Politicians tend to steer clear of ethnic jokes or gags of the “take my wife… please!” variety. One exception to the rule: the Irish joke.
Vice President Joe Biden’s got enough Blarney-tinged material to fill a book. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has cracked a few. And just last week Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) quipped about the perception of a GOP civil war during a speech in front of a roomful of conservatives: “There’s infighting, conflict, backbiting, discord,” he said. “Look, I’m Irish — that’s my idea of a family reunion.”
And with Friday’s annual St. Patrick’s luncheon at the Capitol for House Speaker John Boehner, President Obama, and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, Paddy-and-Seamus-at-the-bar humor is bound to be on the menu.
Why is it still okay to portray the Irish as garrulous drunkards?
Because they can handle it, says John Feehery, a Republican consultant who proudly claims his own Irish roots. “It’s a brand of comedy where you’re making fun of yourself, and there’s not a whole lot of that anymore,” he says.
Dan Gerstein, president of Gotham Ghostwriters, a firm that has a joke-writing practice, says Irish-Americans relish self-deprecation. As a longtime staffer for Sen. Joe Lieberman, Gerstein says he wrote his share of Jewish jokes, which his boss also loved to use. “The Irish have thick skins, and they’re used to having to deal with adversity,” he says. “Like with the Jews, a sense of humor comes from dealing with troubles.”
But the acceptability of the Irish joke might be on its way out, says Mark Katz, the founder of the Soundbite Institute, which specializes in humor writing. Katz says the hokey jokes — even when used by a relative youngster like Ryan — feel like they’re from an earlier, Don Rickles era. Of the Wisconsin Republican’s recent punchline: “You could practically smell the mothballs.”
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