(What’s so funny ’bout) Obama’s WHCA speech

Wanda Sykes’s routine at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner this past weekend has given rise to most of the news coming out of the event. John posted Sykes’s performance here. Barack Obama appeared to have found her wish for the death of Rush Limbaugh amusing. Sykes also accused Rush of treason. It is somewhat strange that a professional commentator should became the butt of such vicious musings at a correspondents’ dinner.

Obama’s own routine has understandably attracted less commentary than Sykes’s, but it’s worth a look. Part 1 of the video is here, part 2 here. It’s an odd performance. Obama laughs inappropriately at his own material, finding humor that is not otherwise apparent even to an audience that is closer to a core constituency than simply friendly.

The humor of much of Obama’s routine is attenuated at best. He sought to turn the 9/11-related Scare Force One incident into a joke courtesy of his daughters. Another vein of the material sought laughs in the relationship between Obama and Hillary Clinton. Here the thought was that she might like him to pass. I think it fair to say it’s not funny, though it’s not as unfunny as Sykes’s musings about Rush.

Clinton wasn’t the only odd target of Obama’s routine. Dick Cheney also found himself the butt of a lame joke regarding his memoirs, putatively titled How to Shoot Friends and Interrogate People. We know that Obama has an incredibly thin skin. We can conclude that Vice President Cheney has gotten under it. At least on the evidence of the joke, Cheney also has the better of the argument to which it alludes.

Among the other strange targets of Obama’s routine were House Minority Leader John Boehner and GOP Chairman Michael Steele. Obama drew attention to Boehner’s whiteness and Steele’s blackness. Again, the humor was slight, but also classless.

A look back at President Bush’s performances at these dinners provides a useful contrast. Take a look for yourself at Bush’s remarks at the dinner in 2007 and 2008. In addition to the occasionally funny material, Bush’s 2007 performance has moving acknowledgements of David Bloom, Tony Snow and Elizabeth Edwards.

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