President Bush — Using Humor

Yesterday, at the annual Correspondents Dinner for broadcasters, President Bush delivered something close to a standup comedy routine that was one of the highlights of the evening.  Here’s a review of some of his better lines and why they worked:

“I’d like to thank the Radio and TV Correspondents Association for providing dinner tonight…and I’d like to thank Senator Webb for providing security.” (12 seconds of laughter and applause)
1.  Note that in the world of stand-up comedy 5 seconds of laughter is as big laugh. The even bigger laughs get applause.
2.  Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), had to explain earlier in the week why an aide was carrying a loaded handgun as he tried to enter a Capitol complex building.
3.  Referring to fresh events is normally a hit.  People love a timely joke.

“Well …where should I start.  A year ago my approval rating was in the 30s, my nominee for the Supreme Court had just withdrawn, and my vice president had shot someone,” (22 seconds of laughter and applause)
1.  This uses the rule of three, with the third item being the most bizarre.
2.  This line was the funniest line of the routine.

“Ah…those were the good old days.” (9 seconds of laughter and applause)
1.  The technique of a topper is a great way to get laughs, riding on the wave of the previous joke.
2.  Less is more.  Here the real punchline is implied, “things are really bad these days.”  It’s stronger to let the audience “get the joke.”

“Sorry the Vice President couldn’t be here. He’s had a rough few weeks. To be honest, his feelings were kind of hurt.  He said he was going on vacation to Afghanistan, where people like him.”
1.  Cheney’s recent trip to Afghanistan was marked by a bombing near where he was meeting.
2.  Implied is that things have not been going well for Cheney recently.

“You in the press certainly have had a lot to report lately.  Take the current controversy. I have to admit we really blew the way we let those attorneys go. You know you’ve botched it when people sympathize with lawyers.”
1.  Again the power of current events.
2.  The joke plays with the stereotypical joke using lawyers as a target.

“Speaking of subpoenas, it’s good to see Speaker Pelosi tonight (she was at the head table). Some have wondered how the two of us would get along.  Some say she’s bossy, she’s opinionated, she’s not to be crossed…Hey, I get along with my mother.”
1.  The setup uses the rule of three and leads to the punchline “my mother.”
2.  The joke works because it is HIS mother.
3.  And it  it works because Barbara Bush is a strong woman who can take a joke.
4.  And MOSTLY it works because Barbara Bush is a very well-liked former first lady.  If she had been an unpopular first lady, the joke would not have worked nearly as well.

“But between the congress and the press there is a lot of scrutiny in this job.  Not a day goes by that I don’t get scrutineered one way or the other.”
1.  One of the techniques used here is the fabricating of an imaginary word which sounds a little like something else (screw).
2.  This is a good line for the President who is not known for always perfectly using the English language.  So he is subtly poking fun at himself.

“The press is a lot tougher in the second term.  It’s reached the point I sometimes call on Helen Thomas just to hear a friendly voice.”
1.  Helen Thomas, a senior correspondent who has become well-known for her tough questions at live Presidential press conferences.
2.  The principle of absurdity makes the joke work.

“No matter how tough it gets, however, I have no intention of becoming a lame duck President….Unless of course Cheney accidentally shoots me in the leg.”
1.  A call-back to the Cheney joke at the opening of the monologue.

“I’m considering what’s next.  President Clinton wrote a very successful presidential memoir with 10,000 pages or something.  I’m thinking of something really fun and creative for mine….You know, maybe a pop-up book.”
1.  Great word choice.  Pop-up book is more unexpected than coloring book.  And sounds much funnier.

“Consider a number of titles.  Which do you like?  How W. Got His Groove Back; Who Moved My Presidency; Or Tuesdays with Cheney.”
1.  Again using the rule of three and parody book titles.

If you want to watch the monologue here are a couple of links where it’s available:  MSN (look under Most Watched to find Bush Does Standup) or AOL (scroll down to Watch Video).  You’ll have to find the specific clip in order to play it on your computer.

Copyright 2007 by John Kinde