There is a reason that Abe Lincoln did not deliver his most famous address on Comedy Central.
And there is probably a reason why John Kerry’s appearance on The Daily Show is getting reviews that range from lukewarm to ice cold.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind here. First, Jon Stewart doesn’t invite folks like Kerry on the show to be funny. Kerry was there to be the straight man. Otherwise there would be plenty of pre-show interviews during which a guest such as Kerry would be given plenty of big laugh lines. But that’s not the M.O. on this show. All of the funny lines were Stewart’s. And trying to follow a funny line with another funny line especially when you’re not at all funny almost never results in a laugh.
Does that mean that I don’t wish Kerry had been more natural, more understanding of what the audience wanted, and more funny? Not at all. I wish Kerry was every bit as funny as I am. I wish all the candidates I’m rooting for could be as entertaining and intellectual as I tend to be after a short warm-up and a sixer of high carb brew.
But Kerry isn’t funny. You can tell if someone is funny. Remember during the Gore run how we were constantly told that Al was really a barrel of laughs when the cameras were off but then stiffened when he was out on the campaign trail? Well, here’s a bulletin. That was crap. No one could hide a personality trait that completely. A friend of mine was a Gore intern during his Senate days. He found the Senator to be so stiff and unfunny that when it came time for the interns’ end-of-summer photo-op with Gore, my friend asked if he could sit on Gore’s shoulders for his picture. Long story short: Gore didn’t get it.
Absorb that for a second. Gore is so unfunny that he doesn’t even realize that is own unfunnyness is goddamn hilarious.
My gut tells me that Kerry is not funny either. And in this case, my gut is backed up by a near lifetime of evidence. So is this a problem? It shouldn’t be. It only becomes a problem if advisors and campaign operatives try to remake their candidate into something he’s not. Yes, those same advisors who sent Kerry into the gladiator pit with a toothpick (in other words, onto a cable comedy show not armed with even a single line).
We will not vote against a guy because he’s not funny. Hell, sometimes we don’t even blame comics who aren’t funny (see Leno nightly for an example). But we will vote against someone who is trying to portray himself as something he’s not.
In other words, Kerry will be fine unless he’s trying to convince us that he’s funny. And certainly no one can accuse him of doing anything of the sort last night on The Daily Show.