Obama Impersonator Tells Racist Jokes at Republican Conference

I've been arguing for years that what the Republican Party needs is to embrace its crazies and play more to racist elements in its base. It looks like someone's listening.

I’ve been arguing for years that what the Republican Party needs is to embrace its crazies and play more to racist elements in its base. It looks like someone’s listening.

WaPo (“Obama impersonator pulled offstage after making racial, gay jokes at GOP gathering“)

A President Obama impersonator was pulled off the stage Saturday at the Republican Leadership Conference, after telling a string of racially themed jokes about the president.

The impersonator, Reggie Brown, took the stage at the annual presidential cattle call to the Bruce Springsteen song “Born in the USA” — an apparent allusion to the birther controversy. He proceeded to tell a series of off-color jokes poking fun at Obama’s biracial heritage and a gay member of Congress.

Eventually, RLC President and CEO Charlie Davis made the decision to pull him offstage, and a man came onstage to physcially escort Brown off. “I pulled him off the stage,” Davis acknowledged afterward. “I just thought he had gone too far. He was funny the first 10 or 15 minutes, but it was inappropriate, it was getting ridiculous.” Davis added: “We’ve had a great event. Probably the only problem we’ve had was the impersonator.”

A sampling of the racial jokes:

• On Black History Month: “Michelle celebrates the full month. I celebrate half.”

• “My mother loved a black man,” but “she was not a Kardashian.”

• A picture was shown of Obama and the first lady when he took office. The impersonator then showed a picture of what the Obamas will look like when the president leaves office, and it was the characters of Fred Sanford and his sister-in-law, Ethel, from the show “Sanford and Son.”

Race wasn’t the only subject where the impersonator pushed the envelope.

• Of Tim Pawlenty’s decision not to criticize Mitt Romney at Monday’s debate: “[CNN’s] John King served him up a ball softer than Barney Frank’s backside.” (Frank is a gay member of Congress from Massachusetts.)

The Hill (“‘Obama’ pushes the humor limit at GOP leadership conference“):

A fake President Obama addressed the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans Saturday, courtesy of impersonator Reggie Brown.

Brown cut a close likeness to Obama and generally nailed the president’s intonation and diction. Some of his jokes came at the expense of GOP presidential hopefuls, yielding boos from the audience, however.

His jabs at the real President Obama, however, are getting all the attention. “My favorite month is February, Black history month,” the fake Obama said. “Michelle celebrates the full month, and I celebrate half.” “My mother loved a black man and no she was not a Kardashian,” he added.

Fake Obama showed a photo of what how aged he will look at the end of his first term and it was a shot of Sanford from the Sanford and Son.

“You’re welcome for the thriving economy I helped to create,” he said. “You are welcome for the gift of humility I have given to Anthony Weiner.”

“The truth is we need to build tunnels and bridges, that way people will have something to live under or jump off of,” the Obama double said.

He went on to poke fun at House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) skin color and tossed off a Rosy O’Donnell fat joke.

Here’s a video, courtesy C-SPAN:

The “Born in the USA” lead-in is actually funny, in that it could be taken as self-deprecating. In the context of the larger act, though, it looks like pandering to the Birther morons.

The jokes about the economy, Weiner, and Republican candidates were all fair game, too. And, hell, taken on its own the Fred Sanford joke is funny; that presidents age dramatically while in office is standard comedy fare.

We’re well past the point where Barney Frank jokes are funny or appropriate. Dick Armey’s “Barney Fag” gaffe years back pretty much killed it and, frankly, society has long since moved on from sodomy jokes.

The jokes about Obama’s heritage might actually have been hilarious in the right context. For example, they’d have had them rolling in the aisles if Obama himself told them at one of those black tie dinners where presidents become stand-up comics for a few minutes. Chris Rock or Larry Wilmore could likely pull them off, too–especially in front of an Obama-friendly audience. But they’re uncomfortable when used by Obama’s opponents.

It’s true that Reggie Brown himself is African American, which usually confers substantial leeway in racially charged comedy. But context matters. Given the GOP’s tense relations with the black community, they’ve got to be very careful when joking about America’s first black president. Poking fun at his policies, his mannerisms, his golf game, and so forth is fine. But his skin color is a danger zone best avoided.

FILED UNDER: Race and Politics, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor 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.

