Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

COMMENTARY: ON THE MEDIA

U.S. Domestic Mirth Product facing deficit

The Age of Irony Deficiency is upon us. Americans, we must not surrender to excess earnestness. It's OK to crack wise about Obama.

February 01, 2009|JAMES RAINEY

Have you noticed it? The muted studio audience reaction when Jon Stewart riffs on President Obama. The pained look the Leader of the Free World gets when his loose cannon vice president cracks wise about, say, the chief justice of the United States.

Comedian Andy Borowitz has felt it in dozens of angry e-mails.

They come flowing in, just because his website -- www.borowitzreport.com -- wove a provocative double entendre (which my editor wouldn't let me repeat) about Obama's economic package and tweaked the chief executive for attempting to "Calm Americans With Series of Boring Speeches."

It's been almost two weeks since Obama's inauguration. Only 1,448 days left in his term. Clearly, it's time to start identifying trends. Making broad pronouncements.

So here's mine: Our Domestic Mirth Product (DMP) is in danger. The Age of Irony Deficiency is upon us. Americans, we must not surrender to excess earnestness.

These priceless insights came to me the other day as I read a dispatch on the website owned and operated by Borowitz, a funny guy and onetime president of the Harvard Lampoon who kills as a political stand-up.

Borowitz wrote that he had been receiving mail protesting his "juvenile" disquisitions on Obama. Suitably chastened, the comedian wrote last week that he planned to embrace "the nation's new, post-satirical spirit."

Proving his intentions, with a wink, he offered up new poll results that found a majority of Americans agreeing with the statement, "Barack Obama is even more awesome than I originally thought."

Further affirming the president's popularity, the poll found Obama "receives higher approval ratings in the new poll than either leprechauns or unicorns, mythical beings that almost everyone agrees are totally awesome."

OK, being semi-serious for a moment, I think Borowitz has made a point the media, and everyone else, should consider. It's OK to root for Obama and to admire him, but don't put him on a pedestal just yet.

We've got some tough times to slog through. We need a president with brains, perseverance and resolve. And we need one who, leading by example, can show his supporters that you can take a poke in the eye and come back smiling.

"I was making fun of him so gently," Borowitz said in an interview from New York, "but I got a few dozen people saying, 'The president has so much on his plate, we all have to support him.' "

"It was very Stalinesque, like we would suspend the 1st Amendment for the next four years or something," said the writer, who voted for Obama and raised money for his campaign.

"It wasn't a huge number. But there were some people questioning whether it was appropriate to poke fun at Obama in any way," Borowitz said.

In a similar vein, a comedy writer for late-night TV told me she had noticed how audiences seem thrown off kilter when Obama -- the prince of cool, the object of so many high hopes -- is treated like any other president.

"Everyone laughs until it's a joke about their guy. Then suddenly you are doing something wrong," said the writer, who wouldn't give her name because, she said, "I'm not supposed to talk to you without going through some big rigmarole with the PR people."

"Maybe some people have lost sight of the fact we do comedy and that's it," she added. "They think our agenda is their agenda."

A long, exhausting campaign tested Obama's wit on many occasions and he passed, if not with flying colors.

He scored nicely in May when reporters asked if he could picture himself carved into Mt. Rushmore.

"I don't think my ears would fit," Obama said. "There's just only so much rock up there."

In October, at the black-tie Al Smith Dinner in New York, Obama showed a willingness to make fun of the messianic profile thrust on him.

"Contrary to the rumors that you have heard, I was not born in a manger," he said to much laughter. "I was actually born on Krypton."

But Team Obama's famous cool occasionally cracks when it can't control the message; witness the needless cluck-clucking last summer about a "tasteless and offensive" New Yorker cover that lampooned the idea of Obama and wife Michelle as a couple of shaggy Muslim/Black extremists.

Clearly, cartoonist Barry Blitt was mocking not the Obamas but the fools intent on smearing them as a pair of sketchy outsiders.

Once he took office, Obama seemed to channel his controlling "Felix Unger" energy (Borowitz's line) again, when Vice President Joe Biden, preparing to swear in senior staff members, said, "My memory is not as good as Justice Roberts. Chief Justice Roberts."

Others laughed and groaned at Biden's joke about Roberts' flub while administering the oath of office to Obama. Obama's face tightened and he reached out to prod Biden along, looking like the nervous groom whose crazy uncle has taken the wedding toast around the bend.

Borowitz has high hopes for this relationship -- between the too-loose, older veep and his controlling younger boss. An odd couple for the 21st century.

The comedian already had Obama, in the first initiative of his presidency, shipping Biden on a mission to Antarctica. The job could take "up to four years."

"That looks like a pretty good comedy team to me," Borowitz said. "You are always looking for something that could have legs."

Sounds good to me.

To paraphrase the funny man who left the White House for San Clemente a few years back, we need to laugh. Now, more than ever.

--

james.rainey@latimes.com

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|