The world's most powerful man had a good laugh at the expense of the world's most famous one this week, as Barack Obama congratulated David Beckham's LA Galaxy team on their recent MLS title win. Obama – or should that be "o'Banter"? – said of Beckham, who is 37, that "half his team-mates could be his kids!" To the amusement of the players and assembled reporters, the President went on: "It is a rare man who can be that tough on the field, and also have his own line of underwear." Luckily for Obama, Becks can take a joke as well as he takes a free kick.
It is true that the former England captain is getting on a bit in footballer years, and will soon be forced to retire. At which point, should he so wish, he could segue straight into a second career as a comedy straight man. For despite a decade and a half of incessant digs about his voice, his haircuts and his dress sense, he seems as game as ever for a roasting. As the years have passed since that sarong, his on-screen confidence has increased so significantly that he's now a favourite plaything of witty chat-show hosts on both sides of the Atlantic, from Jonathan Ross to Ellen DeGeneres.
Witness, via YouTube, the shy, awkward Beckham of 2001 being ribbed by Sacha Baron Cohen as Ali G for Comic Relief. Cohen is at his sharpest, responding to Beckham's first words with the warning: "Just because its Comic Relief doesn't mean you can speak in a silly voice." Unlike his feisty wife, Becks is visibly afraid of rising to his tormentor, recoiling from each joke as if jumping out of a Brazilian tackle. "We've all seen pictures of you wearing clothes that is well embarrassing and make you look like a laughing stock," Cohen says. "Why do you wear that England football shirt?" Beckham, with a straight face, responds: "I'm very proud to play for England."
Cut to Comic Relief 2010, and he's acting in a lengthy skit alongside James Corden as one half of a chaste bromance, somewhere between metrosexual and homosexual. They do each other's nails and hair, they arrange flowers, they take a bath, and then watch weepies together in bed. Beckham is genuinely funny; it's as strong a performance as he's ever put in for Galaxy.
Few people have cracked quite as many jokes about Beckham as his own wife, Victoria, who once famously admitted to calling him – or at least a part of him – "Goldenballs". In an interview with Marie Claire in October 2010, she described coming across Becks in their bedroom, writing emails with no clothes on. "I thought, 'You done good, girl'," she said. "I sure wasn't thinking of his high-pitched voice." (Thus she handily reminded readers of his high-pitched voice.) In Vogue a few months later, she confessed: "The other morning I looked across at David just after he'd woken up, and thought, 'You look really crap'."
Beckham, of course, can handle such slights so deftly because, well, he's David Beckham: talented, good-looking, rich, and rather likeable. Though the jokes appear to be at his expense, they're really intended for his greater glory. The silly voice is simply a rare flaw that puts his qualities in relief. Having your own underwear line might be mildly embarrassing, but having a hand-painted, 220-foot billboard of you in your underwear in midtown Manhattan is kind of cool, actually. When even the President of the United States defers to you as a male role model, you might as well smile.