Robert Gibbs Has a Funny Problem

Today, Politico published a hard-hitting report: "Press Room Laughter Dies Down." No one is laughing any more at Robert Gibbs! But is it because of a change in "tone," or because Robert Gibbs is the least funny person in D.C.?

It's the second one.

Politico has so many reporters milling around their newsroom watching C-Span that they threw three on the task of sifting through White House press briefings and totaling up the number of times reporters laughed at Robert Gibbs' press conferences: In the first six months, there was an average of 179 laughs per month—six laughs per day! And so Gibbs became "the funny press secretary".

How did Robert Gibbs get more laughs than Bush's last two press secretaries plus all post-Happy Gilmore Adam Sandler films combined? Perusing Gibbs' cringe-y comedic output suggests it was the instictive laughter of relief—a bunch of reporters surprised and delighted to find they had emerged from the class 5 hurricane of the Bush era relatively unscathed. God knows we also wandered the streets for months after the election, deliriously cackling at bums and trees. Ha ha! We made it! But now that everything has settled in, the press corps is able to see Gibbs for the hack that he is: In its second six months, The Robert Gibbs Show generated just 89 laughs/month. (For comparison, a "top stand-up comedy set" gets "a minimum of 4-6 laughs per minutes.")

Gibbs' crack wit was on display most recently with his dig at Sarah Palin's "hand-written" notes:

What could have been a decent bit was made unwatchable by Gibbs' hokey delivery. Look at me, guys—I'm making a funny! Sarah Palin's own hand-gate gag—conspicuously writing "Hi Mom" on her hand and waving it around at cameras—was way funnier. Palin's was a pretty smart, underhanded jab that turned the media back on itself, where Gates' was a clownish jape meant to please the reporters that are his only reason for existence.

Some clowns are funny—think, Charlie Chaplin—but most are sad. A clown is sad because he is so desperate for laughs that he smears an artificial smile on his face; he is always the first to laugh at his own jokes. And so is Gibbs, as evidenced by this truly funny Politico mash-up, "Gibbs Giggles":

A key rule of comedy is: Never laugh at your own jokes. But it often seems Gibbs is attempting only to amuse himself. Like this aborted gag that starts in Gibbs' own addled brain and ends up bombing with more force than a GBU-28 Bunker Buster missile striking a known Al Qaeda target:

It's just, like, What?

What's sad about this is that the Q & A format of a White House presser is perfectly-suited for jokes: Gibbs has got a couple dozen straight-men lobbing set-ups at him for an hour. All he needs to do is knock 'em down. The missed opportunities! Like this exchange:

REPORTER: Chris Wallace called you the biggest bunch of crybabies I've seen in Washington... what's your reaction?
GIBBS: Well... I haven't cried yet! (LAUGHTER)

Here's what he should have said:

Wallace must've been talking about Sasha. Talk about Princess and the Pea. Can't even give her a little ribbing without her running to Michelle, all: 'Wah wah, Gibbs called me 'Little Hitler' again." Jesus, somebody book that girl on O'Reilly so he can scream in her face for forty minutes.

Maybe you don't care about the fact that Robert Gibbs makes Jay Leno look like Mitch Hedberg. But think about this: Gibbs' words are going down in history. Literally! Some of his words will end up in a history book, probably! And if Gibbs is going to make jokes at press conferences—which we are totally in favor of, by the way—he should keep in mind that he is joking on behalf of all the real comedians and writers whose jokes will disappear into the ether. Otherwise, this incredible, real life exchange from a press conference last month will be how our children remember early 21st century comedy:

REPORTER: Robert, I wanted to go back to the broader message of the Massachusetts election. The tone of your comments yesterday seemed to suggest that you were absorbing the message from that and that there was anger and frustration. But does that mean that there's any kind of regrouping going on, any kind of change in the agenda, or is there a feeling that the agenda is perfectly fine as it is but it's just a matter of communicating it better?

MR. GIBBS: No, look, this isn't a "Cool Hand Luke" problem, right? It took a while. Mark, come on, help me out a little bit, right — "failure to communicate."

REPORTER: I had no idea what that meant.