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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!

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

Thursday, 20 October 2016 10:04

Headliner of State: Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland must have been fun -- the guy won the popular vote three times. But was he funny?

Sharon Farrell, the caretaker of the Cleveland Birthplace in New Jersey, is our special guest. She gives us a tour of both sides of Grover: The hard-working politician and lawyer, and the fun-loving guy who enjoyed drinking, fishing and hunting with friends. Was Grover a cut-up in private? Did his upright reputation prevent him from joking in public? And what exactly is "rotund jocularity"?

Cleveland Birthplace website

Sharon on C-SPAN

MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "Jersey Bounce" by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra, "Jersey Sweet" by James P. Johnson

Monday, 10 October 2016 14:32

Headliner of State: Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan was called the "Great Communicator," and a big part of that was humor. Whether he was explaining his philosophy, deflating an opponent or firing up a crowd, Reagan knew that a well-placed joke could make all the difference.

Journalist and Reagan biographer Lou Cannon joins us to explain how Reagan's use of humor was both natural and practiced -- and why Reagan was so great at connecting with people both in person and through mass media.

President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime

MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "Hollywood Jump" by Count Basie and His Orchestra, "Hollywood Hop" by Earl "Fatha" Hines

Monday, 03 October 2016 23:06

Headliner of State: John Tyler

John Tyler is the answer to a few trivia questions: The first vice president promoted to the big job, the president with the most kids, and the only president who joined the Confederacy. But what about this distinction: Was Tyler the funniest president?

Professor Edward P. Crapol (retired from the College of William and Mary) is our guest. His 2006 biography, "John Tyler: The Accidental President," is one of the most significant studies of the 10th president in the last 50 years. Ed helps us understand Tyler's "aristocratic" bearing and shares some choice examples of the Virginian's wit.

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