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Attempting to be funny and clever can be risky.
On the cover:
Grandpa Munster and Cruz
Vladimir Dracula, Count of Transylvania, is a fictional character in the CBS sitcom The Munsters, originally played by Al Lewis. The doting, irritable, and sarcastic father of Lily Munster, Grandpa is an undead vampire.
Donald Trump Could be Don Rickles
The publisher of And Magazine had an amusing column recently about Obama appearing in a goofy film piece attempting to sell his healthcare plan to the public, and how the president’s attempts to be clever and entertaining had made him appear silly instead and degraded his stature as president.
It begs the question.
Since all candidates are apparently required during an election to appear on Saturday Night Live and other entertainment venues and demonstrate some kind of entertainment skill, either amusing us in a skit using jokes, or playing some kind of musical instrument--since they are not professional entertainers who have honed their craft as entertainers--since they are usually not very good at it--does this diminish their stature as world leaders?
Could anyone conceive of Abraham Lincoln doing a standup routine on SNL? In fact Lincoln was a gifted storyteller (in private) whose backwoods humor and jibes about the eccentricities of his acquaintances were often witty and sometimes maliciously funny.
Should the American people demand that leaders go on TV and attempt entertainment?
This is not something new. Harry Truman and Richard Nixon played the piano and Bill Clinton appeared on TV playing a saxophone. Playing a musical instrument in front of the public (even badly) is fairly harmless except for hurting one’s ears with sour notes.
However, attempting to be funny and clever when you’re not that kind of person is risky.
Recently Hillary Clinton appeared at the Inner Circle Dinner, a black-tie event in New York and Mayor Bill de Blasio made a joke that events were proceeding slowly because “I’m on C.P. (Colored People) Time.” A black actor present at the function said he didn’t appreciate the joke.
Clinton saved herself by ad-libbing that C.P. stood for “Cautious Politician” Time, a narrow escape for Clinton. Nevertheless, the moment caused controversy.
As a sometimes standup comedian myself, I can tell you how lonely that stage gets when a joke bombs and you have nowhere to run and hide.
Does the requirement for political candidates and leaders to charm us with their wit or musical skill lessen them in stature? The answer is yes, if they’re not very good at it and they try to foist off on us that they are good at it.
Jack Benny made a career out of playing the violin badly and people loved this. So if you are a political leader who wants to be funny you have to play your instrument bad and then make a joke out of bad playing.
The actor Russell Crowe recently exposed how rotten he is as a host of SNL when his tepid attempts to be glib and witty fell flat, and how much better he is as an actor who is given dialog to memorize and recite in front a camera where 300 retakes can be performed.
The same applies for politicos. Never attempt to be clever off-the-cuff if you are not normally a clever person in a humorous way or where ad-libbing is required. Attempts to be cute or clever can be disastrous.
Most politicians are dishonest overachievers addicted to power and money. Humor is not their forte.
A zealot like Ted Cruz could not be funny because he takes himself too seriously, although he could perhaps succeed as a dead-ringer lookalike for Grandpa Munster if the Munster’s TV show is reprised.
Likewise Carly Fiorina could be a spot-on for Morticia Addams on the Addams Family TV Show.
Jeb Bush could have played the part of Floyd the Barber (Howard McNear) on the old Andy Griffith Show, the slow-moving nebbish space-head with the glasses and blinking, puzzled eyes.
It’s gotta be Don Rickles. “Hey you hockey puck!” The merchant of venom. Trump has won in part because of all the candidates, he has an act and he’s good at it. He’s not funny. He’s not charming. He has no skill or intelligence. But his performance as an equal-opportunity offender has no comparison in American politics. Trump has captivated people who watch TV wrestling and who have never read a book and who have not a thought in their heads.
Trump is proof it can work if you have an act.
What about the Dems?
Hillary Clinton could play the part of Alice on The Honeymooners, the irritating shrill-voiced harpy always lecturing Ralph (Jackie Gleason) on his limits as a human being.
There’s no comparison I can think of. Of all the candidates he has been the most original. For some reason when I look at Sanders I always think of a monk at a monastery with a red skull cap on his head, not usually the grist for humor although television in the past often attempted to make comics out of nuns (Sally Field in the Flying Nun. Hollywood for decades along with men cross-dressing thinks wacky nuns are cute and funny).
Sanders might attempt to master a magician act to make the deficit and Hillary disappear.
John Sammon, : John Sammon is a writer whose experience includes newspaper reporting, magazine writing, personality profiles, interviews, celebrity interviews (Clint Eastwood), historical pieces, investigative and crime. He was selected “Most Valuable Reporter” for California’s oldest continually operating newspaper, and covered the weekend crime beat for a daily newspaper in Nevada. If you beat your wife on Friday, he wrote about it and got you in deep trouble on Saturday. He covered business,... (more...)