2009.01.28 Maybe comedy will survive the new administration after all

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

With hard times already facing the real estate, banking and auto industries, one more aspect of everyday life recently seemed poised to experience its own little fall from success: the world of comedy.

After eight years of having George W. Bush in the White House, every network late show host, cable smart aleck and lowly stand-up comedian would be losing their mother lode of material. And face it, his replacement just didn’t seem to have that knack to be unintentionally hilarious. Mr. Bush was leaving big clown shoes to fill.

Not that Barack Obama was a bad guy, he just wasn’t that funny. Ordinarily, we could count on Joe Biden to fill the comedy gap, but since that unfortunate incident during the campaign when he asked the wheelchair-bound legislator to “stand up so we can get a look at you,” he has been unusually boring.

Watching the guests arrive for the inauguration was like a rerun of funny politicians of the past. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, both Bushes, four of the best friends any comedy writer ever had. Then came the parade of former vice presidents.

First, Walter Mondale, who didn’t really have to worry about being funny as long as President Carter’s brother Billy was around. Next, Al Gore, still a favorite of comics everywhere. And finally, Dan Quayle, who made us all laugh. Dan was looking unusually tanned, rested, and ready for something. A potato, perhaps? Could our next administration hope to hold a candle to these guys?

Not to worry, though. When inauguration time rolled around, the new crew in town proved they had what it takes, humorously speaking, at least.

How about that oath of office for starters? President Obama was in such a hurry to be sworn in, he was saying “I, Barack Hussein Obama” before the Chief Justice was finished with the “do solemnly swear” end of the phrase. As I’m sure you’ve all seen, it went downhill from there.

Was it the Chief Justice’s fault for scrambling the oath? Or did the President cause the problem by jumping in too early? Instead of worrying about it, why not just do it again, correctly this time? Correctly, that is except for forgetting to use a Bible during the re-do. After all the publicity about using President Lincoln’s Bible the first time, how could everyone forget a Bible the second time around? Can you “solemnly swear” to anything without a Bible? Even “W” remembered a Bible. Do you think they will try to get it right a third time?

And did you see those special guests? Before Inauguration Day, many were interested in what designer Michelle Obama would use for her swearing in and inaugural ball dresses. I’ll bet no one asked where Aretha Franklin got that green hat she was wearing, unless they wanted to know how to avoid seeing another one. Do you think Aretha had to wear it because she lost a bet?

Then there was the “performance” by Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and friends. It seemed all right at the time, but later it was revealed that the number was prerecorded, Milli Vanilli-style. On the Inauguration stage, Mr. Perlman played air violin while Mr. Ma played air cello. Air cello sounds fun, doesn’t it? Maybe the next big craze will be “Cello Hero.”

And if the inauguration itself wasn’t funny enough, the television networks helped add their own brand of goofiness. I especially got a kick out of ABC interviewing first graders about the new president. It was pretty obvious most were just repeating what they’d heard elsewhere. One little boy said, “All my life, we’ve had nothing but white presidents. It’s time we had a black one.”

The little boy, who happened to be white, obviously had learned somewhere that it is polite to share. Give that black president a chance, too. Of course, the life span of a first grader is less than the eight years Bush served, so he was the only white president during the boy’s lifetime.

If that logic holds and Obama serves two terms, some first grader in 2016 will think it’s time a white man got to be president, not realizing the score is 43 to 1. But first, Obama will have to get re-elected. Perhaps he should just concentrate on doing a good job. Joe Biden and Aretha Franklin can supply the laughs.

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