News & Politics

5 Hilarious Parodies of the Current Presidential Candidates

The best spoofs include Tim Heidecker's "Cain Train," the Second City on Michele Bachmann, and of course, Baracka Flocka Flame.

To many rational people, Herman Cain is appalling as a presidential candidate. He’s allegedly sexually harassed an increasing cadre of women, and seemingly minimized the importance of foreign policy in the presidency with his characterization of Uzbekistan as “Uz-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan.” He feels close enough to the democracy-destroying Kochs that he called them “brothers from another mother.” And yet he is inexplicably high up in the polls, trailing only Mitt Romney as the GOP’s top nominee. The whole thing is, frankly, a little scary.

But, when you step back, isn't it also a little funny? At the very least, if you can detach yourself for a moment, the whole prospect of Herman Cain becoming president is so absurd that laughter might seem like the only appropriate response. If he weren’t auditioning to run our country, he could certainly make a compelling case for a spot on a daytime talk show, or perhaps running a celebrity news program. And if the sexual harassment scandal is not hurting his chances at the nomination with conservatives, then it certainly wouldn’t mar his reputation as someone with the ability to garnish ratings and web hits.

Luckily somebody already thought of all this: Tim Heidecker, the comedian/musician and “Tim” half of cult Cartoon Network series Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job, became obsessed with Herman Cain after his odd, kitschy “smoking man” ad, and is already well-versed in the fine art of parody. At the end of October, Heidecker began releasing Herman Cain-related songs, including “Cain Train” and “Cain Train Part Two.”

Inspired by Cain’s apparent disregard for anyone’s opinion but his own—and the double entendre of “Cain Train,” quite useful in song—Heidecker decided to devote a whole album to the presidential candidate, creating fake campaign ads spanning the utterly absurd to the lightweight sorrowful. Titled Cainthology: Songs in the Key of Cain, Heidecker will donate all proceeds to the VIP Medical Clinics for Abused Children and Community Mental Health Center. So far, our favorite song is “Lord Cain,” which pokes fun at Cain obsessives by comparing him to the risen Messiah:

Poking fun at presidential candidates is nothing new—for proof, watch any election-year episode of "Saturday Night Live" since its inception -- but it takes a very subtle, sly comedic gift to parody any politician well. Alec Baldwin’s Rick Perry is amazing, because Baldwin’s the king of deadpan; Fred Armisen’s Barack Obama is not that compelling, because he hits the vocal tics way too hard (and, you know, BLACKFACE). But this election season is ripe for parody, particularly with the wild tangle of GOP options. Here are some of the best.

1. Three Things With Gov. Rick Perry

Perry’s erratic behavior during the debates is ripe for picking, but so far Funny or Die has done it best: a spoof on the night this week when Perry couldn’t name three government agencies he would eliminate. But what if his memory lapses extend to everything in life?

2. Newt Gingrich Parody Twitter

It’s mean to kick a man while he’s down, but since Gingrich has done that since the beginning of his career, we don’t feel too bad at relishing twitter.com/newtgingrich, a spoof that both pokes fun and illuminates the essential badguyness of his beliefs. Sample Tweet: “I have a new 'Contract with America.' This Contract can only be broken if America gets cancer and is on her death bed. #newt2012 @thehill.” Related: @MainBrotherCain, @TheRealRomney

3. Mitt Romney’s Own Ad

Mitt, Mitt, Mitt. You are so absurd, and yet somehow manage to be the most rational candidate the GOP has floated since, cough, McCain. How do they do it? It’s amazing, really. So, in true Cain style, we are sad to say the best parody of Romney’s campaign is an actual Romney ad. Of course, it has a laugh track, but it’s real, and when you contextualize what he’s saying, it’s hysterical.

4. The Bachmanns Defend Straight Marriage

We have to give an honorable mention to Kristin Wiig of "Saturday Night Live" for her brilliant, wide-eyed portrayal of Michele Bachmann—but SNL is such a gimme we have to shine some light on another hilarious spot. This one’s from the Second City, widely seen as an SNL farm team, for how many of its alumni make it onto the show. This video wonders why the Bachmanns are so homophobic...and concludes, like many people, that it’s because Marcus Bachmann is himself gay. We’re not really 100 percent on that argument—while we understand the speculation, it seems sort of counter-intuitive to try to overanalyze, because hatred is hatred. But the punchline in this video is hilarious, and totally worth it.

5. Baracka Flocka Flame

It's old, but it's still the best Obama spoof. This one only works if you pay attention to contemporary rap music, but its ridiculousness was its brilliance. In one viral video, comedian James Davis portrayed President Obama, dressed nicely in characteristically lanky suits. But he melded Obama’s personality and mannerisms with those of rapper Waka Flocka Flame, whose rousing beats and spat lyrics make him one of the best purveyors of fight music in recent memory. The video depicted Davis as Obama in a typical Waka Flocka setting—the hood—and rapped brags over Waka’s song, “Hard in the Paint.” It was wildly popular, although his conflation of Obama with Waka was quite controversial, in that it seemed to question differences in class and even skin tone within the black conversation. In an interview withColorlines’ Jamilah King, Davis elaborated:

Have you noticed a difference between who thinks it’s funny and who doesn’t?

I definitely think that the older demographic is feeling the video less than the younger demographic. A lot of people are defensive when it comes to Obama. They’re very protective of Obama and I am normally one of those people as well. However, I saw a comedic premise that I thought would be very good and something that hadn’t been touched on, and I thought it’d be funny to joke around with it.

And because I had heard people in conversation kind of joke around with the idea of “What if Obama was hood”? “What if his ‘black’ side came out?” Or when was his black side going to come out? I thought me showing that would have a positive reaction and people would feel the comedy because I’ve heard the conversation before. I didn’t think it was a wild, offensive premise or anything like that.

For you, what’s the significance of that comedic premise? Of showing Barack Obama kickin’ it in South Central? Why is that so difficult for people to grasp?

It’s our first [black] president. We want him to be the very best. We see him in such a righteous light. I say it in my stand up all the time. People act like he’s Jesus Christ, Jr. They really hold him to this standard. So I think it was funny to just break down that wall of idealism and unrealistic portrayals. He’s not some super human. He’s just a regular individual. And to put him in the most opposite, contradictory circumstance that you would assume him to be in, I thought it would just be funny. I thought it was something that people wanted to laugh at, but hadn’t had an opportunity to. It was like one of those things that everybody was laughing about inside, but not talking about in public. So I was like “let’s visualize that for a spoof within this Wacka Flocka parody.”

You know what they say: if it’s not polarizing, it’s not good comedy.

Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is an associate editor at AlterNet and a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. Formerly the executive editor of The FADER, her work has appeared in VIBE, SPIN, New York Times and various other magazines and websites.