President Biden’s first 100 days in office, a milestone he reached this week, had its fair share of ups and downs—including one very memorable down in an upward direction.
While supporters crow about 200 million vaccinated Americans and a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, and critics slam the airstrike on Syria and juvenile detention centers at the border, Biden’s gnarly fall while bounding up the steps of Air Force One turned out to be a secret success in his presidency.
President Joe Biden trips climbing the stairs to Air Force 1 pic.twitter.com/x8UD7q0a48
— The Hill (@thehill) March 19, 2021
On Friday, March 19, the commander in chief tripped and fell not once but three times in a failed effort to smoothly command a staircase. I mean, he really ate it. Hard. Not since Jason Derulo purportedly tumbled down the steps at the Met Gala in 2015 has such a brutal biffing been so public. But rather than define Biden, as even less of a fall did for Gerald Ford, this little spill only served to further humanize the perhaps already-too-human president, and give media the opportunity to defy its expected bias.
Before Biden (briefly) broke his campaign promise about raising America’s refugee cap, the staircase fall was an inconsequential instance of universal unflattering media coverage. Despite Fox News predictably grousing about mainstream media “completely ignoring” it, the incident landed everywhere from TMZ to The Washington Post to The New York Times. Instead of exposing a media apparatus conspiring to prop up an enfeebled president, the vicious coverage on Fox News mainly highlighted a contrast with the network’s own defensive coverage of Donald Trump’s careful walk down a ramp last summer—which took place amid Trump’s frequent disparaging of Biden’s mental and physical health—and an abrupt, forever-unexplained visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in 2019.
Right-wingers were so eager to complain about the supposed hypocrisy, and speculate on Biden’s physical ability to serve, some of them seemed to ignore the fact that Biden’s fall was very funny.
To be clear, a man of Biden’s advanced years falling down is not inherently funny, and any condition that makes a person more inclined to fall down is never funny. However, the cartoonish way Biden went down, and especially the amount of times he kept falling, puts it firmly into slapstick territory.
Late-night comedy shows certainly seemed to think so, anyway.
“This week kinda felt like Biden on those stairs,” Colin Jost said during Saturday Night Live. “You thought it had to get better, but then it got repeatedly worse.”
Seth Meyers joked about it, too, and so did Jimmy Fallon as well as Stephen Colbert. Jimmy Kimmel would’ve probably gotten a joke in as well, but his show was in reruns that week. Perhaps he’ll crack one later, though. Biden’s fall was so singularly wince-worthy, it has the potential to be a running gag for years to come. For instance, Meyers revisited it as a punchline a month after his initial joke, while taking Biden to task on the refugee controversy.
These hosts likely weren’t just glad to prove that they’re perfectly capable of making fun of presidents whose names aren’t Donald Trump; they’re probably also grateful that this president is already giving them material.
The gaffe-prone Biden may be something of a caricature to begin with, but his first 100 days in office were mostly devoid of mockable moments. With his limited visibility and flurry of legislative activity and executive orders—not to mention conservatives’ concurrent, kooky obsession with Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head—Biden wasn’t feeding late-night hosts any red meat. (Little did they know then that conservatives would soon raise the fear that Biden would be rationing everyone’s red-meat consumption.)
The situation was not unlike the start of President Obama’s first term. “I’ve got to admit, as a comedian, I’m going to miss President Bush, because Barack Obama is not easy to do jokes about, he doesn’t give you a lot to go on,” Jay Leno was quoted as saying in one of the many articles about the difficulty of making fun of Obama early on. (“See, this is why God gave us Joe Biden,” Leno prophetically added.) It wasn’t until the so-called beer summit, six months into Obama’s presidency, that those hosts started to figure out some ways to crack jokes about him.
Comedians don’t need an instruction manual for mocking the eminently mockable Biden; they just need an occasion. While the fall seen ’round the world definitely presented them with one, it also highlighted why that opportunity didn’t drag on for very long, as critics such as Donald Trump allege it would have, had the fall happened to, say, Donald Trump.
In an outraged post about the media hypocritically making too big a deal about Trump’s ambling walk down a ramp last year, Fox News neglected to include how Trump himself exacerbated the incident by tweeting this: “The ramp that I descended after my West Point Commencement speech was very long & steep, had no handrail and, most importantly, was very slippery. The last thing I was going to do is ‘fall’ for the Fake News to have fun with. Final ten feet I ran down to level ground. Momentum!”
Biden apparently never felt the need to defend his precious vanity after a plurality of Americans witnessed him bust ass on that staircase over and over again, like Sideshow Bob stepping on rakes. Either he knew that doing so would only further protract the story, or he was more concerned with passing a massive infrastructure bill. The result is the same either way.
In one fell swoop—emphasis on fell—Biden managed to further establish a contrast with his predecessor, show some humility, give comedians joke-ammunition for days, and chip away at the myth of media favoritism.
As a character once awkwardly put it in the political funhouse-mirror world of Veep, “Sometimes you gotta go down to go up.”