As I watched the opening sketch of the first episode of SNL after the writer’s strike I was struck with two thoughts: Fred Armisen does a fairly good Barack Obama impression and comics do not want Obama to be president. Free societies always seem to find humor in satirical portrayals of various heads of state. It’s a constant part of American comedy and no leader is off limits. From the beloved JFK and LBJ to the polarizing Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, stand-up comedians and sketch shows rarely leave the stage without a gratuitous shot at the US commander-in-chief. Currently there is no comedian worth his or her salt that doesn’t squint their eyes, don a goofy smirk and whip up their best Texas drawl at the expense of old ‘dub-yah’ (insert over-used, semi-humorous Bush barb here).
Now that your attention bank is nearly bankrupt here’s the point:
Barack Obama is not easy to impersonate. The obvious reason is that he’s still fairly new to the political scene and many just don’t know him well enough to grasp the nuances that compose Sen. Obama. We’ve spent the last 18-20 years getting to
loathe love Hillary Clinton and her icy, pseudo-compassionate demeanor. John McCain has also been in the public eye long enough for us to see him happy, sad, over-confident, flustered, dishonest, self-centered, patronizing, hateful, negligent, opportunistic…sorry…you get the point. Barack has to give a few more speeches or navigate a few more press conferences before the jesters get a grasp of his mannerisms.
Another reason Barack has yet to inspire hilarity in the yuck-meisters of America is he’s the coolest cause to be down for these days. According to the dictators of pop culture (Hollywood elite, recording artists, Mary Hart and Oprah) it’s cool to be anti-republican. It’s even okay to be on the fence about Senator Clinton. But it is suicidal** to publicly bash the guy who could realistically be the first African American in the Oval Office. Coolness is a priceless commodity in the United States. It can make you like Tom Cruise of the 80’s and 90’s or the lack of it can break you down like…Tom Cruise today. So even if a comic worked up a perfect parody of the presidential hopeful, he or she would probably be rewarded with the sound of crickets chirping as the audience pondered whether or not it was okay to laugh.
I’m sure that as time rolls on and the wave of Obamania breaks, the smoke stacks of the comedy factories will fill the air with clever caricatures of the man that may or may not be ‘Leader of the Free World’. There is a time window for all sensitive issues. Remember when it was taboo to joke about 911 and HIV/AIDS? Barack will not be an exception long, but it won’t be easy. Before Fred Armisen’s recent rendition the only person to play Obama on SNL was Barack himself. They need to call Tim Meadows out of retirement.
*Frank Caliendo is a modern celebrity impressionist.
**term used for illustrative purposes only.
Side Note: I really hope all the white support for Obama is not just a grand display of ‘I’m not a racist’ sentiments.