There hasn't been this much public existential dread from the comedy community since 9/11, although the reasons are, of course, very different. Seven years ago, our shock and horror made us wonder if we could ever laugh again. Now, the question is: without a bumbling, snickering doofus and his snarling evil sidekick/boss in the White House, where will our jokes come from? The New York Times asked various comedy professionals about the conundrum, and all of them, from Daily Show and Conan writers to Tracy Morgan and Joel McHale, expressed confidence in the future of chuckles. J. K. Havlan of the Daily Show assured us Jon Stewart has plenty of material:
We haven't sat around thinking, "What are we going to do, comedically, if Obama wins?" There's going to be plenty going on around him. Plus, Ted Stevens may have won in Alaska. Proposition 8 passed in California. We don't need a semiconscious president to put on a decent show.
Hmm, I still don't see anything there about how you're going to make fun of President Obama. Perhaps most symbolically, Saturday Night Live's usually-awesome Fred Armisen has Obama's gestures and speech patterns down pretty well, but hasn't yet managed to actually say anything funny, which is especially disappointing in comparison to Will Ferrell's twitchy W. and Darrell Hammond's lascivious Bubba. Thankfully, the first two nights of post-Obama-win TV comedy have shown a few glimmers of hope. Some clips after the jump.
South Park producers must have stayed up all night Tuesday after Obama's speech, incorporating much of his exact verbiage into their Wednesday night episode. The plot was pretty amusing, imagining all the candidates (minus, tellingly, Joe Biden) as secret members of a team of master thieves, running for the White House just to gain access to the Hope Diamond. The portrayal of Barack as a kind of bland, hapless dork (earning the scorn of the driven, brilliant Michelle) was amusing for its absurdity, but of course it was Palin who got the funniest take: faking the dopiness, she's really a brilliant super-spy, delivering rapid-paced technical jargon with a British accent. If only.
So far, what I've seen of Chocolate News seems like it's just an excuse for David Alan Grier to dress up in ladies' clothes, but his first post-election show managed to balance both a respectful awe at the moment and edgy hilarity. He discussed Obama's win with another "white-talking black guy" who greeted the news with an appropriate, "dude, that's awesome." And sure, Grier got to put on another fat suit and wig, but his portrayal of a dippy poll worker and her continual mispronunciation of the president-elect's name ("Balack Pajama"?) was milk-out-the-nose funny.
Jon Stewart's comedic instincts still suffer under his clear relief at Obama's win, and he acknowledged the situation Wednesday by following up a mildly successful William Ayers joke with a sarcastic cry: "How are we going to make this s*** funny?!" Sure, it was pretty cute seeing Stewart debut his Obama impression, which turned out to be exactly the same as his sneering Bush impression, except with the words "yes we can." But how long can he keep doing Bush? It took "senior black correspondent" Larry Wilmore's segment on "black liberal guilt" last night to really raise the comedy stakes:
What have we learned? Well, there's reassuringly funny stuff out there, but a good take on Obama still seems miles away. As our least-obviously-funny president since Ford, perhaps someone should look to Chevy Chase as our guide: his klutzy Gerald was hilarious precisely because it was a deadpan anti-impression, exaggerating the president's one or two random mishaps into a nonstop cavalcade of slapstick mayhem. Of course, we have no evidence Obama is prone to head-bumping or phone-dropping, but Fred Armisen's impression could really use some shaking up, or some absurdity. Maybe that's the new comedic zeitgeist: author and Mother Jones contributor Dennis Cass predicts we'll see "the return of screwball," and while I'm as big a fan of snark as you'll find, I hope he's right.