The Humor of Obama

President Obama’s cynical, quirky style of humor is one of his most endearing characteristics. I can relate to that kind of joking: it is the kind of language I might use myself.

Speaking to U.S.

Matt Bai writes about the original Skip Gates press conference question where Obama remarked

But perhaps the more jarring if overlooked moment in Obama’s answer came just before that, when he endeavored to cast himself in the place of his friend Henry Louis Gates Jr., whose trouble began when he needed to break into his own home. “I mean, if I was trying to jigger into — well, I guess this is my house now, so it probably wouldn’t happen,” the president said. Then he flashed a mischievous grin and added, “Here I’d get shot.” [view YouTube clip]

It’s hard to imagine an edgier joke than this — the nation’s president, its first black president at that, teasing about being gunned down in the White House foyer. Had Obama not gone on to malign a cop, it almost certainly would have dominated the next day’s punditry. And yet the moment was in keeping with what we have learned about Obama in the months since his inauguration. The president, it turns out, is quite funny — and sometimes a little reckless. Obama had to make his first apology just days after being elected president, for joking about Nancy Reagan’s séances. He ran into trouble with advocates for the handicapped in March, when he suggested to Jay Leno that his bowling on the campaign trail belonged in the Special Olympics. And before the Super Bowl, he angered fans of the singer Jessica Simpson by appearing to make light of her supposedly ballooning weight. (Fortunately for Obama, fewer than a dozen of those fans are old enough to vote.) You have to have a pretty determined sense of aggrievement — or just a dim view of the president generally — to take genuine offense at such throwaway one-liners. And yet they tend to obscure, if only for a day, Obama’s more serious objectives, undermining the comedian in chief’s reputation as an innately disciplined politician.

More recently, Obama sounded mystified by plans for a new presidential helicopter. “The helicopter I have now seems perfectly adequate to me,” he remarked dryly. “Of course, I’ve never had a helicopter before, you know? Maybe I’ve been deprived and I didn’t know it.” Other presidents mastered the telling of the canned political joke. Obama’s shtick is that he finds such stagecraft, the falsity and pomposity of modern politics, to be as laughable as we do.

Such a perspective is entirely new in the White House, born perhaps of the same deconstructionist ethos that gave us “The Simpsons” and The Onion — self-aware acts of ridicule that would have seemed wholly out of place in the age of “All in the Family.”

[Click to continue reading The Way We Live Now – Funny How? –]

Refreshing, and a welcome contrast to the smug frat boy humor of the previous resident of The White House.

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