Monday, November 10, 2008

RACE, POST-BUSH AND NEW PUPPIES: What does comedy do now?

There's been much discussion on the internet about what Barack Obama's election as the next President of the United States means to comedy.

As we suspect in other cities, Philadelphia comedians, for the most part, have not talked about the Bush administration on stage for a while now. For some, with the gradual decrease in popularity of President Bush (especially in this city), the subject just may be "too easy". For others, perhaps the results of the war and the economy are too depressing to even make fun of. Occasionally an open miker will discuss their unemployment because of the economy, but this rarely leads to big laughs.

But race is always a topic of discussion on the mic and in Philadelphia the viewpoints can be varied, complicated and not quite stereotypical. There's no doubt that race will continue to be brought up on stage, but as Tracy Morgan recently said on white comics making fun of Obama: "If you go down that road, you better be funny."

Ultimately, it's too early to tell. It's impossible to predict how comedians will react to the Barack Obama presidency, because, as Obama has been clear in stressing, that presidency hasn't begun yet. But perhaps the bigger question is, will stand-up (and to a point, sketch) comedians talk about politics? Will politically-conscious (for now?) audiences clamor for such material? Or will such opinions be better of left at home?

Certainly there will be other mediums for such humor: 1812 Productions' This Is The Week That Is is an excellent example and the late-night Comedy Central shows will talk about it daily. But what about on stage, live in comedy club in Philadelphia? Doesn't politics offer a tension-release that is perfect for comedy? Or does nothing change at all post-Bush?

Or, perhaps, the change is one of style? Throughout the campaign, Barack Obama has shown that he has a dry sense of humor. Witness this highlight from his first press conference as President-Elect:

Obama's discussion of the new puppy is self-effacing and conscious of the absurdity of such a subject. And it's funny. The way that Obama delivers it all is emblematic of his campaign: poised and confident without seeming to try hard. Trusting that the words on their own will ring true and correct. Exuding a presence without forcing it down the audiences' throat. Are more subdued, dry one-liners in our future? And (taking it to an absurd degree), is this not a dramatic change from President Bush's style of smiling and leaning into the microphone to signal that he is telling a joke?

Or are we just completely crazy? Feel free to comment below.


Anonymous said...

I found that Obama's Reagan Seance joke was a bit low brow. I LOVE HIM though!

Pruneface said...

We can certainly hope America's collective IQ will increase. I hope the anti-intellectualism that the Republicans have pushed, and that defeated Kerry and Gore, has been soundly defeated.

maughangl said...

Let's not forget that improvisers will also be trying to do their take on Obama, which is also going to be tricky. One advantage that improv may have over sketch here is that because it traditionally has no props or costumes a completely white person will probably have an easier (very relative term) time impersonating him in an improv show.

How do others feel impersonating the president will be done?

John said...

Well look. The past eight years have we have been in aaa comedy chokehold byyyy President Bush. He has done everything imaginable to feed our funny bones aaaaaaaand it's time we give that back to the American people. As far as improvisors go, look, you know I am from Chicago. And that has long been a hotbed of activity. Can we bridge the gap between improvisors, sketch comedians and stand ups? Yes we can. Will it be acceptable for white boy improvisors to play me just as they would a woman? Yes we can.

Anonymous said...

I think political humor will have a big shift.

The people who come to my mind as political comics with strong voices are Jon Stewart and Colbert. I think all three come from a pretty strong, and clear, left wing perspective. Part of the reason why their acts worked so well is because they were attacking the power that was the Bush administration.

Well, their side won the election.

I think Colbert will get even better, if that's even possible, since he's playing a right-wing buffoon.

I think Stewart's going to have to work really hard to keep his show viable. He does attack people he'd agree with now, but is his audience going to enjoy Obama jokes? Or comedy critiques of the liberal policies that we're going to see the next few months?

Comedy comes from tension, and that tension might become forced from comics with a left-wing perspective. I know I won't believe it if all of a sudden Stewart starts making fun of a proposed universal health care proposal.

The time is ripe for a new PJ O'Rourke to emerge. He's (IMO) the best political writer of his era sand also one of the best humorists as well. But he's about 60 now, so there's an opening for a young writer who can come from the right.

As far as white people doing jokes about Obama -- yes, of course, that should be done. But the jokes should be about anything BUT his race. Jokes about his race are already played. But he's in power and that should be commented on.

It's going to be fun to watch how things shift.