While browsing through YouTube the other day, I came across an unexpected treat, especially in the context of the passage of time.
It comes from 1996. long before Al Franken ran for and was elected to the United States Senate, back in his days of doing comedy, when he was the guest speaker at the White House Correspondents Dinner. There are a few things of note here. The first is that it is really good. Not just funny, but extremely smart. And when it's funny, at times it's not just good chuckles, but hilarious. And at times the humor isn't just good jabs, but blunt and bitingly so, a bit fearless with even some of the targets there in attendance. Also notable is that this speech, isn't just a brisk comedy monologue, but runs a substantive 36 minutes. This is not "take the money and run." This is roll-up your sleeves comedy. And then diving into the deep end.
To be clear, not all of it works. When you take risks, some of what you try will fall flat, but it's that willingness to fail that allows what does work -- which is most of the material -- to work at an even higher level. Also some of it doesn't work for today's audience, given that over two decades have passed since the speech. Some of the references from the time of the Clinton Administration will be remembered, but many are likely to fly by, tied more to the current events of the day, And it's long -- 36 minutes is a very long time for a comedy monologue, but what's seriously impressive is how well he holds his audience (both then and now) for that long. And it's all the more impressive to do so in that venue, one of the worst for a comedian. The room is large, half the people at any moment are likely to not like or even hate each of your jokes, and so much of the audience is used to being the figure of attention, and there to look around at who else is present.
Being the comic entertainer at the White House Correspondents Dinner is a challenging assignment, as we've seen over the years. Some occasionally have soared, but most tend to make it through in what can be described as "professionally." To me, this isn't just a generally very funny speech under very difficult conditions, but an impressive and mature one, which is rare.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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