News & Politics

It's Hard to Mock Obama -- So a Humorist Pines for the Hilarity of the Bush Years

For political comics, George W. Bush was the equivalent of the political comedy Full Employment Act -- for eight wonderful years.

Met George Carlin once. Okay, more than once -- twice, maybe three times. But for the sake of this little article, let me cut to the first time we crossed paths, 10 or 12 years ago in the greenroom of Catch a Rising Star at the MGM Grand in Vegas, where I was performing in my little 250-seat lounge while he was upstairs in his 2,400-seat showroom at 18 times my ticket price. (Just so you know I know my place. Oh, I know.)

Anyhow, I asked my scruffy mentor why he had quit doing political material, and he said, “I don’t know man, I just got tired of kicking my babies out of the nest.” A fact reinforced (with assistance from the able and eminently vertical Tony Hendra) in his righteously excellent posthumous autobiography, Last Words.

Turns out he was right. Damn. I’m tired of having to discard bits. Genius stuff. For instance, my William Howard Taft material just doesn’t have the same bite anymore. Reagan. Quayle. Clinton. Bush. Ahhh, George W. Bush. Those were the golden years. Bush was the equivalent of the political comedy Full Employment Act. For eight wonderful years, the man was like a father to me. I was but one little cog in his “No Comic Left Behind” program. It was as if Reagan and Quayle had a kid.

There’s only about 12 of us political comics in the whole country. And six are the same as when I started in the early '80s. Mainly because it's not the greased chute to the Bigtime. I’m not counting the TV talk show host guys, because they all have staffs of 15 writers. They’re the Wal-Marts of political comedy. Me, I’m like a small boutique in Soho. Hand-stitching every joke. And no outsourcing. Yet.

Keeping your comedic boat afloat on the political scene is a full-time occupation, but when administrations change, it’s similar to turning the Titanic. Probably takes six months to complete the shift. That’s what it took in '93 when Clinton was inaugurated, but he was a corpulent womanizer, so I had that going for me. For a bunch of reasons, President Barack Obama has been tougher. One of those reasons is Hope. It’s hard to mock Hope. Too much like kicking a small furry whimpering thing with big eyes.

Another problem is, these days, with your 24-hour news channels and Web site alerts, I’m constantly writing material that ends up having a shorter shelf life than the offerings at a homemade mayonnaise stand at a Sonoran Art Fair over a late August weekend. For instance: After health care reform, my joke about Democrats passing the stem cell bill because they're depending on that research to generate a spine is not getting the same laughs it once was. Sometimes it's good to lose a bit.

Here are some more examples of jokes that work today, but tomorrow, probably not so much.

Rush Limbaugh threatened to leave the country if health care reform passed. For many of us, that’s a big win-win. He even talked about moving to Costa Rica. Where they have universal heath care. Although your access to Oxycontin may vary.

Republicans keep talking about bipartisanship. But they don’t mean it. “We want to work with the president.” Yeah, the same way a 5-year-old with a magnifying glass wants to work with ants. Like a coyote wants to work with a nest of baby ducks. “We’re the ones reaching across the aisle.” Pay no attention to the chainsaw.

I saw a guy with a sign that said: “Stop Socializing America and Hands off My Medicare.” Dude. At least use two different signs. No wonder these people are suspicious of public health care. They’ve obviously been grievously failed by our public education system.

The way the bill is written; if you don't buy health care insurance, you can be fined and if you don't pay the fine, you can go to prison, where you get free health care. There’s your public option right there.

Obama is smooth. He makes Clinton look like a chunk of concrete wrapped in Velcro dipped in wallpaper paste. No matter what you think of the president’s policies, you have to admire his ability not to get involved in them.

George W. Bush is working on his autobiography. And publishers are optimistic that eventually it will be translated into English. What do you want to bet he burns through about four spell checks?

I imagine after President Obama met with President René Préval of Haiti, both guys looked at their aides and muttered, “Man, I wouldn’t want his job.”

Dick Cheney recently suffered a fifth heart attack. How can a guy without a heart have five heart attacks? That’s like John Edwards contracting a brain tumor. I wonder if doctors have totally ruled out phantom limb syndrome? Five heart attacks. This guy is so evil, they keep spitting him back. “No, sorry. We’re full right now. Unh, we got a lot of construction going on down here. You keep him for a while. Sixth time’s the charm.”

Sarah Palin had crib notes inked on her hand while giving a speech in which she criticized  Obama for using a teleprompter. You know what notes on your palm are: a fifth-grade teleprompter.

Despite rampant acceleration problems, Toyota refuses to ditch its corporate motto, which is “Moving Forward.” Yeah, even when you don’t wanna.

Now they’re talking about a double dip recession. Who would have thought Dubyah would get something named after him so soon?

My wife and I are doing our part to downsize. We’ve gone from a $600,000 house to a $450,000 house and didn’t even have to move.

The GOP saying that Democrats also benefit from the Supreme Court ruling on unlimited corporate election spending is like a wolf saying “Hey, bunnies have teeth too.”

At least we’ll be spared the much-hyped release of Martha Coakley’s Campaign Strategy Handbook.

Sarah Palin said McCain’s choice of her as a VP nominee was God’s plan. Proving that either God has a great sense of humor or he’s a Democrat.

Sarah Palin sold 1.3 million copies of Going Rogue -- 85 percent to people who haven’t bought a book in five years. She’s queen of the illiterati. Selling books to people who don’t read. She’s a genius. Next: Sunglasses for people born without ears.

The underpants bomber was on an Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight. Everybody on that flight should have been suspicious. Who leaves Amsterdam voluntarily to go to Detroit? In December? I imagine security lines will start featuring the Atomic Wedgie. Got to love the TSA. Fighting today’s security threats with yesterday’s technology, tomorrow.

Will Durst is a political comic, syndicated columnist, AM radio talk show host and defense liability.