You Are On The Air: A Timeline of the How Comedy Entered the Race For President

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When Did Comedy Enter The Race For President Of The United States? A Timeline of How The Race For President Became More About Which Candidate Is Most Entertaining Than Politics Over the Course of 83 Years.

There isn’t necessarily any problem with the President and/or his family laughing it up with the top entertainers and comedians of the day. Any attempt at framing President Obama and his family as the first administration to utilize or even over-utilize the media clearly hasn’t been paying attention over the past century, but there’s also no denying that the biggest detractors of the Obamas are the ones who seem to be pretending they’re changing the world by doing so. It’s true Barack and Michelle kicked the trend of appearing on younger and more culturally relevant television into high gear, but this is what allowed a reality TV star with no political experience to run in the first place, so it makes no sense for Republicans to continue denigrating Obama’s Presidency for the fact he appeared more photogenic than any President before him.

This isn’t to say there aren’t both pros and cons to the trend, though. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the President becoming a comedic media presence, or relying on his or her natural charms and wit in order to win the public’s favor. However, these charms obviously aren’t indicative of one’s political capabilities, either, and a public that cares too much about how funny their President seems is generally also a public that doesn’t care enough about global issues. What any public should be able to understand pretty simply is that the two don’t actually relate to one another in the slightest, which then begs the question of why so many Americans seem to think it’s important that the President be a cool, funny, relatable, charming person.

Ultimately, America needs to start asking itself how important it really is for the President to look smooth in front of a camera, especially as the audience those cameras receive are getting smaller and more streamlined than ever before. Does a video watched by less than 1% of the nation matter (keeping in mind it’s not The One Percenters, just one percent)? And does it necessarily matter even when those videos do reach wide audiences in the first place?

The answer to those questions seems pretty simple, in that no, those qualities don’t quite supersede all other qualities when choosing a President, but for some reason yes, it is the most important issue when many people head to the voting booths. It’s more or less a necessity in the modern era to be cool and relatable in order to become a successful politician, and while Obama didn’t necessarily start this trend, the timeline is clear he strapped a rocket to the concept and flew that all the way into a car with Jerry Seinfeld. Obama supporters thought he was pretty cool for doing so, while detractors labeled it all a distraction from the important issues.

Both sides of the argument are equally right and wrong at the same time depending on your definition of the term “President,” but the more relevant issue is the side effect that more people are interested in the President’s personality and whether or not they like the person they are voting for.

It doesn’t take much digging to discover Donald Trump is racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and more than any of that, a huge egomaniac, but The Donald himself typically responds to anyone who would accuse him of these things by laughing and calling them “jokes.” Trump has been doing this his entire life, laughing off his four bankruptcies and quipping knee-slappers like the fact he’d like to have sex with his daughter. Maybe he was making bizarre attempts at humor, but he has a pretty poor grasp of comedy, because it rarely connects.

Hillary Clinton likewise, uses a media persona for gain-  attempting to make herself look like a cool, funny, media savvy person on an almost aggressive level. While not everyone could explain her domestic policy to you, almost every millennial could get into detail about how she’s been trolling Donald Trump on Twitter. That sentence in and of itself should have a comedic red flag to it. Make no mistake about it—Hillary’s “Delete your account” Tweet at Trump was trolling. The lightest way to put it is that she trolled Trump back after months of passive aggressive attacks, but regardless of the terminology, older conservatives are saying they don’t get the joke, while the younger and more liberal Twitter thought she was hilarious and cool for doing it, and both sides are totally missing the point of the election once more, because the Presidential race is based on which one is cooler or funnier.

The more important comedy becomes in politics, the less funny things are going to get.

Then again, as the below timeline shows, this is hardly new. The idea was around since Truman aired the first political attack ad, and just about every political commentator of the era would agree Nixon was elected President because of Laugh-In. But since the modern era has turned one sentence on Laugh-In into full episodes of Saturday Night Live, dozens of increasingly ironic appearances on niche Internet talk shows, and insult wars on Twitter, we have to stop and question at what point one of these politicians is going to think they’re doing something funny when it turns out they’re actually doing something seriously lame. It’s already happening by the estimation of some comedians and comedy fans, and the more important comedy becomes in politics, the less funny things are going to get.

