Alex Witt   |  April 27, 2013

How to handle comedy in the wake of tragedy

In-house comedic speechwriter for former President Bill Clinton, Mark Katz, joins Alex Witt and discusses The Funniest Speech Bill Clinton Never Gave. Katz discusses the comedy in the wake of tragedy and Conan O’Brien’s performance ant the White House Correspondent’s Dinner.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> the white house correspondents dinner kicks off about twelve hours or so from now here in washington. when president obama is expected to deliver a speech that includes some humor. but for one former presidential speech writer , the day is remembered for a speech that was never delivered. joining me now is political humorist mark katz who was the in-house comedic speech yeutter for president bill clinton . welcome, mark. i know you've got this new piece in the daily beast about what you call the funniest speech bill clinton never gave. and you write about how the white hou white house decided against giving your speech in 1995 because it was only ten days after the oklahoma city bombing and they were concerned it was too funny. so could that happen again with the boston bombing?

>> i think more accurately it was the best speech he never gave. because for the fact that he never gave it, he gave another speech that really kind of tapped in to his -- his -- an eloquent voice that kind of gave voice to our -- our national resolve to fight terrorism. so this is a, you know, each white house correspondents dinner attempts to be the exact right comic rhetoric to its particular moment in time. and this is a particularly tricky moment in time just like 1995 was.

>> yeah. well, but timing wise, because i know the president did give that speech though he did it to a slightly smaller audience. what was the reaction when he did?

>> which speech? the speech --

>> the speech that he never gave or the best speech he never gave.

>> the president, in an act of kindness, found out that the speech we'd been working on for the -- for over a week was not going to be delivered, he invited me back in to the oval office , where he delivered the speech to me, for my benefit.

>> aw.

>> so i so i can say i've been pitied at the highest level.

>> listen, we all can't help but remember mayor rudy giuliani . he went on "saturday night live" after 9/11 and told new yorkers it's okay to laugh again.

>> the tricky part is finding the right moment. for a president it's even trickier. tonight conan o'brien will be the comedian but there will be only one president in the room. people will be looking to him to find the right note. it's no easy thing. but i'm sure in the white house they've been trying to figure this out all week long and i'm sure they went back and read president clinton 's 1995 speech he did deliver and write himself to the white house correspond's dinner and i encourage people to go and look it up because it's a stirring speech. i'm sure that in the white house they've reread it. experienced those tingles and goose bumps .

>> we have 12 hours or so. i'm sure it will be a great speech. mark