The TNT’s Niki Sullivan, live blogging from the state GOP convention in Spokane, reports on the latest attempts at Republican humor. First Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers entertained the crowd with the “Top 10 reasons it’s good to be a Republican in 2008,” including such comic gems as:
3. We believe Al Gore deserves an ‘F’ in science and an ‘A’ in creative writing.
That’s a hard act to follow. But Dave Reichert tried, trotting out his now familiar Borscht Belt routine:
Right now, U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert is up. He repeated a joke I first heard him tell at the Pierce County Republicans’ Lincoln Day breakfast earlier this year. It involves an airplane that’s going to crash, one fewer parachute than passengers and, ultimately, Hillary Clinton dying.
Hillary Clinton dying… oh man, that’s a knee-slapper, isn’t it?
I’m actually well familiar with this joke. My 11-year-old daughter used to tell a variation of it, but involving President Bush instead of Hillary Clinton. And she found it absolutely hilarious… when she was nine.
In fact, the inappropriateness of a sitting congressman joking about the death of a sitting senator aside, this is a joke specifically designed to appeal to nine-year-olds. It goes something like this:
A grandfather, a grandson, a wealthy man and [Despised Public Figure] are flying on a plane, when the pilot comes out and announces that the plane is about to crash, but that there are only four parachutes for the five of them.
“I’ve trained for too many years to die like this,” the pilot says, so he straps on the first parachute and jumps out of the plane. Next the wealthy man says, “I’m much too rich to die this young,” so he grabs the second parachute and jumps out of the plane. Then [Despised Public Figure] stands up and says “I’m [Despised Public Figure], and I’m much too important to die,” so he grabs the third parachute and jumps out of the plane.
Finally, the grandfather turns to his grandson and says, “I’m old; I’ve lived a long life. Here, you take the last parachute.” To which the grandson replies, “That’s okay grandpa, there’s a parachute for both of us… [Despised Public Figure] took my backpack!”
There are two things to note in deconstructing this joke. The first is that the punchline partially owes its humorous impact to playing off a popular stereotype of the Despised Public Figure as stupid. Deserved or not, this works well with President Bush in the lead role (as it would for Dave Reichert himself), but whatever you think of Hillary Clinton, she certainly doesn’t have a reputation for being dumb, and as such, the joke comes off more mean spirited than funny. It’s just a poor vehicle for ridiculing her.
The second thing to note about this joke is that the humorous twist is primarily derived from the unexpected contrast between the cool intellect of the child versus the panicked stupidity of a powerful adult. The punchline is not dependent on the identity of the object of ridicule because the humor comes less from the act of stupidity than it does from the act of a mere child being both observant enough to recognize the error as it was happening, and calculating enough to allow it to play out uninterrupted.
Think about it. You could swap “President Bush” with “Dave Reichert,” and the humorous effect is virtually unchanged, as long as the audience is familiar with Reichert. But if you put the observation in the mouth of the grandfather instead of the grandson, the joke just doesn’t work.
This is, at its core, a joke about empowering children. Which is why it is a joke that primarily appeals to children.
That Reichert finds this kiddie joke so humorous that he repeats it to Republican audiences statewide… well… I’d say that’s funnier than the joke itself.