Yesterday on The View the hosts gave President Obama a pop-culture quiz. Joy Behar asked the president, “Should Snooki run as mayor of Wasilla?”
"I've got to admit, I don't know who Snooki is," Obama said. (Speaking of Wasilla, you could say he repudiated Snooki with that answer.)
But Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times remembered that the president joked about Snooki at the 2010 White House Correspondents Dinner in May, saying, "The following individuals shall be excluded from the indoor tanning tax within this bill. Snooki, J-WOWW, the Situation, and House Minority Leader John Boehner.” [See who supports Boehner.]
You might find it odd that President Obama would make a joke at the Correspondents Dinner about someone without having any idea who that person is. But really, presidents do that all the time. I remember a group of us were working on President George H.W. Bush’s remarks for the Correspondents Dinner the year that Dennis Miller was going to be the entertainment. “Who’s Dennis Miller?” he asked. We explained he’s the news anchor on Saturday Night Live. We got a blank stare back. “You know Saturday Night Live, sir, they’ve also got Dana Carvey, the guy who does those funny impersonations of you. In fact, we’ve got a joke here we thought you could do about that.” Well, he said, “I don’t stay up as late as you young kids do,” and then he wanted to know about these impersonations. “Show me how this guy does me,” he said with a hint of a smile.
My boss, the director of communications, later said that at that moment he saw his entire career flash before his eyes. It’s hard enough to do a comedy impersonation of anyone, much less to their face, and then add to that that the person involved is the President of the United States. “You really want me to do that, sir?” he asked. Yes I do, was the reply. So the boss takes a deep breath and tells the joke, which went something like this:
Earlier that week, someone pretending to be the Speaker of the Iranian parliament had called the White House and deceptively got through the switchboard operators, making it all the way to General Scowcroft before he figured out the person was a fake. (That part really did happen.) Here’s the not-true punch line: Dick Gephardt suggested that the president should get Dana Carvey to call the guy back, but Bush would reply in a very exaggerated way, hand gestures and all, as Bush doing Dana Carvey doing Bush: “But I told him: Not gonna do it. Wouldn’t be prudent. Not at this juncture.”
President Bush listens to the joke without laughing and says, “Do you personally find this joke funny?” Yes, I do, sir, the boss says. “Do you think the audience will find it funny?” Yes I do. Long silence. Then the president says, “Okay, I’ll do it, even though I never heard of this Dana Carvey guy. I’m trusting you on this.”
The rest is history. The joke brought the house down. President Bush ended up becoming great friends with Dana Carvey, and still keeps in touch with him. And the long presidential tradition of telling jokes about people one has never heard of continues.