Comics: An Obama Problem

Pundits, donors, opponents red and blue--everyone's getting ready for a Barack Obama presidential bid. But one group is still unprepared: the nation's comedians, who say the pol appears almost invulnerable to caricature. How do you make fun of someone when all the audience knows is that he's popular and charismatic? "There's this thing in America where you can't make fun of someone who's a nice guy, works hard, does well," says Darrell Hammond, the pitch-perfect "SNL" impersonator of Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton, Al Gore and others. "And that's all we know about Obama right now." He does have a funny name and big ears, but that's not enough to play off, like "Gore is dull" or "Kerry flip-flops." Race works to his advantage, too. White comics might tread cautiously--which rarely makes for good comedy. At least until the campaign is underway and Obama says or does something that gives them some meat, comics and writers are scratching their heads. They told PERI what they think might work:

"Obamamania" has become absurd. "Daily Show" viewers heard a heavenly noise--"a choir of angels," host Jon Stewart said. "It can only mean one thing: Barack Obama did something." Jay Leno's line: "The big story, of course: 'American Idol.' But enough about Barack Obama."

"People tell pollsters they'll vote for a black candidate, but once they're in that booth ... " says stand-up Greg Giraldo (an alum of Columbia and Harvard Law, just like Obama). Jokes about racial anxieties can be powerful--or professional death. Might work only from a black performer.

"Give him time," says "Real Time With Bill Maher" exec producer Scott Carter. Colin Powell, Wesley Clark--others have seemed too perfect for comedy before, but everyone tarnishes. "He has this halo, a messiahlike aura that just can't last as we get to know what he thinks about this issue and that issue." He'll crack before '08.

It's hopeless. "Since Obama lacks faults, weaknesses or imperfections of any kind, I guess they'll just have to soberly discuss his evenhanded policy positions," suggests Peter Koechley, managing editor of The Onion. He's making a joke.