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Cracking wise about Obama

Posted: Sunday, July 20, 2008

I believe comedic change is possible. Since The New Yorker dropped a bum joke on its most recent cover, comedians have appeared on every news outlet to whine about how hard it is to make fun of Barack Obama. Really? They have an arsenal of jokes to use against a 71-year-old ex-POW cancer survivor and Obama is too touchy a subject?

I'm here to help. I called some comedian friends to compile a guide to making fun of Obama. The consensus is there's not yet one standout attribute to pound away on (McCain is old! Clinton cheats on his wife! Bush is stupid! Al Gore is a robot! John Kerry makes me feel inexplicably sad inside!), but there are areas to explore.

If we just work a little harder, and sacrifice a little bit, we can achieve greatness. We are the immature jerks we have been waiting for.

He's a nerd

Yes, he seems cool because he plays basketball and fist-bumps and knows about pop music. But that's because we're comparing him with other politicians, all of whom are older than our grandparents. Compare Obama with other 46-year-olds and he's Urkel. He's the kid at the Model United Nations conference who says, "Guys, guys, c'mon. Let's not make fun of Eastern Europe." And the brutal truth is, even if women faint at your rallies, you'll never feel cool inside when you have Alfred E. Neuman's ears.

He's ridiculously earnest

Obama is the kind of guy who not only talked you into showing up for Hands Across America but afterward insisted that it was awesome. On "Saturday Night Live," Fred Armisen plays up Obama's weird pauses and brow furrows like he's Yogi Bear getting bad news from a doctor. Comedian Marc Maron does a really smart bit about how Obama stares out into the distance while giving a speech. "The first time you see him you're like, 'What's he looking at?' But then you're like, 'I don't know, but it's good and full of hope. And he's the only one who can see it. If we vote for him, maybe he'll take us there.' "

He's black

Apparently, the differences between black people and white people can be funny. Trust, me I've seen this on HBO's "Def Comedy Jam."

When I called "Simpsons" writer Matt Selman for help on Obama jokes, he came up with this: "A lot of people are worried about Obama being assassinated because he's black. The solution to that is a much blacker vice president. I'm thinking Flavor Flav." Admittedly, Selman nervously said, "Don't make me look racist!" about 20 times before and after telling me his joke.

He's manorexic

No one loses weight on the campaign trail, when you're grabbing fast food and eating whatever is offered out of politeness, but this guy is always turning down doughnuts. It's like he signed up for running for president because he thought "president" was some kind of 10K race.

As comedian Aisha Tyler told me, "He has the build of an ex-high school javelin thrower. He's the guy on the track team who only does that one event, and he weighs the same as the javelin."

He's effete

He's well-dressed. He eats arugula - which he buys at Whole Foods. He mocks those who use guns. He is, as we mentioned, quite thin. He may only be half-black, but he's three-quarters gay.

He called his owngrandmother a racist

We all have racist grandmothers, but we don't brag about it to everyone. I like to imagine that his granny wasn't that bad and that Obama was just super-sensitive. Like she would tell him it was bedtime and he would yell, "Oh, I have to go to bed because I'm black!" Or she would tell him to clean up his room and he would start yelling, "Oh, clean my room, huh? My people stopped obeying the white woman 100 years ago, Grammy!" Then they both would laugh and she would whip him.

His name is weird

The unfunny people beat us to the Osama/Obama bit, which really could have been mined. But Obama also dropped the "Barry" nickname in college. Do you remember those classmates who suddenly found their culture and had to share it with you like they were on the ninth step of AA? You just wanted to trudge through "Portrait of a Lady," but they felt compelled to sit you down in the dorm hallway and explain how they're no longer Susie, they're Mei Mei now. Then they recounted their whole journey of identity by using a lot of words that made it clear that Mei Mei was going to be a lot less fun than Susie was.

His platitudesneed deconstruction

"We are the people we've been waiting for"? Actually, I'm pretty sure we're the people who put all our money in Yahoo and then bought a house to flip and now are hocking everything we have. We're the people China has been waiting for.

• Joel Stein is a columnist for the Times.



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