Comments

  1. DC Loser says:

    It seemed like a good idea at the time.

    But really, these jokes are no different than the ones they tell each other in private.

    I found most of them pretty funny, though.

  2. OzarkHillbilly (used to be tom p) says:

    Republican strategist, Doug Heye, the former RNC communications director, noted after the event, “Wonder why many minorities have problems with GOP? Hiring Obama impersonator to tell ‘black jokes’ at SRLC, for starters. Our own fault.”

    via Steve Benen

  3. Hey Norm says:

    It can get tiring talking about how to cut taxes for the rich…you need some comic relief.

  4. Hey Norm says:

    We often makes jokes to assuage our fears.
    White voters’ share of the electorate dropped from 81 percent in 2000 to 74 percent in 2008.  It’s only going to get worse in 2012. The party of rich white folks is in trouble.

  5. Pete says:

    Norm, I’m no fan of greed, but your obsession with the rich detracts from the debate. How is taxing the rich more going to benefit you, or me? We have a spending problem significantly more acute than a revenue problem. Wouldn’t you agree?

  6. JKB says:

    I’m sorry but could you point out where the jokes are racist? Using race, yes. Ill advised due to the Left’s racer tendencies, yes.

    But racist? They engage no racial stereotypes, exhibit no assertion of racial superiority, nor demonstrate intolerance based on race.

    And the Barney Frank joke, works better when you consider Barney Frank is overweight than obsessing over his sexual orientation.

  7. James Joyner says:

    @JKB: Miscegenation jokes are borderline racist. But perhaps “racially insensitive” is more accurate than “racist” here.

    And, sorry, pudginess is not the first thing that “Barney Frank” brings to mind. “Jerrold Nadler,” maybe.

  8. Tano says:

    We have a spending problem significantly more acute than a revenue problem. Wouldn’t you agree?

    How on earth can you believe that? Since WWII, the average federal government expenditures, as a percentage of GDP, have averaged around 20%. Federal income has been roughly 18-19% (hence persistent deficits). So there has ALWAYS been an income shortfall relative to the spending that the American people want.

    But now, federal income is a tad less that 15%!!!! of GDP. Even if there were no extraordinary spending going on now – even if spending was at, or even below historic post-WWII norms, there would be an enormous deficit, caused by historic LOW federal revenue.

    Now, granted, that federal expenses these past few years are well above the 20% average as well. Some of that is temporary (stimulus, wars that we are easing our way out of). But sure, excessive spending is certainly part of the problem.

    But to claim that it is all of the problem, or that the revenue problem is not at least as significant as the spending problem, is just delusional.

  9. john personna says:

    Race humor is weird. Dave Chappelle did a lot of funny stuff, but ended up conflicted about it. When done right it’s about breaking boundaries and processing societal contradictions. Comedy clubs and cable seem to be the place for that. Group therapy.

    … whoever thought any good could come of bringing that into a Republican event was pretty nuts.

  10. john personna says:

    We have a spending problem significantly more acute than a revenue problem. Wouldn’t you agree?

    Speaking of nuts … it’s nuts to go for the win on which is bigger.

    That says you aren’t interested in balance, just protecting one side.

  11. Hey Norm says:

    Pete…way to parrot the party line. In a word, NO. The Bush tax cuts are the biggest driver of the debt. We have near historic low effective tax rates. The problem is revenue AND spending. Until the fiscal frauds in the republican party understand that they cannot be taken seriously.

  12. James Joyner says:

    @Pete and @Hey Norm: Let’s not hijack this thread into a discussion about tax policy, which has nothing to do with the topic at hand. There will be plenty of posts where that’s appropriate.

  13. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: Right. These jokes, told as they were by a black comedian, wouldn’t be particularly remarkable outside a Republican convention setting.

  14. Pete says:

    But to claim that it is all of the problem, or that the revenue problem is not at least as significant as the spending problem, is just delusional.

    Tano, I’m not opposed to the rich paying more, but Norm seems obsessed with taxing the rich, which won’t solve the deficit problem.

    Pete…way to parrot the party line. In a word, NO. The Bush tax cuts are the biggest driver of the debt. We have near historic low effective tax rates. The problem is revenue AND spending. Until the fiscal frauds in the republican party understand that they cannot be taken seriously.

    Norm, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Your “tax the rich” whining is party line all the way.

