Iowa — I didn’t travel six hours to Iowa via Ford Fusion Hybrid looking for laughs (though I did have high hopes Sam and Allison, the other Daily staffers I was with, would be able to crack a couple jokes over the course of the trip).
We were there to cover the impending presidential caucus, after all — a serious matter, no doubt. Feb. 1, Iowa voters will have the first turn in voting for who will be the presidential nominee for each party. And with the races neck and neck on both sides, there isn’t too much for any candidate to laugh about. It’s a serious race to rally as many voters as possible to get out and vote, since whoever wins in Iowa has the momentum for the coming primaries and caucuses.
However, when reflecting on the events I attended this past weekend, it became evident to me how important comedy is when campaigning. All three candidates I saw — former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump — all invoked humor in some form, be it through quips or prepared lines, during their events.
As someone who enjoys comedy in most mediums and because I think I’m funny myself (character flaw, sorry), I place an added importance on the candidates’ abilities to be humorous. To me, humor is a sign of intelligence, especially in the form of off-the-cuff lines. If candidates use it right, it is an excellent way to connect with voters, especially with people they have little in common with. Because as much as I want to hear about policy from the candidates (How will you keep us safe from ISIS?!?), I also want to know they’re human and, even in serious times, I don’t want them to always take themselves so seriously.
Clinton started her event strong on humor. Because there was a technical error that didn’t allow a short montage to play, immediately after she walked in, she told the crowd of 200, “We had a video we were going to show you, but we had a technical difficulty, so you’ll just have to settle for me.”
Though she loses points for laughing at her own joke, to me that quip represents an endearing sense of self-loathing. I’d like to believe she hadn’t had that line pre-planned.
The jokes didn’t end there, though. Luckily for Clinton, this past weekend played right into her hands. Given that the town hall I attended was in Clinton, Iowa, I think everyone saw this joke coming from a mile away:
“I’m pretty excited about being here in Clinton County. You didn’t have to name it, I would have come anyway.”
Unbelievably corny? Yes, but it was absolutely necessary that she told it.
Though the rest of her speech didn’t contain really any more jokes worth noting, Clinton shined in the Q&A portion of the event.
When someone in the audience brought up how Fox News has been hammering her about her age, she responded with a smile, “They say nearly anything about me, I gotta tell you.”
She then continued with a funny story about how her mom watched Fox News, and when Clinton would ask why she kept watching, her mom replied, “Well I gotta know what they’re saying so I’m ready.” Laughter, including Clinton’s, filled the room.
And while discussing the role her husband, Bill Clinton, would play in her administration, she said, “The other day I said, ‘Well I’ll test him out, see how he does. You can start talking at the kitchen table, and if it’s good, we’ll go from there.’ ”
There were plenty of other solid lines, even better than that one, but ultimately what I gained was that through those lines, I was given a sliver a hope that, underneath the years of being a politician and being paid by Wall Street to give speeches, there remains a real, down-to-earth person.
Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, displayed more sarcastic humor, and he used it to give validation to his campaign and his supporters.
“In the last couple of weeks of campaigns, a lot of things are said, a lot of comments are made and you’ll be shocked to know that not all of them are true. I know that I shock you when I say that,” Sanders said dryly. “And one of the myths that is being perpetrated by the Clinton campaign is ‘Well you know, Bernie Sanders is a nice guy, he combs his hair beautifully … GQ kind of guy. But despite all of those fantastic attributes, he just can’t win. He can’t defeat the Republican candidates in November.’ ”
This isn’t just classic old Jewish man humor (trust me, I know from experience), but it was an effective way to immediately engage the audience before he dove into discussing his platform. And though he didn’t use much humor throughout the rest of his stump, his emphatic hand gestures drew plenty of smiles.
As for Trump, well, I kind of had to imagine the whole thing as one big comedy act for my own sanity. Though he did have a couple good lines about Ted Cruz, one being: “Look, you know who’s going to approve the (Keystone Pipeline) deal fast? Ted Cruz. He’s from Canada!”
Other than that, I’m not sure I’ve ever been so scared for the future of this country (still debating whether the tipping point was when a Trump supporter told Sam and me, “(Trump) knows so much, he just hasn’t told us yet” or when Trump had everyone look at the media standing in back and called us “sleazebags”), but I digress.
Of course, when voting for who you want to be the next president of the United States, it matters to vote based on what values you have and policies you agree with (duh). But we can’t forget we’re voting for a person, a complex entity of emotion and past experiences.
So the way I see it, seeing who can get the most laughs makes a difference.
Derek Wolfe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.