing it). You’ll hear a majority of them on Monday as well. If a poll is done on the president’s likability this week, it’s almost a guarantee that number ticks up…all thanks to the convenience of online consumption, millions will see these clips who otherwise wouldn’t have at the beginning of Mr. Obama’s tenure.
As for the 10-to-44 likely and announced GOP candidates for the White House, as well as Hillary Clinton–who’s takes the whole being-all-things-to-all-people thing to a whole new level–they would be wise to reserve one of its highest-paid staff positions to a guy like David Litt. Policy positions matter, of course. Experience is a plus or minus depending on your perspective. Passion and energy needs to be a given.
But in the end, whether it’s Reagan or Clinton or Bush 43 or Obama, being the guy or gal you can sit down and have a beer with while sharing a few jokes is almost equally important to those millions of Americans who don’t live in the political and media bubble. Kennedy was that guy versus Nixon. Reagan was against Carter. Clinton versus Bush 41. Bush 43 versus Gore.
If you asked me what I thought were the highlights of Mitt Romney’s failed run against Mr. Obama in 2012, it was obviously his surprisingly-dominant performance in the first debate (Gallup showed the Republican winning by a 72-20 margin) and his standup routine a few weeks later at the white-tie Al Smith Dinner at the Waldorf in Manhattan…a performance few knew he was capable of. Here’s a few of the better lines:
“It’s nice to finally relax and wear what Ann and I wear around the house.”
“Usually when I get invited to gatherings like this, it’s just to be the designated driver.”
“As President Obama surveys the Waldorf banquet room, with everyone in white tie and finery, you have to wonder what he’s thinking: so little time, so much to redistribute.”
And similar to the President last night, Romney’s deadpan that evening was almost pitch-perfect. Who knew? In retrospect, having that kind of material on that stump–self-deprecating and otherwise–might have humanized him more…made him more relatable. The next batch of candidates for this election season would be wise to see the value a good writer with range that extends to comedy can bring to a campaign.
“I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.” – Maya Angelou
And it’s hard to like anyone–even serious people seeking a very serious position–who can’t make us laugh once in while, either.
Watch President Obama below, via C-SPAN:
>>Follow Joe Concha on Twitter @JoeConchaTV
Have a tip we should know? email@example.com