Exclusively Online | Fall 2022 Issue

“A Lighter Look” — A Biden New Year’s Resolution: Be Funnier

Rick Meyer’s regularly appearing column takes a lighter look at politics and public affairs around the world. This month: "Be Funny"

By Richard E. Meyer

President Joe Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

Be funny. At least, be funnier.

That should be your most important New Year’s resolution.

You could start by stealing some jokes from the White House Correspondents’ dinner, an annual event at the Washington Hilton.

It’s where Bill Clinton said: “Way back in 1773, a spokesman for Samuel Adams asserted unequivocally that the Boston Tea Party was not a fundraiser.”

Clinton added: “Here’s one from the Jefferson administration in 1804. A spokesman for Vice President Aaron Burr asserted, ‘People don’t kill people, guns kill people.”

A reason your approval rating drops so low is that you’re not funny enough. Improving your humor would help. The annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner is a good place to pirate some tomfoolery. Remember: It’s not stealing to poach a joke if you can make it funnier.

You addressed the dinner last year. Your best line was: “A special thanks to the 42% of you who actually applauded.” I’m afraid you brushed against an unfortunate truth. That was close to your public approval rating at the time.

The correspondents’ association invites professional comedians to anchor its affair, and their humor generally outshines that of the president. Here are some of their offerings, as quoted by Chandler Dean at West Wing Writers, a communications strategy firm.

1997 – Jon Stewart
Rosie O’Donnell was the . . . first choice to be here this evening. She withdrew, citing a nasty and brutal confirmation process. I wasn’t even the second choice – Dennis Miller was the second choice. But he got hung out by an illegal-nanny technicality. But isn’t that what the confirmation process is all about here in Washington: weeding out the truly qualified to get to the truly available?”

2000 – Jay Leno
“Trump was the only candidate that never admitted to experimenting with drugs. . . . Trump did say he came close to doing cocaine one time. But when he leaned over, and he saw his reflection in that mirror, he realized, ‘It doesn’t get any better than this.’ ”

2006 – Stephen Colbert
“I believe the government that governs best is the government that governs least, and by these standards, we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq.”

2009 – Wanda Sykes
“This is amazing, you know . . . the first Black president. (I know you’re biracial, but) the first Black president. . . . That’s unless you screw up. And then it’s gonna be, ‘What’s up with the half-White guy, huh?’ ”

2011 – Seth Meyers
“Donald Trump said recently he has a great relationship with the Blacks. . . . Unless ‘the Blacks’ are a family of White people, I bet he’s mistaken.”

2016 – Larry Wilmore
“C-SPAN, of course, is carrying tonight’s dinner live . . . . C-SPAN is the number one network among people who died watching TV, and no one’s found them yet.”

2017 – Hasan Minhaj
“A lot of people in the media say that Donald Trump goes golfing too much. . . . Every time Donald Trump goes golfing, the headline should read: ‘Trump Golfing. Apocalypse Delayed.” ”

2018 – Michelle Wolf
“Stop putting Kellyanne [Conway] on your shows! All she does is lie! If you don’t give her a platform, she has nowhere to lie! It’s like that old saying: ‘If a tree falls in the woods, how do we get Kellyanne under that tree?’ I’m not suggesting she gets hurt – just stuck.”

I hope you and your speechwriters study these examples. A laugh every now and then will help people appreciate you personally as well presidentially, and your approval rating will climb.


Richard E. Meyer

Richard E. Meyer

Meyer is the senior editor of Blueprint. He has been a White House correspondent and national news features writer for the Associated Press and a roving national correspondent and editor of long-form narratives at the Los Angeles Times.

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