Come January, few media outlets will miss President George W. Bush more than Comedy Central. Sure, former President Bill Clinton’s sexual hijinks launched a thousand punch lines, but Bush’s malapropisms and Texas twang were met with glee by the comedy community.
And that was before inspectors failed to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or Bush became the ACLU’s public enemy number one.
So why isn’t Comedy Central’s new DVD compilation of Bush-bashing bits funnier?
Comedy Central Salutes George W. Bush, which hits the shelves today, packages a series of Bush-related original programs together on one disk. The channel would have been better off cobbling together a greatest hits montage from The Daily Show. Jon Stewart is a far cry from fair and balanced, but his comedic batting average is a hundred points higher than the material gathered here.
But audiences may have to take what they can get. Should Sen. Barack Obama get elected, we could be in for four years of hands-off humor. A recent study says late-night comics tell seven times as many GOP-related jokes as Democratic ones. So if the Democrats retake the White House next month, stand-ups will be rediscovering airline food humor. And nobody wants that.
The naughty boys of South Park kick off the disk. Someone inappropriately relieved himself in the boy’s room urinal, and the mystery gets intertwined with Cartman’s 9/11 conspiracy theory.
“I can’t base my logic on proof,” the tubby pre-teen says before pinning the terrorist attacks on his school chum Kyle.
President Bush eventually shows up to claim credit for the 9/11 attacks, explaining all the intricate subterfuge required to pull it off. The episode doesn’t mock Bush as much as it shreds the 9/11 conspiracy movement, a worthy target and one that’s good for a few chuckles.
That’s more than Lil’ Bush delivers. The painfully unfunny show features kiddie versions of Bush and his cabinet. The animation may be smoother than South Park’s but that’s the only advantage Lil’ Bush can boast.
The far-left gags littering the two 15-minute segments don’t lay a glove on the president. The first time Lil’ Cheney bites the head off a chicken and guzzles its blood is mildly amusing, but the gag — and the show — quickly wears thin.
It’s about as deep as Oliver Stone’s W.
The DVD’s oldest segment features a fitfully amusing episode of That’s My Bush. The show, created by South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone, offered a neat twist on presidential politics. Instead of razzing Bush, the series tweaked formulaic ’70s sitcoms.
It’s all there. The contrived stage directions, canned laughter, and overwrought acting.
Timothy Bottoms proved an affable Bush, flustered but well meaning, and the show itself kept the political shtick centered. The show wouldn’t last long — one-joke set-ups have a short shelf life — but the caricature of Bush as an ignoramus continues through today.
Some Comedy Central shows assume the worst of Bush and his administration. Take Lewis Black’s The Root of All Evil, a faux courtroom contest in which comics take turns declaring which cultural force is more insidious.
Naturally, the episode included here pits Paris Hilton versus Vice President Dick Cheney. The Hilton gags are the clear winners, with comic Patton Oswalt lamely comparing Cheney to Darth Vader.
Suddenly, Lil’ Bush doesn’t seem so bad.
The disk wraps with some toothless stand-up from Black, Oswalt, and Greg Giraldo, none of whom can channel their disdain for Bush into anything resembling humor.
And then there’s master impressionist Frank Caliendo. The force behind Frank TV does a killer Bush impression, from his precise vocal mimicry to how he contorts his face just like the two-term president.
Caliendo’s too-brief appearance puts the disk’s failings in context. The impressionist’s shtick isn’t mean-spirited. He merely strings a few wry bits together along with his impeccable impressions.
His Comedy Central colleagues are so full of Bush Derangement Syndrome they can’t be bothered to pen punch lines. They figure the audience already despises the commander-in-chief as much as they do, so all the heavy lifting is done ahead of time.
Rage can fuel some pretty profound, and hilarious, comedy. Just ask the late George Carlin or Chris Rock. But few of the comics here use their disdain for the president in a productive fashion.
Comedy Central Salutes George W. Bush isn’t rip-snorting comedy by any definition. It’s far better as a time capsule of how pop culture greeted the arrival of the Texas governor to the White House.
And we might as well enjoy the presidential humor while we can. Does anyone think we’ll be seeing a Lil’ Obama or That’s My Barack television show in the next four years?