Each year, Washington organizers put out a call for the district's funniest celebrity. And each year, what comes back is something of a groaner. It’s nobody’s fault, really. I mean, let’s be honest, D.C. isn’t exactly fertile ground for hilarity. Seriously, when was the last time you laughed uncontrollably about … health care? (“Go ahead, take end-of-life counseling! Really, take it!”)
Last night was this year’s contest, an annual gathering of politicos, media types, and lobbyists exchanging a few homemade one-liners. The whole production is what might charitably be given an “A for effort." The lineup included Rep. Jackie Speier, U.S. News's Anna Mulrine, and chef Geoff Tracy. We don’t need to name names of who cracked jokes to crickets. We know it’s tough to get in front of a crowd and poke fun at yourself, especially when your job is to make people take you seriously. And plus, the event actually is designed as a charity benefit, so it’s all apparently for a good cause.
Still, there was at least one eyebrow-raising moment of the evening. Samuel (Joe the Plumber) Wurzelbacher took the stage to vie for the “Washington’s Funniest Celebrity” title. Odd only because Wurzelbacher doesn’t live in Washington and the “celebrity” label is borderline at best. But with the distinct advantage of being from outside the Beltway, he turned out to be not terribly funny either. He opened with a few shots at President Obama, then riffed on a fictional storyline about how he’s not just an average plumber but in fact the secret brother of Karl Rove, dispatched to middle-class America last year to throw a stick in the spoke of Obama’s campaign. (Go on, laugh, we’ll wait.)
There were, however, some contenders who rose to the challenge. Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist, who spends his days talking about tax reform (we know, hilarious!), abandoned the political-joke line to poke fun of his new life as a dad, which was fresh and original. We also tip our hat to Washington Congressman Rick Larsen, who certainly went farther out on a limb than many of his colleagues would have, and was rewarded with big laughs. Commenting on one of his Democratic colleagues who voted against the Democrat-introduced resolution to censure Rep. Joe ("You Lie!") Wilson, Larsen suspected that his colleague "just wanted to preserve his right to call the next Republican president a dumbs--t." Then, remarking on how much campaign cash Wilson has raised─more than $2 million─since his outburst, Larsen cracked: “Now Tim Pawlenty is wondering, ‘What do I have to call Obama to finance my president election bid in 2012?’” Funny, as with most comedy, because it’s probably true.
White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee ended up taking home the top prize, a mantle formerly held by Mike Huckabee and Rep. Linda Sanchez. To his credit, he did without the traditional setup-and-punch-line format, instead delivering a self deprecating monologue about the Obama administration and their immediate priorities after the campaign ("all Clinton people get their jobs back"). He also made stops to poke fun at John McCain's campaign and Fox News. Then, he wrapped up with a plea: "Have some sympathy for the unemployed because when Rahm Emanuel sees
my comments from tonight, I am going to be one of them," he cracked. Not shabby for an econ policy wonk. Go easy on him, Rahm.