If there’s a single emerging slogan that sums up Campaign 2008, it would have to be: That’s not funny! The much-discussed controversy over the New Yorker Obama-as-jihadi cover is only the latest example. [Update: If you can read one more take on it, I highly recommend my former Salon colleague Gary Kamiya, who nails it.] There have been controversies over Bernie Mac’s jokes at an Obama event; Randi Rhodes’ and Penn Jillette’s jokes about Hillary Clinton; Senate candidate Al Franken’s years-old Andy-Rooney-as-rapist jokes from his SNL days; John McCain’s “Bomb Iran” riff. Left, right and center, the entire body politic is united in its desire to make a mountain out of a droll hill.*
Today’s New York Times follows up on the Obama-cover story by asking the implicit question: why in the world did it take the freaking New Yorker to make a controversial joke about Obama? Answer: because TV comics are falling down on the job! Bill Carter surveys the landscape of late-night comedy and gets several high-profile comics to admit that they haven’t really figured out how to make fun of Obama yet, and are frankly a little nervous about it. Largely for pretty much the reason you’d guess: “There has been little humor about Mr. Obama: about his age, his speaking ability, his intelligence, his family, his physique. And within a late-night landscape dominated by white hosts, white writers, and overwhelmingly white audiences, there has been almost none about his race.”
Dave Chappelle, come back! Your country needs you!
* I make an exception, of course, for whichever example above offended you or your preferred candidate personally. That joke was totally beyond the pale, and it was not funny at all.