The only answer to make everybody happy is to split it somewhere down the middle. Maybe the President shouldn’t be appearing on every Internet talk show he can get booked on, no matter how funny it is to see them mock The Hangover III, but having him or her interact with a talk show host who at least cares a little bit about the issues, or to do a Reddit AMA and actually answer the public with some jokes, could go a long way in helping a first term Presidency turn into a multi-term American success story. A particularly misguided joke somewhere along the way could cost someone the entire election—even if it was allegedly just a joke, or a blatant attempt at looking young and hip.

No matter who wins this election, this timeline will to continue to expand at a rapid rate. Given how exponential the increase in TV appearances already has been over just the past few years, before you know it, full Presidencies could be judged based on which ones produced the funniest sitcoms. And hey, the most memorable thing about the Ford administration is still the Chevy Chase jokes, so we can’t say it came out of nowhere.

Scroll below the graphic to read the full detailed time line. 


Timeline of Broacast Presidential Entertainment

1933: Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivers his first Fireside Chat.

1947: Harry Truman pays for the first political TV ad.

1960: John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon take part in the first and second televised Presidential debates. Myths claim Nixon won on radio and JFK won on TV. More in-depth stories claim JFK won summarily regardless of how you listened. The power of television clearly helped assimilate the world to JFK’s boyish charms, either way.

1968: Presidential candidate Richard Nixon decides to lighten up his persona by appearing on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. His opponent, Hubert Humphrey, declines to appear on the show. Both men later claim the appearance won Nixon the election.

1968: Pat Paulsen, a professional comedian, begins a satirical campaign for President that lasts until 1996.

1970: Richard Nixon agrees to a photo op with a washed out Elvis Presley to bolster his already fading popularity.

1980: Ronald Reagan, a former actor, is elected President. To his credit, he left acting behind when he entered politics, but that hasn’t stopped many from claiming his Presidency was a huge farce in hindsight.

1983: President Reagan’s wife, Nancy, appears on Diff’rent Strokes, a sitcom, in order to spread her (as far as she was concerned) very serious anti-drug message.

1990: Barbara Bush is the first First Lady to appear on Sesame Street. Every subsequent First Lady would go on to make an appearance while their husbands were in office.

1992: Presidential nominee Bill Clinton appears on The Arsenio Hall Show, forever endearing himself to millions of young and minority voters. He wore sunglasses and played the saxophone, and called it one of the most important stops on the election trail.

1994: George Bush, Sr. appears on Saturday Night Live one year after his Presidency ends. He blames Dana Carvey for making people think he’s an outdated catchphrase machine, and then says all the catchphrases Carvey made famous.

2000: After a long and tumultuous election, George W. Bush is elected President of the United States. When asked, many Americans claim they voted for him because he seemed like the better guy to share a beer with.

2003: Al Sharpton hosts SNL while making a bid to become the Democratic nominee for President in 2004.

2003: John Edwards announces his candidacy for President of the United States on The Daily Show. Jon Stewart replies, “Someone should have told you…this is a fake show.”

2004: Barack Obama gives a speech at the Democratic National Convention that instantly has people praising his charisma. Obama arguably receives more national news coverage than that year’s democratic candidate, John Kerry.

2004: Donald Trump hosts Saturday Night Live over a decade before his Presidential aspirations seem at all a possibility.

2005: Senator Obama appears on The Daily Show for the first time, and Jon Stewart quips Obama is the only person more overhyped than he is. Obama agrees and they both laugh.

2006: Senator Obama appears on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

2008: Senator Obama, along with Hillary Clinton and John McCain, all appear in videos on WWE Monday Night Raw to thank the company for their continued Tribute To The Troops specials.

2008: Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain appear on Last Comic Standing in the form of comedic attack ads approved by their campaigns.

