Joe Biden looks “serious” to prove he can actually be funny 2022-04-29 09:43:31


“It was really a game for it,” said David Litt, a speechwriter who helped care for the video crew while filming Biden in the Oval Office. “He kind of got the funny thing about himself.”

Biden is still playing A difficult room in a difficult moment. And while he happily mocks his quirks – real and perceived – he is essentially a serious guy with a tough job.

said Jeff Nussbaum, who until this week worked as a speechwriter at the White House and was involved in preparing a skit for Biden. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing in difficult times. It’s just that President Biden is a serious person who deals with serious challenges.”

Officials said Biden’s speech had been in the works for a few weeks, and was not finished until Friday. But at the start of the writing process, the boss told his team he had imagined a title that went beyond a single fusion of outlines, subtle tricks, and gags.

Yes, there will be jokes — about himself, the media, and Republicans — that Biden is currently polishing off the list of dozens presented by his vast astronomical advisory body. But he also intends to use the appearance to loudly emphasize his belief in a free press after his predecessor – who skipped the annual dinner – called reporters “the enemy of the people”.

“Think about what the American press has done,” Biden said this week in a speech on Ukraine, referring to the upcoming dinner as a moment to celebrate reporters. “The courage that was used to survive in these war zones…I can’t tell you how much I respect, watching them in these areas, being shot, risking their lives, to make sure the world gets the truth.”

“He has made the decision that he wants to attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in a safe manner to show his support and to show his support for a free press,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said this week. “This is in stark contrast to his predecessor, who not only questioned the legitimacy of the press on an almost daily basis, but also never attended dinner.”

Hard time for jokes in front of a tough crowd

Like any comedian, Biden weighed his audience and the current environment as he determined what he was going to say.

Officials admit that now is not the easiest moment for topical situations. There is nothing funny about the war in Ukraine or its atrocities. And while the Covid pandemic and its myriad interruptions in life have provided plenty of fodder for comedians, the death toll and economic ripples are not topics anyone can laugh at.

“It’s a challenge to the people writing this speech that there are so many serious issues going on in the world. At the same time, I think it’s important for the president to do that. President Trump has never attended this dinner because he couldn’t make the speeches,” said Litt, who led the process of drafting the speeches. President Barack Obama’s annual Comedy at Correspondents’ Dinner, “I can’t stand the thought of making fun of them not knowing he would have done well.”

“Having a president to be able to make fun of himself, and generally make some jokes, and talk about the press, maybe make fun of the press a little bit, but also talk about the role of a free press — that’s not ‘small things, it’s big things.

It would be hard to ignore the pestilence at dinner, It was attended by more than 2,500 people in a ballroom of a hotel in the basement. At least one of the notable attendees — Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical advisor — He decided he would not go. Biden’s team took special precautions to avoid infection, including attending only during speeches and not the part where people were eating.

Psaki said this week that he remains determined to be there to show his support for a free press. Before the big night, Biden is expected to do some rehearsing his speech to get a feel for the delivery and timing, a person familiar with the matter said.

“Comedy requires rhythm and timing that may not be natural in the context of an ordinary speech he has given 1,000 times as a politician,” said Matt Tepper, who served as a speechwriter for Biden when he was vice president. “He has a good sense of humour, and he cared enough to make sure that it came almost professionally and in an elaborate joke that kind of tells us.”

Flopping at an insider’s dinner in Washington is not among Biden’s primary concerns in these troubled times. However, giving a speech that elicits some laughter and laughter in the appropriate amount is not a task that the president or his team takes lightly.

“I don’t envy him that he had to deliver it,” Tipper said. “I don’t envy the people who write them around him and the people who even write jokes? All this pressure weighs on every word.”

Washington is funny, really funny and what the president can say

A White House official said Biden’s speechwriter, Vinay Reddy, and his top adviser, Mike Donilon, were collecting the president’s statements. The official said they are operating from “a wide range of jokes from a wide range of people at home and abroad,” following an established routine of writing presidential comedies.

