Obama impersonator surprised by backlash

at 04:00 PM ET, 06/20/2011


Reggie Brown, impersonating President Barack Obama, speaks during the 2011 Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana June 18, 2011. (LEE CELANO - REUTERS)
At this year’s Republican Leadership Conference, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) noted double-digit unemployment numbers among African-Americans and Hispanics, pledging to do better by minorities than the current occupant of the White House. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is Indian-American, argued that “hating President Obama is foolish.”

But those rhetorical gestures were drowned out by the weekend’s comedy act. Obama impersonator Reggie Brown raised eyebrows with jokes about Black History Month, interracial marriage and former Rep. A nthony Weiner (D-N.Y).

“Had I been in the room I would have pulled him sooner,” Charlie Davis, executive director of the RLC told The Fix. “We have zero tolerance for racially insensitive jokes. As soon as I realized what was going on, I rushed backstage and had him pulled.”

Brown, for his part, said the negative reaction was overblown, although he acknowledged that he was thrilled by the attention.

“I never thought that it would blow up and it’s been amazing,” he said in an interview. “I don’t think I crossed any sort of lines. I actually share the same background -- my mother’s white, my father’s black -- and would never do anything to offend the president on that level, let alone disrespect myself.”

He argued that the president’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner “Lion King” joke opened the door for racially-tinged humor.

Brown has appeared on Comedy Central and performed for various corporate conferences and troops in Guam. He tours with a group that includes impersonators of political figures like George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Sarah Palin. He said his company makes a script available for event organizers, but he’s not sure anyone at the RLC reviewed it.

Some within the GOP insisted that staging an Obama impersonator was a strategic miscalculation.

“You had to know that this was a bad idea going in,” said former Republican National Committee Communications Director Doug Heye. “We shoot ourselves in the foot, but we also take away from a message that could be well-received by those voters and should be well-received by those voters.”

Added longtime GOP strategist Scott Reed: “Someone at the Republican National Committee is going to have to review agendas for regional meetings now, because it was pathetic.”

(The RNC and RLC are not affiliated in any way.)

While no Republicans are praising the routine after it created controversy, Brown said that he got a very positive reaction from the crowd and from event organizers, who invited him to a post-show reception.

“The consensus was, the audience loved my material. I had some organizers when I left the stage say ‘Great job.’ I had some people in the audience upset that I didn’t get to finish the set,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll bring me back again. I’m sorry to see that there was some sort of confusion.”

 
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