In a week when scandals plague the White House, late night comics are still struggling to find a way to turn the news of the day into punch lines.
There’s nothing funny about President Barack Obama. That’s what we’ve been hearing for five years now as the excuse for comedians not making jokes about him. He’s not stupid, like Harvard MBA George W. Bush. He’s not a pervert like President Bill Clinton. And, if you want to go way back, he’s not a scandal-ridden control freak like President Richard M. Nixon.
Oh, wait a minute.
On Friday the IRS scandal broke, quickly followed by the AP phone records imbroglio, so you would assume that by Monday the late night comics would be all over them. NBC’s Jimmy Fallon felt the big White House scandal of the previous week was the smoke alarm going off (probably because the President was smoking). But aside from Jay Leno’s monologue and Jon Stewart’s reluctant apology to the Tea Party, you wouldn’t have known anything had happened watching Monday night’s talk shows.
Stewart essentially stood alone in targeting Obama for the emerging scandals Monday, but a day later the rest of the late night comics started to catch up. Both Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien weighed in with a single one liner each concerning Obama.
But they are still struggling.
The worst example is David Letterman (presidential jokes start at 3:31). When it comes to gags about Republicans, Letterman has never had a problem depicting them as stupid, fat and evil, but he admitted that his show’s writers are having a hard time writing jokes about a Democrat that don’t involve a double entendre:
“Three scandals going on at the White House, the IRS, Benghazi and Phone tapping… I prefer Clinton, Weiner, and Spitzer; now those are scandals my writers can really work with.”
Letterman then went back into the locker of tired premises–Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) thought “Benghazi is the stuff he rubs on his shoulders after working in the yard all day” and “Dick Cheney said the President is lying… Isn’t he a big girls’ blouse?”
The comedian had no problem making fun of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) later in the show, dubbing him Stooge of the Night in an incredibly mean and unfunny bit. (8:00)
The edge of a comic can be judged by his willingness to tackle topics that other comics won’t touch. By this standard Jay Leno, the one late night host who treats presidents of both parties the same way, is much edgier than Letterman.
Take that, Hipsters.