As of the middle of this week, Biden has received a long list of jokes, from which he will pick and choose his favorites. Officials said Chief of Staff Ron Klein, Members of the communications team and others inside the White House sent the jokes to Biden’s speechwriters for consideration. Rob Flaherty, director of digital strategy, and Dan Cluche, a prominent speechwriter — both among Biden’s funniest employees — were sending the materials.

When he was president, Obama brought comic writers from Los Angeles and New York to provide input to his speechwriting team through his annual Dinner Addresses to Reporters—including producer Judd Apatow, writers “The Daily Show” and “30 Rock.”

When Biden was vice president, he also sought outside help for comedic speeches at the annual Gridiron dinner and at other hilarious venues.

Among those Biden has turned to is John Mack, the lead writer on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” who has also written host material for dozens of Oscar ceremonies, along with an ever expanding galaxy of acquaintances. One of the people involved in the process when Biden was vice president recalled a report from Seth Meyers, then a senior writer for “Saturday Night Live.”

The trick, according to the people involved in the process for Obama and Biden, was to pare down a list of hundreds of jokes into one cohesive speech that seemed so natural to come out of the president’s mouth. Jokes that might have killed you on a late-night show or comedy club might sound backward or contrived from a boss.

Rude humor, even when artistically rendered, is usually under the desk—as Obama’s book discovered when he turned down a gag indicating the size of his penis, though he laughed out loud at it. Insults about physical appearance are generally prohibited in official Washington.

“The challenge with this speech for a president is always to find that little space of overlap between Washington Funny and Actual Funny,” said Nussbaum, who has also worked on some of the dinner speeches given by some of Obama’s reporters. “There’s one circuit that’s funny Washington, there’s one circuit that’s really funny, and then there’s a third circuit, what would the president say?

“A comedian can joke about Covid, a comedian can joke about Putin and Ukraine. The president can’t do that,” he added.

Easier for Biden is the self-erase tactic he has used in the past, including his video appearances at past reporters’ dinners. But even this comes with potential risks.

“President Biden is challenged because the self-deprecation of his age or severity risks an assertion that, let’s call her Malarkey, his political opponents are trying to push,” Nussbaum said.

Finding Politically Appropriate Humor in 2022

For nearly a century, presidents have attended the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, which was described in 1922 as “an occasion for many gays and zealots.” According to a dinner attendee a year ago, the evening provided “such enjoyment as the Prohibition era.”

When Calvin Coolidge became the first president to attend dinner in 1924, he didn’t introduce a comedy routine. This tradition did not come until later, when chiefs discovered comedy afforded them an opportunity to talk indirectly about things they would otherwise avoid.

said Don Wasanen, a professor of communications at Baruch College, City University of New York, who has studied dinner letters to White House reporters dating back to College.

President Bill Clinton used the technique in 1999 when he deceptively referred to his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, referring to “the events of the past year” without discussing his impeachment proceedings.

President George W. Bush’s comedy slideshow about the search for weapons of mass destruction was less successful at the 2004 Radio and Television Correspondents’ Dinner—a gag that fell through and led to accusations that he went overboard.

Biden’s speechwriters and aides are working to ensure that doesn’t happen this year. And Biden himself has told some on his team that some of the jokes either don’t work, go too far or don’t really sound like him.

But in a deeply polarized political environment — arguably much uglier than it was in 2016, the last time a president gave a speech at the Correspondents’ Dinner — the question of whether Biden can say anything truly funny and universally remains an open one.

“I actually think the most interesting thing about what’s going to happen here is that this speech will be a real test of what is comedic in the United States in 2022,” Wiesanen said. “It used to be: Let’s find some humanity here, let’s find some fun. In 2022, things are very partisan and very tribal, is there anything beyond sharper partisan humor?”