One Man's Quest To Become Even Less Funny

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THE PLANK JANUARY 10, 2009

One Man's Quest To Become Even Less Funny

See if you can guess the author of the following paragraph, which kicks off this week's Weekly Standard cover story, entitled 'A New Circus Comes to Town.'

Is it too soon to talk about the failed Obama presidency just because
Obama isn't president yet? That depends upon how quickly Barack Obama
is able to apply the lessons he's learned from Management Secrets of the Illinois Governors.
So far he's not doing very well. He has allowed America's current
number one jackleg, crackpot, smut-mouth, slime-licking politician to
give the Obama Senate seat to a lovable old African-American doofus
whom no one has the heart to execrate. Roland Burris will be the kind
of ornament to this year's Senate that the broken plastic Rudolph with
its antlers missing was to last year's Christmas tree.

Any guesses? Well, the words above belong to P.J. O'Rourke, noted humorist and wit. Perhaps you think this excerpt is unfair to the 1960s-lefty-turned-conservative-funnyman. Try this one:

So what's the big deal about Bill Richardson and the highway
contractors? You want those highway contractors making their Democratic
presidential contributions during the primary campaigns of 2012 when
the "failed Obama presidency" is being challenged at the polls by
Hillary Clinton? Speaking of "witch," am I the only person who experienced an
unexpected surge of warm fellow-feeling for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when
Hillary was named secretary of state? I wouldn't wish dealing with her
on my worst enemy, who'd be Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Hillary is a witch! Hilarious. One strange aspect of becoming politically aware or active is that you enter into a world where everyone already has a reputation. So, suppose you started reading political magazines around the time of Bush's 2000 victory. You would have noticed that a man by the name of P.J. O'Rourke was allowed to write almost anything he pleased for serious publications. And yet the pieces were invariably humorless or worse. You really wanted to share this insight with others, but then maybe you would be accused of not getting the joke. Lighten up, you would be told. Don't you see the humor, or are you too politically correct to laugh? The only theory to reach for was the one which stated that O'Rourke used to be funny but then hit a rough patch. The problem was that the old stuff was not funny, either. For example, here is O'Rourke on homeless activist Mitch Snyder (from decades ago): "The perennial homeless advocate and incessant protest-faster who would
commit suicide a few months later, thereby obtaining an eternal home,
and a warm one at that." Hah! 

I suppose the only other question is whether this sort of thing is funny to right-wingers. In his current piece, O'Rourke has a few jokes along the lines of this one:

In the language of politics there is only one translation for the phrase "hope and change," to wit, "big, fat government."

So then, the question remains: Does anyone find this stuff humorous? And if so, will they come out and say so? My sneaking suspicion is that inertia--more than anything else--is responsible for O'Rourke's continued presence in American cultural life.

--Isaac Chotiner

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