    Norm, I’m glad you agree that spending and revenue are both problems. Perhaps you should balance your wealth envy bloviating (tax the rich) by pointing out that politicians spend money they don’t have, rich people buy politicians’ influence, and somewhere around 50% of taxpayers pay little or no income tax.

    You respond to any mention of Republicans with the usual snark about them not paying their fair share. It’s just that I think it is a tiresome argument as most of us here basically agree with you.

  15. Pete says:

    James, sorry for the diversion. Norm, let’s meet somewhere else and continue our disagreement.

  16. john personna says:

    I don’t think those were great jokes … but if it were an SNL skit, no one would care. Actually, SNL still might have better writing, and that’s saying something.

    (Chris Rock about John McCain ,Barack Obama and Flava Flav)

  17. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    James:

    Right. These jokes, told as they were by a black comedian, wouldn’t be particularly remarkable outside a Republican convention setting.

    Right. And I think that that tells us quite a bit about the ethos of the Republican Party, don’t you think?

  18. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    Or, as John Cole at Balloon Juice might say, “hoocoodanode?”

    Who could’ve known that telling racial jokes at a convention for a Party that for the last 40 years has done nothing but stoke fears of the Big Scary MInority would fail so badly and look–gasp!–borderline racist?

  19. Jim Treacher says:

    It’s racist because he’s black.

  20. Wolf says:

    “They put him on just so they could yank him off and say See, we’re not racist, we couldn’t stand to listen to those jokes.”

    You wait, some moron will make that argument.

  21. ken says:

    But to claim that it is all of the problem, or that the revenue problem is not at least as significant as the spending problem, is just delusional.

    The deficit problem is mostly self created by tax cutting and war spending. It is not a problem whose solution is beyond our ability. Start by restoring taxes to the levels we had under Clinton and cut the military budget by about a third. That will solve most of the immediate problem. Then deal with the long term deficit problem by extending Medicare to all Americans eliminating the separate government programs for vets, congress and the indigent. Single payer health care has proven to deliver the best care at the lowest price of any system tried out.

  22. Jim Treacher says:

    These jokes, told as they were by a black comedian, wouldn’t be particularly remarkable outside a Republican convention setting.

    But that’s not racist…

  23. michael reynolds says:

    Comedy is hard. There’s nothing wrong with the jokes, there’s something wrong with the jokes in that context. Chris Rock can tell a joke that’s a 9 on the 1-10 racial scale in front of a typical Chris Rock audience. Jeff Foxworthy could only go to a 3 in front of his typical audience. Republicans should do themselves a favor and tell no jokes with racial elements — it’s one of the small prices they pay for welcoming racists into their party.

  24. Jim Treacher says:

    Circular logic is circular.

  25. john personna says:

    Re. context

    GOP group depicts Obama with watermelon, fried chicken

    The organization’s president says she wasn’t aware of the racial connotations of the image, which is of Barack Obama on a food stamp — “It was just food to me.”

    Stuff like that makes it kind of hard to follow with an Obama impersonator and black jokes.

  26. john personna says:
  27. michael reynolds says:

    Jim:

    I’m curious: do you honestly not understand that context has an effect? Or do you understand it perfectly well and you’re just posturing?

  28. Wolf says:

    “Chris Rock can tell a joke that’s a 9 on the 1-10 racial scale in front of a typical Chris Rock audience.”

    That just means his audience is as racist as he is. That’s the only thing “context” means here.

  29. Libs. Hmph says:

    Liberals have no right to complain about this. Remember that time in 2004 when they hired that George W. Bush impersonator who made that joke about: “Only a retard could believe our tax policies?” Or that joke about: “There are WMDs in Iraq?” Liberals are such hypocrites.

  30. michael reynolds says:

    Wolf:

    Which is why you’d tell the identical joke to a bunch of guys in a bar, and to a classroom full of 2d graders.

    Right? Because context doesn’t matter.

    Libs:

    Was that a deliberate funny? You accepted the premise that Bush was “a retard.”

  31. john personna says:

    The “let’s pretend there is no context” thing is pretty sad.

    We can imagine a context situation with the other party. Take Chris Rock’s jokes about McCain being captured. It would be outrageous for an opposition party to tell that stuff to themselves, and to laugh. It would not only be offensive, it would be counter-productive.