2009: President Obama becomes the first sitting President to appear on The Tonight Show.

2009: Michelle Obama follows her husband as the first First Lady on late night, appearing on The Jay Leno Show.

2009: Several episodes of The Real World: D.C. focus on cast members watching President Obama give speeches, with the content revolved around their political action in the immediate wake of his words.

2009: President Obama becomes the first sitting President to appear on The Late Show with David Letterman.

2009: President Obama appears as a guest on The Colbert Report. Although only the second President to exist in the show’s short run, he’s still the first to make an appearance.

2009: President Obama appoints actor Kal Penn as the Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement.

2010: Barack Obama returns to The Daily Show and becomes the first sitting President to appear on the show as a guest.

2010: President Obama appears on WWE television again, the first sitting President to do so. He again thanks them for their Tribute To The Troops specials.

2010: President Obama appears on MythBusters to request the hosts try and bust one of his favorite myths.

2011: President Obama and his wife Michelle are the first sitting President and First Lady to be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey.

2012: Michelle Obama guest stars in an episode of the children’s show iCarly.

2012: President Obama becomes the first sitting President to guest on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

2012: President Obama becomes the first President to allow users of Reddit to “Ask Me Anything.” He ends his session by quoting an Internet meme and saying he found the ordeal “not bad.”

2012: Vice President Joe Biden appears as himself on Parks & Recreation.

2012: Michelle Obama becomes the first First Lady to appear on The Daily Show.

2012: First Lady Michelle Obama becomes the first sitting resident of the White House to read a clue on Jeopardy!

2013: President Obama is interviewed on an open Google Chat with VlogBrothers, and quotes the ‘Brothers’ catchphrase, “Don’t forget to be awesome,” causing the phrase to become the number one trend on Twitter.

2013: First Lady Michelle Obama announces the winner of Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

2014: President Obama is a guest on the highly satirical parody of talk shows, Between Two Ferns with Zach Galafianakis.

2014: President Obama is the first sitting President to appear on Ellen.

2014: First Lady Michelle Obama appears as herself on an episode of Parks & Recreation.

2014: First Lady Michelle Obama appears as herself on an episode of Nashville.

2014: First Lady Michelle Obama appears as herself on an episode of Jessie.

2015: President Obama appears on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

2015: President Obama sends a video message to the Grammy Awards to prevent violence against women.

2015: President Obama appears on Shark Tank and presents co-host Daymond John with a Presidential Ambassadorship.

2015: President Obama ventures into the Alaskan wilderness with survival expert Bear Grylls on Running Wild with Bear Grylls.

2015: President Obama plays the role of a comedian getting coffee with Jerry Seinfeld on Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee.

2015: First Lady Michelle Obama asks random people on the street questions for Billy On The Street with Billy Eichner.

2015: First Lady Michelle Obama partners with CollegeHumor and comedian Jay Pharaoh to write and perform a rap song called “Go to College.”

2016: Donald Trump hosts Saturday Night Live again, and it gets called the most controversial episode in show history before it even airs. Larry David trivializes the true fact Donald Trump is a racist by saying it to his face for a laugh.

2016: President Obama appears on American Idol to implore people to vote. For the real election, not just the show.

2016: President Obama and his wife Michelle become the first President and First Lady to present one of the nominees at the Tony Awards.

2016: First Lady Michelle Obama appears as herself on NCIS.

2016: First Lady Michelle Obama appears with James Corden on The Late Late Show to perform Carpool Karaoke.

2016: Donald Trump, a businessman via inheritance and former reality TV star best known for his horrible attitude and extravagant wealth, could be shockingly close to becoming the President of the United States despite a complete lack of any relevant experience in politics.

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Lucas Wesley Snipes is a writer, improviser, and standup comedian living in Los Angeles. He is also a trained trapeze artist, which he loves telling people.
Lucas Wesley Snipes
Lucas Wesley Snipes
Lucas Wesley Snipes is a writer, improviser, and standup comedian living in Los Angeles. He is also a trained trapeze artist, which he loves telling people.