Wednesday night here in Washington will bring the annual Radio and Television Correspondents Association’s dinner. It’s a fancy affair, showcasing the glitterati of media, politics, and celebrityhood all decked out in stunningly drab D.C. formalwear. The dinner features back slapping, glad-handing, and watered-down rail drinks. And jokes. Lots of jokes. At least, the media’s idea of jokes.
Presidents traditionally make elaborate comedy presentations at the spring media dinner. Overly produced President Clinton routinely killed, and President Bush has bravely followed in his shoes, and has been very funny, too.
I’ve regularly attended these dinners, and have secretly wished I could write jokes for the president to tell. I’ve been ready and willing, but various White Houses have never called upon me. This year, I’m taking a different tack. Rather than waiting for the phone call that never comes, I’m going ahead and just writing up a sample routine for public display. President Bush is welcome to use any of these jokes at any of the media dinners, and I’ll graciously waive my usual fee (one day I’ll have to come up with one).
Joke writing is not easy. Neither is joke telling. And the D.C. comedy scene is particularly brutal. Standard, lowest common denominator premises don’t work here. The media demands upscale, sophisticated funny. Self-deprecation is a must, too. The non-stop news cycle requires up-to-the-minute topicality — take my Lewinsky jokes, please! Plus, there’s a certain pitter-patter delivery unique to Washington media/political jokes that’s got to be followed. The rhythm is not really stand-up, and it’s not really story telling. It’s more like, in the immortal words screamed in "Blazing Saddles" — Quicksand!
Below is my humble offering to President Bush. It’s not a whole routine. It’ll get him through the opening few minutes. The rest is up to him — or John Kerry’s gag writers.
Thank you for that warm welcome.
And thanks to Janet Jackson, tonight’s dinner is on a five-second delay. Here’s how it works. I tell a joke. Then wait five seconds for laughter.
Let me get the right speech here [ruffle papers] ... Bid Laden captured, no that’s October 27th ... at 2 Eastern ... Bob Novak pardoned, no that’s December ... Do solemnly swear to uphold, no got to wait for the formalities to be over ... OK, here it is ...
You know, I didn’t really have to show up tonight. To prove I was here, I could have just released dental records.
My attorney general, John Ashcroft, sends his greetings. He wishes he could attend, but he’s busy having his gall bladder removed ... and sent to Guantanomo Bay.
You’ll be happy to know that Secretary Tommy Thompson approved tonight’s menu. But he didn’t say the meal is healthy. It was more like — "A bunch of reporters? Whatever." ... Tommy’s on a big health kick these days. You should see the display case in the lobby of the Department of Health and Human Services. All those fruits and vegetables. That’s not a federal agency — that’s Cezanne.
I’d like to welcome all the foreign ambassadors and diplomats who’ve joined us. I understand you’re in the back of the room, caucusing for John Kerry.
Senator Kerry claims he was misquoted about foreign leaders wanting him to replace me in the Oval Office. Well, to get to the bottom of it, I called Chirac and Schroeder. They told me Kerry had misquoted them. They’re really for McCain. They’re demanding a recount.
To take the real international pulse, I called Henry Kissinger — but found him too difficult to understand. At last, someone I couldn’t understand. By the way, Dr. Kissinger has a new book out. But be warned — it’s tough to understand it because it’s written in a thick German accent. You know, I hear Dr. Kissinger is busy on his next writing project — subtitles for Governor Schwarzenneger.
By the way, I finally saw "The Passion." It’s so bad, even the Aramaic is lousy.
As you know, I promised to change the tone in Washington. So I like to say a few kind words about my opponent, Mike Dukakis’s lieutenant governor.
There’s been lots of talk among you in the media about John Kerry’s alleged use of Botox. Shame on you media gossips. You’ve misquoted him again. Check your tape recorders: Senator Kerry isn’t pushing the Botox. He’s pushing the Bosox — all the way to the World Series.
Senator Kerry is trying to pick his running mate. I hear he’s floating his old rival, the ambitious senator from North Carolina. Let me float my campaign’s response: John Edwards — too young, for too long.
You all should be proud of me. I’m in a huge hotel ballroom. Lots of rich hot shots here. You’re eating dinner. And I’m not asking for money. I feel so different. More relaxed. Just don’t tell my campaign. I didn’t tell them I’m taking the night off. And I don’t care what you report — I don’t think Republican Chairman Ed Gillespie is devising an overly negative campaign on my behalf. In fact, I’m quite impressed at how restrained he’s been. It’s in Ed’s blood to go negative. I remember one day we were walking down the street. We saw a house. In front of the house was a sign — "For Sale." Ed went up to the house next door and put a sign saying "Against Sale."
I see they’ve discovered a new planet. Sedna. Time to update my State of the Union address. Forget Mars — let’s think bigger. Let’s settle Sedna. But we better hurry — I understand Halliburton’s already there. And Vice President Cheney is calling it his new undisclosed location.
I see C-SPAN is covering tonight’s event. You know, it’s their 25th anniversary. I want to congratulate C-SPAN on 25 years of public service. You call yourselves cable’s gift to America. I and millions of viewers know you better as cable’s gift to insomnia. All the C-SPAN hosts are at one table, huddled together, yellow highlighters at the ready. Those guys love highlighting newspapers. And they stay in practice. Tonight, they’re using yellow highlighter on the dinner program. Back and forth, back and forth. Heck, make it all yellow!
Those are my suggestions to get President Bush started. This last one I would advise the President against using: "Just for fun, I had weapons of mass destruction hidden in the room tonight. If it’s supposed to be so easy, go ahead, see if you can find 'em."
Howard Mortman is a producer for "Hardball with Chris Matthews." He has performed stand-up comedy at the DC Improv.