spoken in jest
November 4, 2006
The unfortunate Mr Kerry committed a cardinal political sin by making a complete snafu out of a joke against his opponent the other day. How can anyone respect a public figure who is unable tell a joke without getting his underwear contorted? The Admiral really needs to take a lesson or two from President Bush or even Tony Blair in the art of the well-told wisecrack. One remembers the classic Bush rib-tickler on Brokeback Mountain: “Lynne Cheney and Laura were out of town recently so I called up Dick and said ‘Why don’t we go to a movie’? He said ‘Great idea, let’s go to a cowboy movie’. Yep, finally went to see Brokeback Mountain. Let me tell you, whooo-eee. Dick sat through the movie, didn’t say a word. We came out, after a while he says ‘nice horses’. I say ‘yep’. Then he becomes real quiet again and kind of serious. I knew something was on his mind. Finally he turned to me and said: ‘You don’t suppose the Lone Ranger and Tonto …”‘ Or the sublime moment when he looked inder his desk and said “Nope, no WMD’s there.” Those were jokes any great leader could really be proud of. Our own dear leader didn’t do too badly with his ‘at least she won’t run off with the bloke next door’ line that had them rolling in the aisles at Blackpool. Mr Blair, very astutely, specialises in self-deprecating jokes on the basis that he will at least have the butt of the jokes in common with the general public. These contrast with the style of most world political figures who seem to prefer a more macho, salty flavour to their jokes. It is rather a pity that most of Blair’s seem to have been designed by a committee then vetted by a special subcommittee of the JIC and a panel of lawyers for political correctness, intelligibilty to Sun readers, potential to backfire, everything, in fact, except humour. Not a word, of course, about rape or other unmentionable subjects that spelt trouble for the rather unfunny Mr Putin, who can,however, wield his razor-like wit with deadly effect as Mr Blair found out: “Asked by a British reporter how he would respond to Mr Blair’s concerns about Russian democracy, Mr Putin said he was always glad to hear fellow leaders’ views. Then, after a long pause, he smiled and added: “There are also other questions; questions, let’s say, about the fight against corruption. We’d be interested in hearing your experience, including how it applies to Lord Levy.” It is not known whether Ms Merkel has ever been heard to utter a joke, unless inviting President Bush to a wild boar barbecue while the Middle East was going up in flames counts as one. (Incidentally, that’s a ‘wild boar’ BBQ, not a wild ‘boar BBQ’. Presumably.) President Chirac, however, does make jokes and most of them boomerang, as did his infamous remarks about British and Finnish food which are supposed to have lost Paris the Olympics. (The two Finnish members of the IOC voted for London.)
Politicians who enjoy blunt talking don’t always crack the best jokes, a case in point being the late and unlamented Berlusconi. Most seem to have been of the level of his dismally unfunny joke about AIDS, the pick of a wretched bunch being his remark “Read The Black Book of Communism and you will discover that in the China of Mao, they did not eat children, but had them boiled to fertilise the fields.” This must have offended large numnbers of Chinese fertiliser manufacturers. Even the stony-faced Prodi can do better than that and once described Signor Berlusconi’s facelift as his biggest contribution to Italy’s infrastructure. Thailand’s own Berlusconi, the late and not unlamented Thaksin was also more successful at making money than at making jokes, a typical one being that that he needs no restraints on his authority, since his wife can keep him in line and he already is so wealthy, there is no need to pilfer from public coffers.
Returning to our shores, Master Cameron, who must rewrite and rehearse most of his jokes for a few hours first, discovered a new way of using a joke to shoot yourself in the foot when “an unscripted joke in his acceptance speech – about how a BBC-TV helicopter had stymied his determination to make a ‘carbon-neutral’ bicycle trip into Westminster – caused him to forget to mention one of the six major themes he’d meant to announce. ‘We got a good joke, but lost out on globalisation and world poverty,’ one aide commented wryly.” Being slightly sceptical of the value of such policy announcements, one is tempted to regard it as a small price to pay, even if the joke was a bit short on risibility.
To finish with Mr Kerry, what made his joke so tasteless was that what he said is, according to the Independent, actually true: “Figures released by the Pentagon show that the percentage of enlisted troops with college experience is considerably lower than that of the general population.” Mangling your punchline is bad enough, but making a remark that is true, well, that just isn’t funny.