Published: Oct. 13, 2015

Original article can be found at Daily Camera  
Originally published on October 13, 2015 By Charlie Brennan 

A politician walks into the bar. No, scratch that. Better make it a horse. 

Too often, politics and humor have been like oil and water, uneasy partners except perhaps in unscripted moments such as Sen. Marco Rubio’s awkward reach for a sip of water while giving the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech in 2013. 

That stops Wednesday night — maybe. 

The University of Colorado’s Center of the American West will present its first Fool for a Day Award to legendary New Yorker Cartoon Editor Bob Mankoff, who is speaking for the occasion at 6:30 p.m. in the Eaton Humanities Building. 

History Professor Patty Limerick, the faculty director and chair of the Center of the American West, got the idea Sunday — after sufficient immersion in the Daily Camera’s letters to the editor section and surveying the political scene this season — that it’s time to lighten up. 

Now, Mankoff’s talk is offered as part of Limerick’s new Humor Initiative, serving as an opportunity to those in the Boulder political class who appeared mired in what Limerick termed the “slow-moving calamity of a humor drought.” 

“There is something inherently funny about people taking themselves very, very seriously, in a context where things are happening to Syrians, in a context where things are happening around the world in a way that seems like it should be restoring of perspective on how we rank our dilemmas,” Limerick said. 

The heated rhetoric around the recent debate over Boulder’s “right-sizing” of Folsom Street helped inspire Limerick to put a special spin on Mankoff’s talk. 

Limerick has announced that any candidate for office — even president — who attends Mankoff’s lecture and offers a “lively” answer to the question, “What in this presentation did you find funny and why?,” will receive a document certifying that the recipient actually has a sense of humor, a “quality as valuable as it is rare in American public life.” 

Specially appointed student screeners — presumably equipped with functioning funny bones — will rate the politicians’ answers, and Mankoff will autograph their certificates. 

‘Politicians have become so scared’ 

“It really came about from thinking about, and reading the letters to the editor, and thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, what an incredibly well-timed intervention,'” Limerick said Tuesday. “We are bringing one of the funniest people in the country to speak at a time when we are in a drought and shortfall of humor. 

“It’s as if the community was in insulin shock, and we’re the ones who are bringing in the insulin to treat the diabetes,” Limerick said. 

In an interview as he traveled up to Boulder from Denver International Airport on Tuesday, Mankoff said, “My take on political correctness is that part of it is actually correct — but an awful lot of it is actually political,” Mankoff said. 

“Politicians have become so scared that they have all their jokes written by someone else and therefore they feel just kind of dead. You know it’s not actually them. And then they have to go on talk shows and ‘Saturday Night Live’ to prove they are human. But the proof seems to be lacking, because even that is so prepared for them.” 

Mankoff was asked about the Hillary Clinton campaign announcing several weeks ago that it would start highlighting more of the candidate’s lighter side. 

“I thought, ‘Good luck with that,'” Mankoff said. “I think, first of all, you’re setting up a situation which is not very advantageous to being funny. She should have tried to use the element of surprise, instead of saying, ‘Now, I’m going to be funny.'” 

A belief ‘humor is what makes us human’ 

Boulder City Councilman Macon Cowles, whose term is expiring and is not seeking re-election, doesn’t expect many of this year’s candidates will take Limerick up on the challenge. 

“The candidates are so busy with forums and questionnaires that run to 10 and 15 pages, they’ll probably be completely occupied tomorrow night with existing commitments,” Cowles said Tuesday. “It’s a hard job to run for City Council, and a hard job to serve on city council. The stresses are many.” 

But Cowles endorsed the concept behind Limerick’s challenge. 

“I think humor is always called for,” including around political issues, “because it’s what makes us human, and we all have to live in this town together,” Cowles said. “And no matter what happens when the ballots are counted, we’ll all still be living in this town, loving it and trying to make it hold the aspirations that we all have for a better city and its people.” 

Mankoff, whose 2014 book “How About Never — Is Never Good For You?” is now being released in paperback, said he has visited the Boulder area several times before. 

Asked if there is anything inherently funny about the city, he said, “The name, I guess. ‘Boulder.’ It’s like a big rock of a name.”