Jokers have last laugh on Dole

The US presidential candidates are a rich source of humour for TV show hosts, writes John Carlin

Washington - Bill Clinton and Bob Dole will soon be unveiling their television advertisements for this year's pres- idential elections but, try as each may to portray himself in a solemn light, they will battle to overcome the caricature perceptions fixed in the voters' minds by the jokes on America's popular late-night television shows.

Hardly a night goes by without David Letterman, Jay Leno or Conan O'Brien - television hosts who enjoy almost as much name recognition as the two candidates - venturing a wisecrack about Mr Clinton or Mr Dole. Clinton jokes depict the President as a womaniser, or a junk food glutton, or both. Dole jokes present the challenger, who turned 73 on Monday, as testy, wooden and ancient.

"A Swiss company has announced that it is now making 100 per cent safe breast implants made from vegetable oil," began Leno of NBC. "That is going to take a lot of will-power for Clinton to pass up, don't you think? I mean, a woman with large breasts who smells like a French fry?"

Leno managed there to wrap the Clinton stereotypes into one. Letterman - Leno's rival on CBS - hit upon a clumsier formula to do the same to Mr Dole. Included in Letterman's list of the "Top Ten Highlights" of Mr Dole's recent appearance on CNN's Larry King Live were: "Bob pulled out his teeth and made them chatter on Larry's desk"; "Bob kept snapping Larry's suspenders and barking, 'Stay awake, punk!'"; "While attempting to smile. Bob sprained his face."

Funny or not, there is no doubting the impact television humour will have on an election whose outcome, given the candidates' failure so far to demarcate clear positions on the issues, is expected to depend on the "character" question. According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 25 per cent of American adults, and 40 per cent of those under 30, said that television humour would influence their electoral choices.

So far Mr Clinton is way ahead of Mr Dole in the opinion polls. A poll published yesterday by USA Today merely confirmed the findings of three polls last week, that Mr Clinton is a clear 20 percentage points ahead. In terms of the humour index, this would suggest that the people polled are more comfortable with the idea of a likeable young bounder in the White House than with a venerable old bumbler.

Also acting against Mr Dole - and this may change as the campaign wears on - is the fact that most of the Clinton jokes have been done before, whereas, the Kansas senator being newer on the presidential scene, Dole jokes provide a richer vein for the humorists to tap.

Worst of all for Mr Dole, in a country where winning is everything and voters do not like to be associated with a loser, more and more jokes are beginning to appear that make fun of his plummeting ratings.

Mr Clinton is laughing now. But the tide may turn, especially if more White House scandals emerge of the type that prompted this Letterman joke in his "top ten surprises in the O J Simpson video": "Number five: the revelation that the gloves are Hillary's size."

Whatever new directions the television jokes take, one thing for sure is that they will continue to proliferate all the way up to polling day on 5 November. They are likely to have at least as much influence as the state of the economy and US foreign relations in determining who will lead the world's most powerful nation into the next century.

I say, I say ...

Letterman, CBS: "A Japanese inventor has developed a robot that can simulate five human facial expressions. Now, I know you're saying to yourself, 'that's three more than Bob Dole can make'."

Conan O'Brien, NBC: "I don't know how we got hold of this ... written by the psychiatrist who treats Bob Dole. Take a look at this note. It says, 'Earliest childhood memory: father carried away by pterodactyl'."

Letterman: "Steve Forbes, the wacky billionaire, finished second, and he said, 'Well, the problem is I just could not compete with the Bob Dole machine'. And I'm thinking, what is that? Respirator or dialysis?"

Letterman, again, on Mr Dole's Larry King performance: "The show was apparently a huge success. Everything went great for him. It was so successful, in fact, Dole only dropped eight points in the polls."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones