Despite all the furor about Mike Huckabee’s misguided attempt at humor at last Friday’s NRA meeting, I don’t for a minute think he meant the punch line to refer to an assassination attempt. In case you’ve forgotten the story (thanks to the four-day delay between news events and Runes postings thereon), the former Republican presidential candidate was in the middle of a speech when he was interrupted by a loud noise offstage. Quipped the Huckster: “That was Barack Obama. He just tripped off a chair. He was getting ready to speak and somebody aimed a gun at him, and he dove for the floor.”
According to Yahoo News, “there were only a few murmurs in the crowd” after the remark. Man, Mike, if you can’t get laughs with a joke about a liberal Democrat being frightened by a gun at a freakin NRA meeting, you can’t get laughs anywhere.
Be that as it may. Huckabee may be a doofus, but he was guilty of nothing more sinister than shameless pandering. He thought the NRA audience would wet themselves laughing at the idea of Obama diving to the floor at the very sight of a gun. He thought he was playing to a crowd of Bubbas who would guffaw and snort “That’s right—them libruls is a-skeered of firearms!”
But the tepid reaction would seem to point toward a crowd with a slightly more sophisticated sense of humor, a crowd that felt uncomfortable about the suggestion of violence aimed at a presidential candidate, a crowd that probably wondered how the hell one goes about tripping off a chair.
Now, I don’t want to give the NRA meeting attendees more credit than they deserve—for all I know they all reached for their concealed weapons as soon as they heard the noise backstage. I also hate to let Huckabee off the hook for buying in to the whole “Gun lovers good, liberals bad” horseshit. But dammit, I know a little bit about humor. I’ve been writing and performing comedy in some form for most of my life, and there’s a lesson here I can’t pass up, even when it helps a pipsqueak like Huckabee. (There’s a precedent for this. In the April 14, 2007 edition of the Runes, I offered Ronald Reagan an easy fix that would have greatly improved his lame joke about bombing the Soviet Union and would have made it actually funny. My advice went unheeded, presumably because Reagan had died sometime during his second administration.)
Anyway, Huckabee, listen up. Next time you’re at an NRA meeting and there’s a loud noise backstage, here’s what you do. No, wait—here’s what you don’t do: You don’t make any kind of reference to someone aiming a gun at Barack Obama. Got that? It’s rude, it’s unfunny, and it doesn’t look good coming from someone who purports to be a Christian. No, here’s what you do instead: You misrepresent the Democratic Party’s position on gun control, and build the humor on that. (Don’t worry—it’s not hard to do. It’s second-nature to most Republican candidates and pretty much all right-wing pundits.)
OK, ready? Here comes your improved joke. There’s a loud noise backstage, and you say “Hey, that must have been Barack Obama trying to take someone’s gun away from him.” Rimshot. Adjust tie. Big laughs. And if you’re feeling confident in your timing, wait a beat and then say “And tripping off a chair.”
Now, I know I’ve said in the past that verisimilitude is the essence of humor. It has to sound real to be funny. But in this case, don’t worry. Misrepresenting what your opponents believe in will sound real enough to the sort of people who would invite you to speak to them anyway.