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Chuck Schumer and that ‘most dangerous place’ joke

How dangerous is the space between Sen. Charles Schumer and a camera? (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid is retiring, and he’s hand-picked Sen. Chuck Schumer to take his place as head of the chamber’s sometimes-unruly Democratic caucus.

Cue the profiles of Schumer. Inevitably, many of them will include a line that seems legally required to be employed in stories about the New York Democrat, usually couched as a “Washington maxim” or somesuch.  “The most dangerous place in Washington,” the joke goes, “is between Chuck Schumer and a TV camera.”

A Nexis search turned up 234 mentions of the phrase “most dangerous place” in proximity to “Schumer.” (Confession: At least one of those comes courtesy of the Reliable Source, so it’s not like we’re not part of the problem.)

Sometimes, it’s not a camera, it’s a microphone. But the meaning of the saying, the rustiest old saw in the feature-writer’s tool shed, is clear. Schumer is a ham, a publicity hound, a quote machine. (Though as far as we know, Schumer’s never actually plowed down an unsuspecting tourist or staffer unfortunate enough to block his good side from a CNN lensman.)

True, truth-y or false, here’s a radical proposal: Let’s just stop saying that. Let’s stick a collective fork in the cliche and call it done.

And so, a fond farewell as we place the old joke on an ice floe and push it out to sea. First, let’s thank (blame?) Sen. Bob Dole, who originated it, uttering the soon-to-be-immortal phrase in 1995 after a dustup with the then-New York congressman over the baseball strike.

“The most dangerous place is between him and a camera,” the pithy Dole remarked to the AP about his younger adversary. Just like that, a star was born.

To be fair, the Kansas Republican didn’t invent the wording wholesale. According to a 1986 New York Times story, “a popular line has it that the ‘most dangerous place in Washington is between Phil Gramm and a TV camera.’ ” And a 1992 Washington Monthly story subbed Sen. Arlen Specter into the quip.

But it became indelibly affixed to Schumer by the late 90s. And like so many other things popularized in that era (see “The Rachel” haircut or Britney Spears), it’s simply gotten over-exposed.

Perhaps a new saying will crop up to take its place. Ideas are welcome. Slightly less catchy but pretty funny is this bon mot, which former senator Jon Corzine reportedly used at a roast: “Sharing a media market with Chuck Schumer is like sharing a banana with a monkey . . . take a little bite of it and he will throw his own feces at you.” 

Read more Reliable Source: 

Chuck Schumer and his ‘Fam!,’ comedian Amy Schumer, bump into one another in New York

Jon Stewart asks Chuck Schumer if he ‘pours some Manischewitz’ for Cantor