President Obama’s former joke writer revealed what it was like to write comedy for the most powerful man in the world
There are many qualities to love about Barack Obama. He’s smart. He’s charming. He’s a devoted countryman and family man. And he’s freaking hilarious! With all the dark and depressing headlines the current administration generates, it’s easy to forget that seeing the lighter side of our country’s leader can do A LOT to boost the nation’s morale. Good thing former Obama joke and speech writer David Litt took to the airwaves this week to remind us all of 44’s stellar joke-slinging skills. Because, for real. We need a good laugh.
Appearing on Vulture’s podcast, Good One, about jokes and the comedy writers behind them, Litt, who is now the current head writer at Funny Or Die in D.C., recalls his unique experience bringing the funny for Obama’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner appearances. “It never felt normal to me,” Litt told host Jesse David Fox. “Maybe some people were like, ‘Ah yeah, this is no big deal.’ I never crossed that threshold.”
According to Litt, writing funnies for POTUS and negotiating self-censorship can prove challenging.
"The thing that is very, very different about writing jokes for a president is that, the next day, that person is still the president," said Litt. "So if you say something that breaks some taboo or offends somebody, you’re still on the hook for that."
But Litt credits Obama’s natural confidence, intelligence, and ability to interact with his audience for the success of some of his most well-received yuks. “I always thought he could give a speech where it wasn’t just that you thought, Oh, Obama’s great, but it made you feel really great. And on top of that he has this sense of, Yeah, I’m pretty good and I know it. It was fun to write for somebody who can do both of those things.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=
And who among us didn’t ROFL when Luther, President Obama’s anger translator, the brainchild of comedian Keegan-Micheal Key, appeared alongside the commander-in-chief at 2015’s Correspondents’ Dinner? Litt, who penned the evening’s script with edits from Key, remembers the room as full of tension during the first moments of the now-famous bit.
By the punch, the audience was on its feet, having enjoyed it but also feeling as if something “real” was talked about. For Litt, there’s power in the president being able to laugh at himself and the Correspondents’ Dinner, in particular, provides the perfect opportunity to exercise it.
“That was something that was really exciting about the Correspondents’ Dinners, writing aside,” said Litt. “Just this moment where we got to say, the president of the United States is going to acknowledge, ‘Hey, I’m only human. We’re all here to laugh.’”