As anyone who has every done comedy can tell you, customized comedy can be tricky — particularly if a client asks for edgy comedy. Because sometimes edgy can go over the edge.
And so it was for Obama impersonator Reggie Brown, whose set at the Republican Leadership Conference was cut short as he was all but given the famous vaudeville hook as his jokes veered into what some consider racism and — perhaps the biggest sin for that group — took potshots at prominent GOPers running for President. It’s easier to get any kind of a laugh aimed at Obama and things about him than to get laughs for jokes about Republicans or their supporters in the audience. Here’s a bit of it so you can judge for yourself:
And a bit more:
The Washington Post explains what happened and offers some tidbits from Brown’s routine:
Eventually, RLC President and CEO Charlie Davis made the decision to pull him offstage, and a man came onstage to physcially escort Brown off.
“I pulled him off the stage,” Davis acknowledged afterward. “I just thought he had gone too far. He was funny the first 10 or 15 minutes, but it was inappropriate, it was getting ridiculous.”
Davis added: “We’ve had a great event. Probably the only problem we’ve had was the impersonator.”
A sampling of the racial jokes:
• On Black History Month: “Michelle celebrates the full month. I celebrate half.”
• “My mother loved a black man,” but “she was not a Kardashian.”
• A picture was shown of Obama and the first lady when he took office. The impersonator then showed a picture of what the Obamas will look like when the president leaves office, and it was the characters of Fred Sanford and his sister-in-law, Ethel, from the show “Sanford and Son.”
Race wasn’t the only subject where the impersonator pushed the envelope.
• Of Tim Pawlenty’s decision not to criticize Mitt Romney at Monday’s debate: “[CNN’s] John King served him up a ball softer than Barney Frank’s backside.” (Frank is a gay member of Congress from Massachusetts.)
• Of Newt Gingrich’s approval ratings: Dropping “faster than Anthony Weiner’s pants in an AOL chat room.”
• There was also one moment where the original Weiner twitpic was shown on the large screens on either side of the impersonator, with no blurring.
I’m not sure who at the RLC thought it would be a good idea to hire a comedian and then neglect to check out his act. That was boneheaded. The whole idea has disaster written all over it (comedy and politics generally don’t work in a political setting; they work much better in a comedy setting, e.g., “The Daily Show,” etc., when they premise that “this is a joke” is clear from the outset).
Could it have been John McCain who vetted Brown in the same way he vetted Sarah Palin?
One thing about comedy.
The great comedy coach Greg Dean has said in his writing and also in the sessions that I had with him that comedy is the “shattering of a shared assumption.” That means that to do a political type gig you should be largely on the same wavelength as the audience. If the audience does not share the assumption that is shattered or does not get the assumption that’s referenced, a joke could die or boomerang.
He went on to poke fun at House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) skin color and tossed off a Rosy O’Donnell fat joke.
Some of the biggest boos came when the fake Obama said Newt Gingrich’s campaign was barely clinging to life.
“His consultants are dropping faster than Anthony Weiner’s pants in an AOL chat room,” he said.
Of GOP frontrunner, fake Obama joked that Mormon Mitt Romney will have “a first lady, second lady, and third lady.”
He said Tim Pawlenty was out having his “foot surgically removed from his mouth.”
“John King served him up a ball softer than Barney Frank’s backside,” he said, referring to Pawlenty’s decision not to attack Romney during a CNN debate.
The audience was silent.
Fake Obama began to make fun of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), but then he was suddenly ushered off stage.
There were two problems here for the Repubs who planned the event. The act featured jokes that some folks who have notably little sense of humor when jokes are aimed at at themselves would not appreciate. Plus the act featured some jokes that others not at the event would consider either racist or denigrating to African Americans — even though some would dispute that and call it PC. The biggest problem: once the jokes got out on You Tube — which they have — it would be terrible p.r. for Republicans, even though GOPers on the cable and internet will go on the attack to those criticizing the comedy set using the best defense is a good offense. But the bottom line: it was terrible p.r.
But keep in mind the difficulty of doing a comedy bit for an audience like that. You’ll note that the tougest audiences tend to the Academy Awards audiences (where jokes about show biz have to get laughs from rich, successful show biz types) and White House Foreign Correspondents dinners (where the President sits in front and listens to the zingers). Brown’s act would play well in a comedy club (depending on the audience demographic or the club), on a cable comedy show, etc.
Doug Heye, a party strategist and former communications director for the Republican National Committee, criticized the hiring of Mr. Brown. As word of the performance began to spread online, he wrote in a message on Twitter: “Wonder why many minorities have problems with G.O.P.? Our own fault.”
Louisiana Republican Party chairman Roger Villerie refused to discuss the decision to bring in the impersonator, or whether the jokes were appropriate for this venue. He did say, though, that he made the decision to pull Brown off the stage.
SOME OTHER VIEWS:
But someone apparently realized that not everyone in America shares the same throwback racial sentiments of the Republican base and stopped the show.
Next time, guys, how about a guy in black face instead of a black man making a fool out of himself? And fried chicken. Make some fried chicken jokes.
I’ve never been comfortable with this kind of humor. A couple of jokes might be funny, but a whole routine is extreme. And whoever thought it was a good idea hiring this guy for a GOP presidential straw poll should … well, I’ll let readers finish the sentiment. Just plain stupid. Man.
Blame it on the black guy. It works every time.
..It’s going to be a long and angry road to the Republican primary.
Unless you’re simply not paying attention, a day never goes by when the Republicans fail to let blacks, gays, Latinos, Muslims, and anyone else they don’t like realize that they’re unwelcome in their party. Today our prime example came at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. They wisely hired an Obama impersonator to entertain folks and then had to pull him off the stage after he started telling black and gay jokes.
…To their credit, the impersonator was physically removed from the stage and his act was denounced by RLC President and CEO Charlie Davis.
What a crock. Think Progress is one of the lefty sites rescreeching the screeching of Wapo who completely took a quote of RLC President, Charlie Davis, out of context to formulate a despicable false narrative.
Obama impersonator, Reggie Brown, entertained the crowd as Obama and pretty much did a solid job. He just maybe went on too long for the organizers tastes. He was still getting laughs from the crowd when Davis interrupted the performance and escorted him off. Frankly, I thought this was an unintentionally hilarious moment – Obama being kicked off the stage for droning on and on.
UPDATE: RLC President Charlie Davis said that the Obama impersonator was “funny the first 10 or 15 minutes.” That’s when the racial jokes were told.
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Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.