For political comedians, Obama is not a ‘subject’


Washington : Few would have noticed the Great Presidential Comedy Drought but American political satirists have quietened down after George W. Bush passed the baton to Barack Obama, inviting the charge of hero worship and misplaced political correctness.

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Stand-up legend Jackie Mason says his peers are “panicky” about “being called a racist” in targeting the first African American president. He adds too many once-fearless satirists are settling for “hero worship” of Obama.

The new trend cannot be due to any lack of fodder, comedian Jeffrey Jena, founder of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy blog, told the Washington Times.

“(David) Letterman used to do a ‘Bushism of the Week’. Why hasn’t he started one with Obama?” Jena said. “There’s plenty of those moments, the ‘Ohs, and ‘Umms’ or ‘I don’t speak Austrian’.”

“Late Show” host Letterman, known for his scathing mockery of Bush, recently scolded those who would mock the new president’s reliance on the teleprompter for “political nitpicking”. He said on his show that Obama is “at least out there trying” to cope with “impossible” political challenges.

Letterman rhetorically asked “what really can you say wrong” about the new president, as he introduced a short film, “Teleprompter vs. No Teleprompter”.

The video clip contrasted a fluent passage of rhetoric from a formal Obama address to Congress with one of a tongue-tied Bush trying to extemporise in a televised informal question-and-answer format.

Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show”, who too used to target Bush, has morphed into a political loyalist, the Washington Times said.

But then there are those who see political comedians simply deferring to the sensitivities of audiences who may not be ready to a laugh at a president who is a historical symbol of black achievement.

“In New York, nobody wants to hear anything anti-Obama,” said Linda Smith, a stand-up comic and teacher at Caroline’s School of Comedy in New York.

“And even if they do, right-leaning comics must walk through a historical minefield to mock the first black president.”

Radio and Fox News Channel talk show host Glenn Beck believes that both fear and political calculation are inhibiting factors. The likes of Letterman are “either afraid, or they know the power of comedy as a weapon and they like using it as that”, he was quoted as saying.

“We’re now into biased comedy. We can’t even laugh without a political agenda,” Beck said.