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Headliner of State

Inspired by the 2016 election, The DC Improv has been searching for the funniest president. We're talking to historians, comedians, enthusiasts and more about which leaders could take a joke, which ones could make a joke, and which ones sucked eggs. Subscribe to our podcast and join the search!

Sunday, 12 February 2017 10:00

Headliner of State: Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln might be the greatest president. Can he also claim the title of funniest president?

Lincoln Prize winner Richard Carwardine spent the last several years researching and writing "Lincoln's Sense of Humor." He joins us to chat about Abe's remarkable gift for storytelling, his purposeful use of comedy, and the ways it affected his public career -- for better or worse. It's a thoughtful, joke-filled discussion about the humanity of an American legend. And it's a great conclusion to our profiles in presidential humor!

Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power
Lincoln's Sense of Humor

MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "Leapin' at Lincoln Gardens" by Charlie Barnet, "Springfield Stomp" by Cecil Scott and His Bright Boys

Friday, 10 February 2017 10:09

Headliner of State: James Garfield

James Garfield was an insatiable student. But did he learn to be funny?

The National Park Service is here to help us find out. Todd Arrington, the site manager for the James A. Garfield National Historic Site, tells us all about the 20th president's personality -- and why Garfield's good nature helped him become a contender in the first place. It's a cool look at an underappreciated POTUS.

Garfield Historic Site online
Garfield NHS on Twitter

MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "The Chant (St. James Informary)" by Art Shaw and His New Music, "My Ohio Home" by Jean Godkette and His Orchestra

Wednesday, 25 January 2017 10:14

Headliner of State: Zachary Taylor

Was Zachary Taylor the funniest president ever? If any experts out there know, they ain't talking.

So on a very special episode, we're going straight to Zachary Taylor himself. Get ready for seven minutes of stand-up comedy from the 12th president. Old Rough and Ready is back from the dead and on the mic. Will you Whig out?

Tuesday, 17 January 2017 11:15

Headliner of State: George H.W. Bush

Would it be prudent to call George Bush funny?

This episode of Headliner of State, we're joined by Bush speechwriter Curt Smith, who tells us about the 41st president's personality and character. We cover the kind of humor that Bush enjoys, the "rules" he lives by as a public figure, and how he uses laughter to build personal relationships. Plus there's some great insight into the Bush-Reagan relationship.

Pull up your brightly colored socks and get to listening ...

"George H.W. Bush: Character at the Core" on Amazon.com

Curt Smith's website

Monday, 02 January 2017 15:27

Headliner of State: Gerald Ford

Tragedy brought Gerald Ford to the White House ... but did humor help define his presidency?

Our excellent expert is Ron Nessen, an accomplished journalist who served as Ford's press secretary. Ron talks about Ford's character and his sense of what was "needed" from the president in the post-Watergate era. And we also chat about Ron's special place in comedy history, as the first political figure to host an episode of "Saturday Night Live."

It's an interesting look at an underappreciated president ... enjoy!

Tuesday, 20 December 2016 00:00

Headliner of State: Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter punched his ticket to Washington by running as an outsider. Could he make people laugh in the ultimate insider town?

Our excellent expert is James Fallows, who worked as Carter's lead speechwriter for two years. (These days, he's an astounding journalist working at The Atlantic.) We talk about Carter's voice, his appeal in the post-Watergate era, and whether he adapted to the rapidly changing "rules" of the modern media era.

Also, there's a story about an exploding gas station. What's not to love?

James Fallows in The Atlantic

"The Passionless Presidency"

"Ask President Carter" on SNL

MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "Georgia Cake Walk" by Art Hodes and his Orchestra, "Salt Peanuts" by the Miles Davis Quintet

Wednesday, 30 November 2016 12:56

Headliner of State: Theodore Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt believed in "the strenuous life," and part of that was the strain of having so damn much fun. Wherever TR went, laughter was sure to follow.

Joe Wiegand (teddyrooseveltshow.com) is our excellent expert. As a "reprisor," Joe transforms himself into the president to educate and entertain audiences all over the country. (Performance is in his blood -- his dad is the legendary "saloon comic" Jim Wiggins.) He's got great insight into TR's "machismo" based storytelling, his infectious personality and his role in the evolution of presidential humor.

Have a listen -- you'll be deeeeeelighted.

Joe Wiegand's website

Jim Wiggins

MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "Teddy's Boogie Woogie" by Teddy Powell and His Orchestra, "Moose the Mooche" by the Charlie Parker Septet.

Monday, 21 November 2016 10:25

Headliner of State: John Quincy Adams

Lots of people have given John Quincy Adams the title of America's greatest diplomat. But could he negotiate his way to the title of America's funniest president?

Biographer James Traub ("John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit") is our excellent expert this week, and he tells us how Adams developed a personality to suit his work in foreign relations. We're also looking for humor in one of the most remarkable documents ever produced by a president: JQA's 15,000-page journal. Get a glimpse of the personality of one of the most interesting guys to ever serve this country.

Thursday, 17 November 2016 17:28

Headliner of State: Woodrow Wilson

You can't deny that Woodrow Wilson was one of the most important presidents. But was he the funniest president?

Andrew Phillips, the curator of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum, is our excellent expert. We talk about Woody's famously complex personality, his love of wordplay and some of the unfortunate aspects of his humor. It's an episode a century in the making ...

The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum online

Monday, 24 October 2016 14:26

Headliner of State: John Kennedy

John F. Kennedy charmed voters, reporters and just about everyone he met with his quick wit and self-effacing jokes. Why was humor so important to JFK, who might be our most charismatic president?

Author Thomas Maier ("When Lions Roar: The Churchills and the Kennedys," "The Kennedys: America's Emerald Kings," "Masters of Sex") joins us to talk about the "Irish" nature of Kennedy's humor. For all his privileged upbringing, JFK knew how to use the humor of an outsider. And blessed by the flourishing medium of television, he managed to leverage laughter more effectively than almost every public political figure who came before him.

Thomas Maier's website

Kennedy humor on video (via the Kennedy School)

MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "Boston Bounce" by Dan Belloc's Orchestra, "Gambling Jack" by Jelly Roll Morton and His Red Hot Peppers

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