Sunday, May 2, 2010

WaPo: For Obama, a Changed Tone in Presidential Humor

Paul Farhi of the Washington Post had a great insight on last night's annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner in that President Obama, for the second year in a row, would not target himself as a butt of his own jokes. Other presidents have often used the event to diffuse ongoing political tensions.

Except for a mild joke pegged to his falling approval ratings, Obama mostly spared Obama during his 14-minute standup routine. (The jokes were unofficially credited Sunday to Axelrod, Jon Favreau and Tommy Vietor.)


Obama's derisive tone surprises and dismays some of the people who've written jokes for presidents past.

"With these dinners you want the audience to like you more when you sit down than when you stood up," says Landon Parvin, an author and speechwriter for politicians in both parties, and a gag writer for three Republican presidents (Reagan and Bushes I and II). "Something in [Obama's] humor didn't do that," he said Sunday.

Parvin advises his political clients to practice a little partisan self-deprecation when they make lighthearted remarks: "If you're a Democrat, you make fun of Democrats and go easy on the Republicans; if you're a Republican, you do the opposite," he says.

Presidents past have generally hewed to that tradition, even when they were under intense criticism or were deeply unpopular.

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