Headliner of State
Inspired by the 2016 election, The DC Improv searched for the funniest president. We talked to historians, comedians, enthusiasts and more about which leaders could take a joke, which ones could make a joke, and which ones inspired jokes. Get a new perspective on presidential personalities on Headliner of State!
In January 2016, we asked a simple question: Who is the funniest president of all time? After shining the spotlight on 43 different men, we have our answer.
Join host Chris White for the inauguration of the Headliner of State!
Happy Presidents Day! We're celebrating with the conclusion of "Headliner of State," our search for the funniest president. Each episode of this series features an expert talking about the personality and humor of president. We didn't go through the presidents in chronological order during the year ... but if you want to catch up in chronological order, here's a list.
1. George Washington. Azie Dungey, the creator of the "Ask a Slave" web series and now a writer for "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."
2. John Adams. Amanda Norton of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
3. Thomas Jefferson. Andy Burstein, author of "Democracy's Muse: How Thomas Jefferson Became an FDR Liberal, a Reagan Republican, and a Tea Party Fanatic, All the While Being Dead."
4. James Madison. Christian Cotz, director of visitor education programs at Montpelier in Orange County, Va..
5. James Monroe. Dan Preston, the editor of James Monroe's papers at Mary Washington College.
6. J.Q. Adams. James Traub, journalist and author of "John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit."
7. A. Jackson. Michael Friedman, the composer and lyricist of "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson."
8. Martin Van Buren. James Bradley, journalist and co-editor of Van Buren's papers.
9. W.H. Harrison. Megan Amram, the lead comedy writer for the "William Henry Harrison" episode of "Parks and Recreation."
10. John Tyler. Ed Crapol of the College of William and Mary, author of "John Tyler: The Accidental President."
11. James Polk. John Bicknell, journalist and author of "America 1844."
12. Zachary Taylor. Podcast host Chris White tries seven minutes of stand-up AS Zachary Taylor.
13. Millard Fillmore. The two men tweeting as @fillmoremillard.
14. Franklin Pierce. Peter Wallner, author of "Franklin Pierce: New Hampshire's Favorite Son."
15. James Buchanan. Pat Clarke, the director of James Buchanan's Wheatland in Lancaster, Pa.
16. Abraham Lincoln. Richard Carwardine, Lincoln Prize winner and author of "Lincoln's Sense of Humor."
17. Andrew Johnson. David Stewart, author of "Impeached!"
18. U.S. Grant. Kenneth J. Serfass, an educator who performs nationwide as Grant.
19. Rutherford Hayes. Kristina Smith of the Hayes Presidential Library and Museums in Fremont, Ohio.
20. James Garfield. Todd Arrington, site manager of the James Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio.
21. C.A. Arthur. Chris Oldstone-Moore, historian and author of "Of Beards and Men."
22/24. Grover Cleveland. Sharon Farrell, caretaker of the Grover Cleveland Birthplace in Caldwell, NJ.
23. Benjamin Harrison. Charlie Hyde, director of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site in Indianapolis.
25. William McKinley. Chris Kenney, director of education at the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum in Canton, Ohio.
26. Teddy Roosevelt. Joe Wiegand, a reprisor who performs nationwide as TR.
27. W.H. Taft. Jonathan Lurie, a law professor and author of "William Howard Taft: Travails of a Progressive Conservative"
28. Woodrow Wilson. Andrew Phillips, curator of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum in Staunton, Va.
29. Warren Harding. Sherry Hall, the site manager of the Harding Home Presidential Site in Marion, Ohio.
30. Calvin Coolidge. Amity Shlaes, journalist, historian and author of "Coolidge."
31. Herbert Hoover. Tom Schwartz, director of the Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa.
32. F.D. Roosevelt / William Harris of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY.
33. Harry Truman. Matthew Algeo, journalist and author of "Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure."
34. Dwight Eisenhower. / Michael Birkner, history professor at Gettysburg College and author of a book on Sherman Adams.
35. John Kennedy. Thomas Maier, journalist and author of "When Lions Roar: The Churchills and the Kennedys."
36. L.B. Johnson. Robert Schenkkan, award-winning playwright of "All the Way."
37. Richard Nixon. Patric Verrone, a writer/producer of "Futurama."
38. Gerald Ford. Ron Nessen, Ford's press secretary and a guest host of "Saturday Night Live."
39. Jimmy Carter. James Fallows, journalist and former lead speechwriter for Carter.
40. Ronald Reagan. Lou Cannon, journalist and Reagan biographer.
41. George H.W. Bush. Curt Smith, a Bush speechwriter and author of "George H.W. Bush: Character at the Core."
42. Bill Clinton. Mark Katz, a humorist, speechwriter and author of "Clinton and Me."
43. George W. Bush. Frank Caliendo, a headlining comedian known for his impressions of Bush and Donald Trump.
44. Barack Obama. Brad Jenkins and David Litt, former White House staffers now working for Funny or Die DC.
45. Inauguration. Chris White names the funniest president of all time.
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!
MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "Leapin' at Lincoln Gardens" by Charlie Barnet, "Springfield Stomp" by Cecil Scott and His Bright Boys
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.
MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "The Chant (St. James Informary)" by Art Shaw and His New Music, "My Ohio Home" by Jean Godkette and His Orchestra
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?
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 ...
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!
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?
MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "Georgia Cake Walk" by Art Hodes and his Orchestra, "Salt Peanuts" by the Miles Davis Quintet
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.
MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "Teddy's Boogie Woogie" by Teddy Powell and His Orchestra, "Moose the Mooche" by the Charlie Parker Septet.
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.