What: The latest proof that politicians (especially conservative ones) should not try their hands at humor.
Who: Mike Pence, Ted Cruz.
Why we care: It’s a good thing Mike Huckabee exists. Otherwise it would be hard to decide who is the most aggressively unfunny politician in the United States. Huckabee got some competition for the crown this week, though, from Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.
Let’s start with Cruz. The famously unsettling, porn-tweeting Texan has long been the subject of an actually funny joke: the idea that he enjoys a secret double life as the Zodiac Killer (so much so that the joke has its own Wikipedia page). Whether or not Cruz actually is the Zodiac Killer, he definitely committed murder on Wednesday when he killed this beloved meme forever by embracing it.
Happy Halloween pic.twitter.com/jIgTaIMzep
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) October 31, 2018
Cruz’s (wait for it) stab at humor is an attempt to prove that he’s in on the longest-running joke about him. A very crafty adviser probably suggested that this would be a good way of currying favor with millennials, those voters most likely to have heard of the meme. At the same time, though, this is a U.S. senator acknowledging that a substantial number of people regularly joke about him coming across as a creepy weirdo. It’s a self-own masquerading as self-deprecating humor–and unlike the actual Zodiac, Cruz doesn’t get away with it.
Next, there’s Mike Pence, who on Thursday morning inelegantly dusted off an Anchorman quote at a campaign event for Georgia gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp.
“I heard Oprah was in town today. And I heard Will Ferrell was going door to door the other day,” Pence said. “Well, I’d like to remind Stacey and Oprah and Will Ferrell–I’m kind of a big deal, too.” The crowd makes some noise and then, exactly unlike any halfway decent funny person would ever think of doing, Pence leans in and asks, “Did you get that?”
Leaving aside the fact that simply quoting a 15-year-old movie and having to ask if anyone got the hi-LAR-ious reference isn’t inherently funny, the thing that’s so galling about the line is that Mike Pence is most certainly not kind of a big deal. In the past two years, his most memorable moment was that time he spent a quarter million in taxpayer money flying to a football game just so he could pointedly walk out in protest. What else has he done, apart from spewing LGBTQ and women hate as Trump’s cheerleader-in-chief? He’s shown about as much true leadership as the DJ in any late-’90s nü-metal band.
At least his idea of humor appears to be slightly less mean-spirited than that of his boss, who joked last Saturday about almost cancelling his political rally, not because of the most deadly attack on American Jews in history, but because he was having a bad hair day. Jokes are the language of the oppressed, not the oppressors, which is why conservatives in power should give them up.
“It’s almost like humor is one of the last things people surrender,” Veep creator Armando Iannucci told me earlier this year. “You’re still telling yourself you have a bit of freedom left because you’re making jokes about the person pointing a gun at you.”