Obama cracks a joke to the Atlantis Shuttle Crew – So why wasn’t it funny?

Shuttle Atlantis Crew aboard the International Space Station
Observed the entertained expressions!
In space, no one can hear the tumble-weed.

Obama: “I was just dialing out for pizza, and I didn’t expect to end up in space…”

Recently, the US President took some time out from his busy schedule to make a surprise phone call to the Space Shuttle Atlantis crew. Clearly in need of some light-hearted distraction from the doldrums of trying to resolve the incipient US debt crisis, he tried his hand at a potentially humorous ‘pizza delivery’ quip.

It was bad – toe-curlingly cringe-worthily bad. Watch it for yourself, and try not to squirm in embarrassment. I think it’s what’s known in the business as a ‘Dad’ joke…

Can Politicians do Comedy?

Washington, DC by Barack Obama
Could the Master of Rhetoric master Stand Up Comedy?
Making people laugh can be surprisingly difficult. The likes of Eddie Murphy and Robin Williams barely have to pass wind to get a crowd into hysterics. So for politicians with their well-rehearsed skills in oration and rhetoric, cracking a joke should be easy. Should…

Telling a joke is clearly more than just saying words. Two psychologists from the University of York chose got delightfully scientific and studied the public speaking techniques of politicians and compared them with stand-up routines. Their results shed some light on the Obama ‘lead balloon’ : both groups use very similar devices to get reactions from the audiences – a variety of subtle cues to get a desired response. Politicians however, were less adept in the art of ‘asynchrony’ – doing something unexpected or ‘out of the blue’.

Bureaucrats, it seem, always say it straight… (well, at least when it comes to jokes)

The Art of Telling a Good Joke

True, the slight time-delay crippled any effect of surprise leaving El Presidente sounding uncharacteristically flustered. Then again, perhaps Obama just picked the wrong crowd: The irony of telling a joke to employees of a space agency facing drastic cuts under his administration won’t be lost on anyone.

Nadia eres un sol
Something funny? Probably nothing I said…
It may have been a bad joke: Dr Norm Howe wrote in ‘The Origin on Humour’ the key elements of a good joke are a build-up – which sets the scene – followed by a punchline – which gives a surprising and complete reinterpretation of the preceding facts.

So, how about this one:

Obama: “Are you guys hungry?”

Astronauts: “Not really”

Obama: “That’s great, I see you’ve had launch time already…”


Then again, perhaps it’s better just to learn the art of ‘how to bomb gracefully…

Got a better joke? Do share! Your comments and feedback are warmly welcomed!


Selected References:

Wells, P., & Bull, P. (2007). From Politics to Comedy: A Comparative Analysis of Affiliative Audience Responses Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 26 (4), 321-342 DOI: 10.1177/0261927X07306978

Howe, N. (2002). The origin of humor Medical Hypotheses, 59 (3), 252-254 DOI: 10.1016/S0306-9877(02)00209-8

2 responses to “Obama cracks a joke to the Atlantis Shuttle Crew – So why wasn’t it funny?”

  1. When I heard the Atlantis shuttle had just been fired I didn’t know they’d be handing out a pink slip too…

    Too soon?

  2. Good Post. Tough crowd.

    It’s a subtle point but there is a delay on the line which reads very easily as an uncomfortable silence. I think if the clip was re-edited without the pause after the President’s joke it wouldn’t look nearly as bad.

    Also, the guy speaking has a microphone implying that you may not be able to hear the rest of them. It looks like several of them laughed quite a bit. Look at the 2 guys on the left of the back row (our left).

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