They run national organizations, they hold congressional seats, and they run for president. They’re smart, driven, and powerful, but are celebrities in Washington funny? Last night, they proved they are—although some more so than others.
The DC Improv hosted the 15th Annual Funniest Celebrity in Washington contest, in which seven notable locals, mainly journalists and politicians, were presented with a stool, a microphone, and a spotlight in front of a tough Washington crowd and a panel of judges. The challenge: to make them laugh. Contestant Jamie McIntyre referred to the event as “the Special Olympics of comedy,” which is appropriate as all proceeds from the event benefitted VSA Arts, an organization that enables people with disabilities to participate in the arts.
Watch James Kotecki’s rap from last night’s event
The preshow buzz over hors d’oeuvres and drinks favored Mike Huckabee for first prize. Finally the lights dimmed and the master of ceremonies, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former contestant Clarence Page, came onstage. After a few charming but bad jokes, it was endearingly clear why he hadn’t won in previous years. After the judges were introduced and the sponsors were thanked, it was time for the comedy.
James Kotecki of Politico filled in for David Shuster of MSNBC with a rap routine that was a rousing mix of Eminem and Jon Stewart. The khaki-sporting, blond-haired, twentysomething entertained the crowd with his clever lyrics and jabs at other contestants, including lines like this: “Huck, you won Iowa eight months ago, / And now you’re here telling jokes at a comedy show. / It’s just survival of the fittest, I don’t mean to be rude/ But now do you believe in evolution, dude?”
Teasing other contestants was a frequently employed humor tactic, as were certain topics, such as Sarah Palin, daughter Bristol Palin’s pregnancy, and Dick Cheney. Motion Picture Association of America president Dan Glickman said, in his best joke of the night, “I had no idea when we did that movie Juno, about the pregnant 17-year-old, we were talking about Juneau, Alaska.” Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, used his desert-dry humor to perform a “vicious ridicule of the Bush administration.” Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr was at his comic best with self-deprecating remarks, and Riz Khan from Al Jazeera English told jokes about being a Muslim in post-9/11 society. “I want to know who put me on the billing as ‘explosively funny,’ ” he said.
Finally came the eagerly awaited Mike Huckabee, whose routine centered around his time on the campaign trail. He told funny stories about bad hotels and people mistaking him for someone else, like Mitt Romney. “Sometimes people recognize me, but they don’t know who I am,” he said. “They don’t know if I’m running for president or sold them a used car.”
Huckabee was comfortable onstage and teased the audience after jokes that elicited lukewarm responses: “I used to be a Baptist minister and we are teetotalers, so I don’t usually say this, but please get drunk. Drink heavily, drink your neighbor’s drink if he hasn’t finished it. I promise the jokes will be a lot funnier.”
And so, after two hours of comedy—some good, some bad, some awkward, all political—the judges tabulated their scores and the front-runners were pretty clear. Without much suspense, the winners were announced: Honorable mention went to Norquist, second runner-up to Khan, first runner-up to Kotecki, and, not surprisingly, first prize to Huckabee. The little trophy was handed over, the house lights went on, and the crowd stood to mingle once again, discussing their favorite barbs and congratulating the contestants.