Robert DeNiro: Too Soon For A White First Lady?

Last night at a fundraiser in New York City at which Michelle Obama, actor Robert DeNiro made a joke that has caused no small degree of controversy:

Actor Robert De Niro thrilled the crowd at a New York fundraiser headlined by first lady Michelle Obama when he listed the alternatives.

“Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?” De Niro asked a star-studded crowd gathered in the backroom of Locanda Verde, a restaurant he owns on Greenwich Street in TriBeCa.

Someone in the crowd shouted, “No!” as De Niro quickly added, “Too soon, right?”

It didn’t take long for Newt Gingrich to chime in:

Newt Gingrich blasted actor Robert DeNiro for a racially themed joke during his introduction of first lady Michelle Obama at a fundraiser in New York City on Monday night, calling the comments “inexcusable.”


“I do want to say one thing, both on behalf of my wife and on behalf of Karen Santorum and on behalf of Ann Romney — I think that Robert DeNiro’s wrong,” Gingrich said. “I think the country is ready for a new first lady, and he doesn’t have to describe it in racial terms.”

Gingrich went on to demand that President Obama apologize for the comments.

“What DeNiro said last night was inexcusable, and the president should apologize for him,” Gingrich said. “It was at an Obama fundraiser, it is exactly wrong, it divides the country. If people on the left want to talk about talk show hosts, then everybody in the country should hold the president accountable when someone at his event says something that is as utterly and terribly unacceptable as what Robert DeNiro said.”

At least one conservative blogger seems to agree with Gingrich that DeNiro’s joke was racist, and now the Obama campaign has called the joke inappropriate, and it probably was. However, it seems pretty silly to me to call it racist. I get what DeNiro was doing here. Before President Obama was elected, there were people who wondered, openly, if America was “ready” for a black President. The joke was meant to turn that argument on its head, although why the focus on candidate’s spouses was necessary I don’t know. It wasn’t really funny and it wasn’t that good of a joke, but racist? Don’t be ridiculous.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Scotch Man says:

    Just got done throwing Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, Bronx Tale, Taxi Driver, and Godfather 2 into the fire. Oh wait. No I didn’t.

  2. legion says:

    Agreed, Doug. It may have been a touch off-color (pun intended!), but this is an excuse for the Right to get all worked up about something & blame Obama for. I figure we’ve got about 10 seconds before Rush and the folks at Breitbart’s old digs to start calling for boycotts of his movies. I shudder to imagine what Malkin will say.

  3. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Don’t forget about Cape Fear. DeNiro was awesome in that one too. The King of Comedy as well.

    In any case, that joke is being deemed “controversial?” That itself is a joke, right?

    People really need to grow some thicker skin. It was a joke. You’d have to be obsessed by race in your own regard even to consider it within the penumbra of being racist. It’s not. It’s an off-color joke, is all. Totally innocuous.

    That all said, can you image if someone like Jon Voight or Bruce Willis went to a fundraiser for Romney and then said something like: “Obamacare will destroy so many small businesses it’ll be like a black plague to the economy.” Or how about: “Obama not firing Holder in the wake of the Gunwalker scandal is a black mark on his record.” Or how about: “The debt rung up by Obama and Geithner is like a black cloud hovering over the nation’s future.” Would wealthy liberals in SoHo and Tribeca consider those quips to be racist? Separate question: Are those quips racist? Food for thought.

  4. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Oops, “imagine,” that is.

  5. Herb says:

    DeNiro’s so racist, he married a black woman.


    “What DeNiro said last night was inexcusable, and the president should apologize for him,” Gingrich said

    Now there’s a howler. The president should apologize for him? Why?

  6. Tsar Nicholas says:

    I can’t believe I forgot to mention Heat. Yet another awesome performance by DeNiro.

  7. Franklin says:

    And I’m gonna have to agree with … Tsar Nicholas. This was a joke. If anybody is offended, you’re stupid and I will judge you as such. As the great Ricky Gervais once said, sometimes dumb people can’t figure out the difference between the object and the subject of a joke. This is one of those times.

  8. legion says:


    The president should apologize for him? Why?

    Herb, Herb, Herb… haven’t you been paying attention? Everything bad about America is Obama’s fault. Even the (few, miniscule!) mistakes W and Bush Sr and Reagan made – they were all set up by Obama back in his Madrassa days!

  9. Tom Hilton says:

    actor Robert DeNiro made a joke that has caused no small degree of controversy:

    Actually, the joke itself didn’t cause any controversy.

    What caused “controversy” was the usual right-wing suspects using it as a pretext for faux outrage.

  10. G.A. says:

    The joke was not racist, it was idiot, liberals can not be racist.

  11. So…wait a second, Newt Gingrich et al. doesn’t get that the joke was (mostly) about reporters and the stories they ran in 2008?

  12. G.A. says:

    As the great Ricky Gervais once said


    you’re stupid and I will judge you as such.


  13. G.A. says:

    The joke is the usual 1% throwing the class war monger a fundraiser.

  14. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    Well, the original joke wasn’t particularly funny–not unfunny either, maybe a “tee hee” level. But the outrage, on the other hand, is funny. Sad and pathetic, but I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t finish the article.

    You guys (and you know who you are) should really leave the echo chamber once in a while. Go out into the fresh air, look at a cloud (some of them have specific shapes now), talk to an actual person (as in a living human being). The life you lead is affecting you negatively. I’m serious.

  15. MarkedMan says:

    To my ears, it was grating. Not so much the racial thing, but because it seemed designed to denigrate the spouses of the Republican candidates.

  16. Montanareddog says:

    De Niro married a black woman and has made a career out of portraying negative stereotypes of Italian-Americans; he must be a self-hating goombah.

  17. People do realize that for comedy to work – good comedy, not just the “take my wife” kind – there has to be a level of absurdity, right? The joke was about a 2 on a scale of 1 – 10, but he’s not being racist. And though the grammar was ganked up, educate me: wasn’t he at an Obama fundraiser?

    This is why I don’t really take Bill Maher seriously. He’s intentionally absurd, and though I think he’s a crappy person, that’s kind of in his job description.

  18. gVOR08 says:

    To answer Doug’s question,

    why the focus on candidate’s spouses was necessary

    He was riffing off Michelle’s impressive popularity.

    My friends of the conservative persuation seem to frequently ask why it’s OK for Mel Brooks to use the N word, but they can’t. The answer is because when Mel Brooks does it, it’s funny. And funny at the expense of people like them who would wish to use the N word in non-funny ways. De Niro’s line was actually pretty funny. And poked fun at people who deserve it.

  19. Nikki says:

    Did everyone miss that it was a Michelle Obama fundraiser?

  20. OldDude says:

    It doesn’t bother me one bit . . . I wasn’t there . . . and wouldn’t want to be!
    No Vote for Obummer.