    … but these are the dregs of the argument, aren’t they? The more reasonable conservatives have vacated the thread, or left it alone from the start. It’s a selection effect. When only the dumbest counter-arguments are left, it takes someone dumb enough to show up to make them.

  32. PJ says:

    I remember a skit from 2004 with a clown, who really looked George Bush, searching for WMD in the Oval Office. That one really backfired.

    And sadly, it turned out that the clown actually was the President.

    Maybe that’s what Libs. Hmph talking about?

  33. john personna says:

    Hmph, GWB make the most offensive joke about WMD’s in Iraq, in the “looking under the desk” bit.

  34. michael reynolds says:

    jp:

    I believe you have just formulated an aphorism of sorts.

  35. An Interested Party says:

    Liberals have no right to complain about this.

    Hmm, some liberals might not complain about this at all…they might look at this and smile, as incidents like this alienate ethnic minorities even more against the GOP…and some people actually wonder why very large majorities of ethnic minorities routinely vote for Democrats over Republicans…

  36. ponce says:

    But really, these jokes are no different than the ones they tell each other in private.

    Agreed.

    My Republican friends who think I’m still a Republican supply me with a constant supply of the latest racist Obama jokes.

    But their real specialty is anti-Semitic jokes…

  37. Wayne says:

    The fact the Republican reactions were cold and he was pull off stage is irrelevant right?

    If it was at DNC event it probably would have been just fine. Double standards once again. I know it is different if a black say it but if a white. Wait the guy was black. Will it is different because you say so.

  38. superdestroyer says:

    How cares what is going on at a Republican meeting. that racist jokes were told at a Republican meeting is no more significant than if racist jokes were told at Libertarian Party meeting or a Green Party meeting.

    The Republicans are irrelevant and should just be ignored. What is more important are what jokes are being told at the NAACP, La Raza, Urban League, and on campus at HCBU colleges because that shows where politics is going to be going in the U.S.

  39. michael reynolds says:

    Wayne:

    I think it’s great progress that Republicans understood they were making a mistake.

    That said, however, my sympathies are almost always with the performer. Comics have a hard life, a hard career.

  40. Jim Treacher says:

    Michael:

    I’m curious: do you honestly not understand that you’re a hypocrite? Or do you understand it perfectly well and you’re just posturing?

  41. Jim Treacher says:

    BTW: Leading questions are leading.

  42. MM says:

    Wayne: He wasn’t pulled during the racial bit, he was pulled once he started making jokes against the GOP candidates. Now, is it possible that he had been close to the hook during the anti-Obama stuff and they just happened to pull the plug on him shorty after? Yes. But the appearance is that making racial jokes to a predominantly white audience is OK. Mocking Bachmann is beyond the pale.

    Michael: Does Treacher do anything BUT posture?

  43. DC Loser says:

    My Republican friends who think I’m still a Republican supply me with a constant supply of the latest racist Obama jokes.

    Same here. I just nod my head and think to myself how pathetic these people are.

  44. michael reynolds says:

    Treacher:

    Okay, now you’re just a bore.

  45. mattb says:

    I wonder about spin on this once it hits the talkers. Anyone want want to take bets on whether or not the meme will be started that the comic was intentionally attempting to make Republicans seem racist?

    Beyond that:
    1. kudo’s to them for pulling him.
    2. it’s ridiculous to suggest that the context of a joke — like any other action — doesn’t matter.

  46. Jim Treacher says:

    Michael:

    You forgot the “Yawn!”

  47. Jay Tea says:

    Jim, I have to apologize for michael. His attention span would embarrass a gnat. He just can’t maintain his focus, especially when the subject is “why michael is full of crap.”

    In his defense, that is a very, very, very extensive field…

    J.

  48. An Interested Party says:

    Actually, the yawn was a given and certainly didn’t need to be spelled out…

  49. Dustin says:

    Wayne says:
    The fact the Republican reactions were cold and he was pull off stage is irrelevant right?

    Except that if you actually watch the video, the reaction wasn’t cold to the ethnic jokes, they went over pretty well. The reaction was much more cold when he turned to talking about the Republican candidates and that’s when he was pulled of stage. The difference in the room is rather striking, and I really believe he was pulled off the stage for offending Republicans by making fun of them.

  50. Rob in CT says:

    I eagerly await the next whiny comment thread about how ~90-95% of black voters vote Dem.