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McCain, Obama, and the issue of humor

Posted by Joanna Weiss  November 3, 2008 10:05 AM

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As evidenced by his turn on last weekend's "Saturday Night Live," John McCain is a funny guy -- a fair amount funnier, arguably, than Darrell Hammond's John McCain impression. His self-deprecating gag about a "campaign message" on QVC showed him to be both a relatable person and a good sport. And it makes for an interesting contrast with Barack Obama, who appeared on "The Daily Show" last week, equally good-natured but lacking that McCaininan comic timing.

The question, though, is who is served better by which persona. As appealing as I found McCain, I wondered whether a late-in-the-game TV turn would sway any undecided swing-state voters. By the same turn, does Obama's relative stiffness on the air (have you seen him dance on "Ellen"?) contribute to those charges of elitism? As Stanford professor Richard Thompson Ford told me for a story last spring, Obama has a delicate job when it comes to political humor, since he's positioned himself as an above-the-fray, up-on-a-pedestal kind of guy. "As a charismatic leader," Ford said, "one can't afford to do things that undermine one's charisma." Does that make him look too distant, or more presidential?

I'd love to hear thoughts about the candidates' images. If you have a political rant, I humbly direct you to the Globe's campaign blog. Because as this race comes to a close, I'm feeling a little like this:

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3 comments so far...
  1. I think you're comparing apples to oranges. McCain's bits on SNL were entirely scripted, while Obama's interview on TDS was not. McCain may have won on the joke-o-meter, but I thought Obama was much more at ease, and yes, presidential.

    Posted by Jon B. November 3, 08 02:07 PM
  1. Ohhhhhh no, the "I" word again. This "image" talk has gotten so tiresome and repetitive. Remember the presidential debates? McCain often seemed uptight and angry. On SNL, he was entirely different. You've found Obama stiff and aloof on air. But watch the YouTube clip of his monologue at the Al Smith roast and he was at ease, with the comic timing you seem to value, as making a candidate "relatable" (yikes). Trying to grab onto either man's image from this or that TV performance is like trying to hug a greased pig--with or without lipstick.

    Posted by graycliffer November 3, 08 02:46 PM
  1. I agree McCain was funny on SNL, but I thought Obama delivered his jokes better than McCain did at the Al Smith dinner a couple of weeks ago in New York.

    I also thought McCain and Palin did themselves no favors by appearing on SNL this late in the game. They were skewered, and rightly so, on their campaign flaws and mishaps. To play along might make them good sports, but it might not have been the most politically wise thing for them to do.

    Posted by Matt Talvi November 3, 08 03:09 PM

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Michael Brodeur is the assistant arts editor for the Boston Globe, covering pop music, TV, and nightlife.