The Great Comedy Debate

As Thursday’s Joe Biden-Paul Ryan faceoff nears, check out some of our favorite debate-generated comedy clips from last week’s Big Bird bath.

By Jere Hester
|  Wednesday, Oct 10, 2012  |  Updated 9:56 PM EDT
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Even Big Bird is getting in on the debate humor.

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Last week's first presidential debate, with its invoking of Big Bird and widely panned performances by President Obama and moderator Jim Lehrer, unleashed the campaign's biggest flood of comedy since Clint Eastwood's August impromptu chat with a chair at the Republican National Convention.

Amid the latest deluge, "Saturday Night Live" head writer Seth Meyers took a moment during the most recent "Weekend Update" to eagerly anticipate the next possible wave. "Is there anything more exciting than Joe Biden thinking it's up to him to get the lead back?" Meyers asked. “It's TiVo time. There's like a 50 percent chance that he's gonna come out at the next debate with his shirt off."
 
Meyers’ joke hinted at what many, little doubt, are thinking. After the unexpected gusher of humor tapped by Obama and Mitt Romney’s faceoff, the comedy writers, professional and otherwise, will be closely watching Thursday's debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan, seeking another political humor wellspring.

Thanks largely to social media, campaign-inspired comedy appears to be flowing faster than in any past presidential race. Eastwood's GOP speech quickly sprouted Internet memes (including “Eastwooding” – pictures of people speaking to empty chairs). Parody Twitter accounts @FiredBigBird and @SilentJimLehrer appeared even before Lehrer could finally get in the final words – "Thank you and good night"  – capping last Wednesday's Obama-Romney contest.

The late night comedians also weighed in as fast as they could. Romney "fired Big Bird and won!” Jon Stewart declared in exasperation on “The Daily Show” Thursday. “He could have water-boarded Aladdin, put down Blue, deported Dora the Explorer and still won walking away.”

"SNL" devoted three segments to the debate – a cold opening (in which Obama is distracted by an inner monologue about forgetting to buy an anniversary gift), a MSNBC spoof (in which Obama's debate performance is treated like an unfathomable national disaster) and, of course, "Weekend Update" (which featured an appearance by Big Bird).

Others turned to Lehrer, criticized by some as ineffectual, as a humor source. David Letterman offered a list of "Top Ten Signs You Have A Bad Debate Moderator" (No. 5: “Barely stops clipping his fingernails to ask a question.”) Jimmy Fallon, meanwhile, did a pretty good imitation of Romney as he constantly interrupted Lehrer, admonishing him “Hush child!” – and far worse.

On “The Colbert Report,” Stephen Colbert, in the guise of his conservative pundit character, turned up the volume, taking a victory lap through the audience to a booming recording of “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.”  "He hasn't done this poorly since he debated Clint Eastwood," Colbert said of Obama.

 
Colbert’s crack marked a nod to the string of the unexpected that’s spurred both national debate and political comedy in recent week: Eastwood’s bizarre GOP convention appearance. Venerable newsman Lehrer seeming to lose control of last week’s debate. Obama – whatever you think of him, usually a strong orator – making a subpar presentation.
 
Even the President tried to find humor in his weak outing, while speaking after performances by Katy Perry, Stevie Wonder and Jon Bon Jovi at a fundraiser Sunday in Los Angeles. "They're such great friends, and they just perform flawlessly night after night,” he said. “I can't always say the same."

Obama will get another chance to joust with Romney next week. Both men also will be among the tens of millions set to watch Biden, whose outspokenness and unpredictability often makes him a subject of parody, debate Ryan, a lesser-known quantity on the satire circuit. In the meantime, keep your shirt on and check out some of our favorite debate-generated comedy clips from the last week:

 

 

 

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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