Obama -- the most unfunny man in politics

July 17, 2008|By TIM ROWLAND

Even as I write these words, an awful realization is creeping across the world of humor: Barack Obama isn't funny.

Not that he doesn't have a sense of humor himself, the problem is that he is proving terribly difficult to make jokes about - much to the chagrin of late-night comedians, political cartoonists and, of course, me.

Jimmy Kimmel described him as "too polished." There's nothing to hang your hat on. He's not Al Gore (nerd), Jerry Ford (clumsy), Dennis Kucinich (Martian) or George Bush (well, you know).

Obviously and thankfully, race is off limits. For example, can I write - for purposes of this piece - that Obama lacks color? Not without running it past a half-dozen focus groups.


You can try to localize things: Obama wants change? Big deal, so do half the people sitting on the curb in Public Square.

But no one outside of Hagerstown gets the joke.

Obama gives a speech and stresses "personal responsibility." Oh great, a lot of yuks there. "What do you get when you cross Barack Obama with Hannah Montana? A teenager who picks up her own room." That'll have 'em rolling in the aisles. Believe me, I tried it once and there's nothing funny about personal responsibility.

The New Yorker magazine found all this out when it published a cover cartoon showing Obama dressed in Muslim garb, fist-bumping his gun-toting wife. Nobody thought that was funny. Entire newspaper articles were written about it not being funny. A professional political cartoonist wrote a column about why it wasn't funny and how it could have been made funny: Employ a "thought bubble." That's the cartoonists' solution for everything.

The editor of the New Yorker felt the need to explain. It was funny, see, because a bunch of dimwitted bloggers and e-mail freaks have this perception that this is the way the Obamas are, even though they aren't, but people think they are, so it's an ironic crack on people who think things are the way they aren't.

Any time a joke requires this much explaining, it's in serious trouble.

(Hannah Montana, see, is a teenager and teenagers are notorious slobs, but when you add personal responsibility to the mix ...)

And nothing funny ever seems to happen to Obama. He doesn't pick up a dog by the ears, he doesn't erase tapes, he doesn't hit anybody in the head with a golf ball, he doesn't get attacked by a giant rabbit in the middle of a lake, he doesn't think ketchup is a vegetable, he isn't dazzled by grocery store checkout technology, he doesn't play hide the cigar with an intern, he doesn't destroy democracy as we know it - there's just nothing to work with here.

The least he could do is throw us humor writers a bone - dress up in a flannel shirt to show his bond with the common man and put an exclamation point after his name like Lamar! Alexander.

Even his gaffes are boring. Rural people take comfort in guns and religion? There's a news flash. Call me a pessimist, but I just don't see a future here - not unless his vice presidential pick is the entire group of "House managers" from the Clinton impeachment hearings.

I don't ask you for much, but I am going to do so now, not just for me, but for the future of humor in general. On election day, I want you to go to the polls and kindly cast your ballot for Ralph Nader.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324 or via e-mail at

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