Joan Rivers Ditches Michelle Obama “Blackie O” Joke

Comedienne Joan Rivers tells Howard Stern why she ditched a joke calling Michelle Obama "Backie O."

They say that if you have to explain a joke, it’s not funny. Case in point:

Comedienne Joan Rivers revealed she once ditched a joke about First Lady Michelle Obama from her stand-up routine – because she feared she’d be accused of racism.

Recalling the wisecrack to shock Jock Howard Stern, the comedy legend said: “We used to have Jackie O now we have Blackie O!”

[…]Rivers wrote the quip about President Barack Obama’s wife in reference to her fashionable dress sense and comparing her to former First Lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

“I thought it was a funny complimentary joke when she first came (to the White House),” the 77-year-old comedienne told Stern.  “I think it’s an adorable joke… I thought it was a compliment!”

In the interview, Stern and his sidekick Robyn Quivers laughed yet questioned whether Rivers’ joke was racially-motivated.   “Where’s the compliment in that? I’m looking and looking, I’m trying to find it,” Quivers asked Joan.

“They said you can’t say that,” Joan admitted.

It’s a joke that would have been funnier when Rivers was in her prime.   Even now, it would be hilarious if a 6-year-old came up with it.   Otherwise, it’s mild cuteness is overcome by the uncomfortable undertones.

While I’m sure Rivers meant it as a compliment, Quivers, who is black, is probably right:  being compared to Jackie Onassis is overshadowed by the use of the slur, regardless of intention.

Apparently, the larger meme is not original, either.  There were a spate of stories two years ago:  “Michelle O: Suited to be Jackie’s successor” (Politico), “Very Little in Common But That ‘O’” (Newsweek), and “Michelle And Jackie O: Twins Separated At Birth?” (Jezebel).

FILED UNDER: Humor, Race and Politics, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Steve Metz says:

    Since Joan Rivers has all of her other parts replaced with artificial ones, is there any reason to believe that her sensibility has not been as well?

  2. Brainster says:

    Mrs Kennedy/Onassis was a classy woman, so I don’t have any problems finding the compliment. But you’re right, as a joke it would be pretty good from a small child (who would never have heard of Jackie O anyway).

  3. Dave says:

    I’m pretty sure the process of coming up with and then rejecting this joke was featured in the Joan Rivers doc that came out a ways back. (Which is well worth watching, btw.)

  4. michael reynolds says:

    Apropos of: A friend of mine — older guy, very experienced, worldly — attended an event at the WH and went through the line. Shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with Barack and Michelle Obama. He said up close and personal Michelle is just overwhelming, much more beautiful than on TV.

    As for the joke, I heard that interview on Howard. The joke was on the line between funny and cringe. I generally give comics a lot of leeway and agreed with Joan that it was okay. Then again, it wasn’t that funny.

  5. anjin-san says:

    No doubt it will be recycled with great gusto by countless folks on the right, as Maggie Mama does in the current caption contest on OTB.