Democrats and sympathetic media types like to cite the personal likeability of President Obama as an indicator of his reelectability (just today on MSNBC, Jonathan Capehart did it). So it seemed a no-brainer that Obama would go on Jimmy Fallon’s show last night to do some humorous personal appeals. In 2008, I wrote that candidate Obama only had two jokes: “I’m great” or “I’m only pretty great.” Why hasn’t Obama grown out of his ego-inflating “I’m Pretty Awesome” approach to humor?
Obama’s cameo on Fallon’s show featured him “slow-jamming” the news (video below). Except Obama didn’t make any jokes. He just read off the usual talking points about student loans (appealing to the youth vote amirite?). The whole stunt was based off of having other people do funny things around him while he was himself. When your whole shtick is simply contrasting your stature with the clownishness of comedians you’re not being funny. And does it really count as playing the “straight man” if you really think you are above all of it? Or when you crack jokes and they fall flat?
In fact, Obama thinking himself to be pretty awesome has been something of a buzzkill of late. At National Review, Jim Geraghty pointed out this excerpt of Jodi Kantor’s new book:
Obama had always had a high estimation of his ability to cast and run his operation. When David Plouffe, his campaign manager, first interviewed for a job with him in 2006, the senator gave him a warning: “I think I could probably do every job on the campaign better than the people I’ll hire to do it,” he said. “It’s hard to give up control when that’s all I’ve known.” Obama said nearly the same thing to Patrick Gaspard, whom he hired to be the campaign’s political director. “I think I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters,” Obama told him. “I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.”
This bit appeared in a New York magazine profile:
The president’s friend and adviser Valerie Jarrett sometimes pointed out that not only had he never managed an operation, he’d never really had a nine-to-five job in his life. Obama didn’t know what he didn’t know, yet his self-confidence was so stratospheric that once, in the context of thinking about Emanuel’s replacement, he remarked in all seriousness, “You know, I’d make a good chief of staff.”
He thinks he’s capable of anything. But a key part of being funny is often insecurity and self-deprecation, qualities he appears to lack.
When Obama appeared on Saturday Night Live in his contest against Hillary Clinton, he couldn’t even muster a funny line. The one thing he said was: “I have nothing to hide. I enjoy being myself. I’m not going to change who I am just because it’s Halloween.”
L.O… uh. Hm.
To be fair, yes, one has to be very self-confident to make it out of a single-parent childhood and meet with success, let alone to become president. But at some point, you take into account your limitations and chuckle at yourself. Instead, Obama seems pretty confident to lord it over us: He’s awesome. Just totally awesome.
(UPDATE: Worth saying, I think Fallon is hilarious in this.)