“You know, we’ve got to learn to laugh in this town,” President George W. Bush told the 3,000 guests at the House Correspondents’ Dinner last Saturday. But he couldn’t muster a quip. Citing the shooting deaths of 33 people at Virginia Tech, Bush begged off making the requisite humourous speech. “I’m not going to try to be the funny guy.”
Maybe. Or maybe it was payback after satirist Stephen Colbert acidly mocked Bush’s intellect, policies and even his faith at the same event last year. Or, perhaps, it has become hard to laugh in the face of the relentless carnage in Iraq that has claimed more
than 3,300 American lives—a fact shouted through megaphones by protesters outside the dinner.
At a similar event in 2004, Bush showed slides of himself pretending to look for those pesky missing weapons of mass destruction under a desk. The gag sparked outrage. But other presidents have managed to joke about their challenges. During the Cold War, Ronald Reagan quipped about a “Kremlin Correspondents’ Dinner” where the Soviet media “gather to laugh at Gorbachev’s jokes—or else.” In the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Bill Clinton confessed to hiding things from Congress: “Over the last few months I’ve lost 10 lb. Where did they go? Why haven’t I produced them to the independent counsel? How did some of them manage to wind up on Tim Russert?” he said, referring to the portly NBC interviewer.
Canadian comic Rich Little tried to fill Saturday’s void with well-worn impressions of bygones such as Reagan, Richard Nixon and Johnny Carson. He didn’t touch the Iraq war. Little ended by saying, “I know we’re going through troubled times right now, but you gotta laugh.” After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, pundits declared the end of irony. Maybe they spoke six years too soon. M
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