Politics & Government

Big transition coming: a president who's hard to make fun of

Writers for late-night television shows, including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, have lamented recently that they would love to bust President-elect Barack Obama's chops more. But fear of a politically correct backlash and a lack of major stumbles to date on Obama's part make him a tough topic.

Stand-up comedians, though, say Obama is fair game.

''Those TV writers have to worry about ratings. They don't like boos or groans from the audience. We thrive off of it,'' said Lisa Lampanelli, a comic famous for her no-topic-is-off-limits policy, and her obsession with black men.

''I'm not scared to make fun of anything,'' said Lampanelli, who is scheduled to perform at the South Beach Comedy Festival in two weeks. "And I don't think any comic should be. The fact is Barack Obama is never going to invite me to the Kennedy Center Honors, so what do I have to lose? In the future, he's going to make a big mistake. And when he does, the fodder on him will be easier.

"But let's be bluntly honest: We'll never have the material to go after him as hard as we did Bush, because people get made fun of over how they talk as much as how they look. . . . It's been much easier to pick on his speech. It's not political -- not for us comics, anyway.''

In her first one-hour HBO special, Long Live the Queen, which premiers Jan. 31, Lampanelli calls Obama just white enough to do a good job and show up (to work) on time.

''It's a joke,'' Lampanelli said. "It's what we do. We make fun of people, and we exploit stereotypes. I've been brutal toward Sarah Palin and all the hype about her good looks. I said in the regular world she's not hot. She's a two when you put her next to even Pam Anderson.

"In the world of politics? She's a 10. But look, she's up against the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt. If we don't give Obama the treatment, too, then . . . well, we have to. It's called equality!''

Miramar-based comedian, author and actor Finesse Mitchell agrees with Lampanelli about Obama.

''Politics is hot right now,'' said Mitchell, a former cast member on Saturday Night Live. "So, it's open season on everyone in politics. He's no exception. The thing is, you don't need to worry about political correctness. You just need to do your jokes from the right angle. I've noticed more experienced comedians are doing Obama jokes on what might happen with him in office. The good comedians are being clever about it.''

Comedy Central Director of Talent JoAnn Grigioni says she sympathizes with comics who haven't yet found Obama's soft spots, but believes it's only a matter of time before the comedy world figures him out.

''I think people who may be having a hard time skewering Obama are experiencing that because right now his flaws, those that would be comedy fodder, are not so obvious,'' Grigioni said. 'I'm not sure it's a PC thing as much as it's not so organic to different comics' styles to work with the types of things they might have on him right now.''

Grigioni says that Obama aside, comics at the South Beach Comedy Festival have plenty more to choose from, including the recession and the entire election season.

''The question came up: What's on the minds of the comics?'' she said. "A lot of comics these days tend to do stuff about their own lives. I'm noticing they're asking what's on the minds of the audience. They're still talking about themselves and their own lives, but more and more they're working topical stuff like the economy and war into their routines.''

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