Did you hear the one about how political humor keeps us sane?


The year, 2025. News flash: The federal government announced today that purchasers of baseball bats and hammers must first undergo a background check and receive 20 hours of training on their proper use and handling.

Ah, there’s nothing like a good political joke. And that was nothing like a good political joke.

Politics has been helping comedians earn a living since there were politicians. “A Tory and a Whig walk into a bar…”

Political humor thrives because we are a nation divided. If you’re a conservative, you love jokes about liberals:

“In his farewell speech to the Senate, John Kerry spoke for 51 minutes about Washington being gridlocked. The cause of the gridlock? Senators giving 51-minute speeches.” — Jay Leno.

If you’re a liberal, you howl at jokes about conservatives:

“Today is the first day of Black History Month. Or, as Republicans call it, February.” — Bill Maher.

If you’re an independent, you laugh at everybody:

“To celebrate his birthday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent two pounds of candy to every child in the country. Which explains why Honey Boo Boo has applied for dual citizenship.” — Jimmy Fallon.

Jon Stewart of The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report have gotten rich with cracks like this one, by Mr. Stewart: ”I celebrated Thanksgiving the old-fashioned way. I invited everybody in the neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.”

Presidential humor abounds. Asked at a White House press conference to comment on a resolution by the Republican National Committee that called him a failure, President John Kennedy responded: “I’m sure it was passed unanimously.”

A teenager at a campaign stop asked Mr. Kennedy how he became a war hero. “It was involuntary,” he said. “They sank my boat.”

JFK once began a speech with this story: “I was almost late here today, but I had a very good taxi driver who brought me through the traffic jam. I was going to give him a very large tip and tell him to vote Democratic, and then I remembered some advice Senator Green had given me, so I gave him no tip at all and told him to vote Republican.”

President Ronald Reagan’s humor, often self-deprecating, was part of his charm. Already a senior citizen when he ran for re-election in 1984 against Walter Mondale, he said at a debate that age should not be an issue in the campaign: “I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

His lighter side occasionally had an edge to it. “I notice,” Mr. Reagan said, “that everyone who supports abortion has already been born.”

Abraham Lincoln loved a good laugh. “If this is coffee,” he once observed, “please bring me some tea. If this is tea, please bring me some coffee.”

Like Mr. Reagan, President Lincoln also enjoyed making fun of himself and his image. During one of his 1858 debates with Stephen Douglas, he responded to an insult with the following: “I leave it to you, my audience. If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”

It’s human nature to laugh at our leaders. It helps keep us sane.

Unfortunately, political humor can turn dark. Calamity always produces a round of fresh jokes. A school shooting, a plane crash, a tsunami, an economic crisis, you name it, and the lowlifes who hide behind the protective cloak of the Internet are all over it — anonymously, of course, and always in the worst of taste.

I ignore those and laugh instead at the hilarity of the late George Carlin: “In America, anyone can become president. That’s the problem.”

My favorite political joke?

Pete Rose, Lance Armstrong, and Joe Biden all die on the same day. They arrive at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter escorts Mr. Rose to a nearby cabin, pushes him in, and locks the door from the outside.

Inside, Mr. Rose encounters several hissing snakes. A voice comes over the intercom: “Pete Rose, in your lifetime, you have sinned. You must spend eternity in the company of these snakes.”

St. Peter then escorts Mr. Armstrong to a cabin next to Mr. Rose’s, pushes him in, and locks the door from the outside. Mr. Armstrong is confronted by seven gorillas thumping their chests.

The intercom: “Lance Armstrong, in your lifetime, you have sinned. You must spend eternity in the company of these gorillas.”

St. Peter leads Mr. Biden to a third cabin. He opens the door, pushes him in, and locks the door from the outside. In the corner, Marilyn Monroe reclines on a sofa.

The voice comes on the intercom: “Marilyn Monroe, in your lifetime you have sinned…”

Thomas Walton is the retired editor and vice president of The Blade. His column appears every other Monday. His commentary, “Life As We Know It,” can be heard each Monday at 5:44 p.m. on WGTE-FM 91.

Contact him at: twalton@theblade.com