By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
People always say that you can’t stand it if people don’t like you.
I don’t mind that people don’t like me. I don’t like them not to like me for the wrong reason. If someone says, “I don’t like Jay Leno because he’s a conservative,” I call him and I go, “I’m not conservative. I’ve never voted that way in my life. Where do you get that from?” I explain my position, and there’s not much more I can do. When my wife got involved in helping the women in Afghanistan, I took a lot of flack for that for my obvious left-wing leanings. “Leno and his left-wing buddies helping Afghanistan rather than the children here.” I got beat up for weeks for that. Just like the Arnold thing. But enough time goes by and people forget that. Arnold was the last thing to happen, so people are still on that.
When you and I were talking on the phone, you said, yeah, maybe because of 9/11, maybe because of the Iraq invasion, there were periods when you gave Bush a pass.
Oh yeah, during 9/11, I gave Bush a pass. And I remember about two months had gone by, and then one day I sensed that maybe people were ready. And I remember I said, “Folks, if you don’t laugh at this joke, that means the terrorists have won.” And it got a huge laugh. And it wasn’t that funny. But they sensed that, now that it looks like the administration is using this as a crutch, it’s okay to come in slowly with the jokes and roll them in. I remember that joke was a turning point.
And you admit you gave Bush another pass because of Iraq?
When the war starts and troops go over, you give our president the benefit of the doubt. And then you realize the wool was pulled over our eyes here a little bit. I remember they always said the Vietnam War was over when Walter Cronkite said, “This is wrong.” Up to that point, was he a sellout? No, he was just reporting the news as he saw it. For the first few months of the war, the jokes all tended to be rah-rah. Anything other than Bush. Jokes against Osama bin Laden. And the French.
You went totally hog-wild with the French jokes.
Well, there’s nothing funnier to me than the French. The French Resistance is probably the biggest mythical joke that ever existed. There were four guys in the French Resistance. They couldn’t hand over the Jewish people fast enough. Oh, please, don’t tell me about the French. The French have all sorts of secret deals with Saddam and everybody else for two cents a liter. It’s an easy target.
At what point in the Iraq war did you start joking about Bush again?
I think it really started with Bush saying “Mission Accomplished” and landing on the aircraft carrier. That was probably the point where it’s obvious to the audience this is turning into a political tool. When it’s obvious to the audience what’s happening, then it works. Look, you don’t change anybody’s mind with comedy. You just reinforce what they already believe.
What’s funny about Bush as far as you’re concerned?
Saying you don’t read books. Oh, I think the mispronouncing of the words. I don’t know if you’ve seen this thing we do, “Bush’s Spanish is better than his English”? We show Bush babbling away in perfect Spanish. And then you cut to show his English is awkward. We don’t doctor the tapes. So that’s something everybody can relate to.
Is it easier to make fun of Cheney than Bush?
I did a joke the other night saying, “They’re thinking of dropping Dick Cheney from the ticket. Oh great. Keep the dumb guy.” That was the gag. [I laugh.] Oh, see, now that’s your kind of joke. If I did that joke about Kerry . . .
But Kerry’s not stupid.
No, but some equivalent joke. I did a joke the other night that didn’t get any kind of reaction. I said, “I learned a piece of trivia about John Kerry at the convention: Did you know he was in Vietnam? Apparently, he was a soldier there.” It kind of went right by them. The thing is that I’m just here to tell the joke. I really don’t have any personal ax to grind. And I try to keep a sense of fair play. This is not a bully pulpit. You try to do what reasonably fair people would think of as a fair joke.
Some weeks ago, you had a really hilarious skit with the Bush look-alike, and you asked tougher questions than the White House press corps. Did you look at the ratings?
The ratings are laughs . . . if it got a big laugh. I always say comics make the mistake that they start off as comedians, then they become humorists, then they become satirists, then they become commentators, then they’re out of show business. That’s sort of the way it goes. I don’t want to be preached to as a member of the audience. I like to hear a joke. And if I’ve learned something after I’ve laughed, well, that’s pretty good. And if I’ve learned something before I’ve laughed, I don’t enjoy it as much.