Election Campaigning with Comedy
What's so funny about political printing? Nothing…yet.
I don't think it's particularly contentious to state that this has been the funniest Presidential election to date. I mean, Bill Clinton was fun, with the sax and charisma and all, but he was hardly ROTFLMAO. And as for George W., he's gotten a lot of laughs over the last six years or so, but we weren't exactly laughing WITH him, were we?
If the examples of our recent Presidents have taught the 2008 candidates anything, it's that you better crack the first joke, before it's cracked at your expense. GWB isn't entirely to blame for this new style of political campaigning. It's also true that as comedy news shows and blogs have become an increasingly trusted form of information media, it's become harder to ignore the fact that some of the most important and cutting politics of the day are conveyed through humor. It's no surprise, then, that this election season has seen it become a must for candidates to show their faces and get a few laughs on the likes of Letterman, Leno, The Daily Show, and The Colbert Report.
Media in other countries with decidedly boring elections have been taking note of the recent trend towards a lighter, more humorous Presidential platform. The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) recently noted that comedy news shows are doing a lucrative trade in Presidential election coverage, particularly now that the candidates are actually in on the gag.
And although we're not actually seeing political printing graced with hilarious one-liners just yet, comedic candidates don't restrict the laughs to brief appearances on the fake news. Many candidates have produced some truly hilarious campaign ads on video over the last few months. I'm thinking of gems like Hilary Clinton's Sopranos spoof and Bill Richardson's tongue-in-cheek job interview sketches.
Interestingly, some poli-satirical blogs, such as Wonkette, criticized Richardson for injecting comedy into the election process and thereby sending American politics on the sure path to disaster in the form of…what, I wonder? Absurdity? Irrelevance? It seems to me that this is another case of get-them-before-they-get-you defensive campaigning. The average TV campaign ad is so fraught with rhetoric and opportunity for criticism that poking fun at the system or yourself is really the only way to protect against being cut to pieces by commentators exactly like Wonkette and Jon Stewart.
Yup, it's a new world, and you gotta have a sense of humor to survive, not matter how serious your politics. Or at least, that's the opinion held by the majority of campaign vets managing Dem candidates. Some of the Republican hopefuls, however, don't share this value system.
Mitt Romney, for example, goes to lengths to distance himself from the pack of jokesters, even stating in a recent ad that Republicans, “Can't have ethical standards that are a punchline for Jay Leno.” Clearly, there is nothing funny about Mitt Romney, except maybe his name.
Personally, I don't blame Romney. Once you start trying to be funny, you end up under an enormous amount of pressure to continue to follow through on the joke-tacularity. And although you might come up with the occasional nugget during speeches, such as “Thanks for the question, you little jerk,” you can't be expected to perform like that every night. Oh sure, it's not tough for candidates with a room full of joke writers, and regular opportunities to go head to head with Stephen Colbert to keep dishing it, but for the average, locally-based campaign, it's a different story, and that's where political printing comes in.
A piece of printed campaign advertising sends a simple, direct message. You might have space for a witty double-entendre, or a cute caricature, but it's not the same as reading a top ten list about your campaign promises on Letterman. With political printing, you'll be able to develop a reputation for clever one-liners, at best, and if you don't feel like your campaign can handle this on a consistent basis, then you're free to just put across the facts and claim you didn't have copy space to be funny.
Nope, there's no pressure to be funny in political printing, at least not yet. But take advantage of these precious moments while you can. It may not be long before every sign and sticker has to be an insightful laugh riot. Is this the horrific future imagined by Wonkette? If so, it's true that we might not have the most feared world leaders at the helm, but at least there will be a lot more work for comedy writers during election season, and in the end, are these brave souls not the cogs and wheels that make this crazy world go round? I, for one, welcome our new, hilarious overlords.