Jeff Foxworthy is doubtless rolling over in his
grave current FOX gig as the host of “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?”
President Obama just did a strange, political parody of “You Might Be a Redneck,” and no one stopped him. People Against Cruelty to Tired Old Jokes raised a brief fuss, but no one was listening. “That joke has been out to pasture for decades,” they pointed out, “and it’s not up to performing on the national stage.”
But it was too late.
He’s coined the term “Romnesia.”
I understand the impulse. The idea that Romney has changed his position so many times as to provide fodder for him to debate himself is fairly well-established. There’s even a RoboRomney capable of agreeing with you on almost anything.
But “Romnesia”? Really? I get that it sounds like amnesia, and that those MN-combo words are hard to come by. But “Romnesia” also sounds like one of those over-workshopped names for a new drug to counteract restless leg syndrome that you are supposed to ask your doctor about. Lunesta. Mylanta. Romnesia.
One of the demands of the presidency is that you are able to address millions of people every year and get them to like you. And it helps to have jokes.
But surely there’s better material than this. Just look at the president’s performance at the Al Smith dinner, when he made a whole room full of people in white tie chuckle politely!
This one was forced when Jeff Foxworthy birthed it in the 1990s.
But there is always a strange transition process for jokes getting into the political process. “Washington funny” and “actually bearing any resemblance to humor” are seldom the same. Al Franken, famous for being a funny person, had to wait decades to go into politics, and he is only now very gently beginning to joke again.
Jokes get used and trotted around on sitcoms and in stand-up routines for years before they finally collapse from exhaustion and are sent to the stud farm of political speeches. It’s not an environment for a thriving, vigorous young joke. Certain audiences will laugh at anything — audiences in cold rooms, where the only way to stay warm is to chuckle — and audiences at political functions. They’ll even laugh at jokes about the president’s birthplace — and that’s about the lowest bar there is. There’s no subversion. There’s little spontaneity. It’s not a good environment for the one-liner. You have to stay on-message. One of the major functions of humor — to point out the absurdity of things and enable you to see the world a little differently, to sort the really important from the silly — can be actively dangerous in the context of political speeches. Edgy? Tearing down The Man? Not from The Man himself.
Nothing like a crowd of screaming supporters with OBAMA signs who laugh before you’ve even started the routine to give you the emperor’s new sense of humor.
“What a funny president we have!” everyone wants to say.
But so much of it depends how you look at it.
Th Romnesia speech, which is already being ballyhooed in the YouTube comments (always reliable) — “This was good, I dont care what party you're from... this is funny. Obama 2012” — illustrates the joke-hand-me-down rule. Comedy did not want these jokes any longer. So the president is using them. This concept is 20 years old. The “You Might Be A Redneck If...” album is from 1993. It was played out when I was in middle school.
“If you say you’re for equal pay for equal work,” the president joked, “but you keep refusing to say whether or not you’d sign a bill that protects equal pay for equal work — you might have Romnesia. If you say women should have access to contraceptive care, but you support legislation that would let your employer deny you contraceptive care — you might have a case of Romnesia.”
And so on, and so on.
“Now, this extends to other issues. If you say earlier in the year I’m going to give a tax cut to the top 1 percent and then in a debate you say, I don’t know anything about giving tax cuts to rich folks — you need to get a thermometer, take your temperature, because you’ve probably got Romnesia.”
You need to get a thermometer? I’m just saying.
“Here’s the good news! Obamacare covers a preexisting condition! We can fix you up! We’ve got a cure! We can make you well, Virginia! This is a curable disease!”
Can we go back to making Binders Full of Women jokes? The meme was getting a little tired, but it’s still got legs. And at least those didn’t sound like something that came limping in from the 1990s complaining of mistreatment by actual comics.