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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!

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.

Tuesday, 06 September 2016 00:00

Headliner of State: Dwight Eisenhower

The search for the funniest president continues! We know that people liked Ike. But was comedy part of Dwight Eisenhower's appeal?

Our guest is Michael Birkner, a history professor at Gettysburg College -- the very place where Eisenhower kept his offices after leaving the White House. We talk about Eisenhower's fundamental good nature, and the way he used his avuncular image to his strategic advantage. And while we know that Eisenhower was able to laugh at himself, we tackle the question: Could Ike tell a joke? It's a very cool look at one of the most influential leaders of the 20th century ...

Michael J. Birkner bio

Eisenhower National Historic Site

Gettysburg College

MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "The General Jumped at Dawn" by Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra, "American Patrol" by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra

Monday, 29 August 2016 09:18

Headliner of State: Warren Harding

The search for the funniest president continues! Warren Harding was amazingly popular in his day. Was he also amazingly funny?

We're joined by Sherry Hall, the site manager of the Harding Home Presidential Site in Marion, Ohio. She gives us insight into Harding's personal style (he considered himself a newspaper editor above all), his love of socializing, and his Midwestern humor -- the qualities that made him irresistable to a huge number of voters.

For all you scandal lovers, we also touch on the affairs and schlocky love letters that made Harding into a punchline when they were made public in 2014. And there's also some mention of Pokemon Go. Something for everyone!

Harding Home website

Harding Home on Facebook

Harding letters at the LOC

MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "Beautiful Ohio" by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, "My Ohio Home" by Jean Goldkette and His Orchestra

Monday, 08 August 2016 19:28

Headliner of State: Andrew Jackson

The search for the funniest president continues! Andrew Jackson has a reputation for killing ... but not in a comedic sense. He actually murdered a dude. So if we're looking at the comedy of Jackson, how does that work, exactly?

Our guest is Michael Friedman, the composer and lyricist for the hit musical "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson." That production turned Jackson into an emo rock star, producing big laughs and amazing insights into the populist wave that Jackson rode into the White House. Michael helps us understand why Jackson CAN work as a comedic figure on stage -- even though much of Jackson's historical legacy can be seen as tragic.

Michael Friedman on the New Yorker Radio Hour

BBAJ Original Cast Recording on iTunes

Tuesday, 02 August 2016 13:23

Headliner of State: James Buchanan

The search for the funniest president continues! James Buchanan didn't have much to laugh about as president, what with that whole "Civil War" thing starting on his watch. But how much has that one huge stain warped our view of POTUS No. 15?

Patrick Clarke, the director of President James Buchanan's Wheatland, welcomes us into the historic home to talk about Buchanan's personality. JB enjoyed a four-decade career in politics that took him around the world, and strategic charm was a big part of his success. Find out what it looked like in practice!

Wednesday, 06 July 2016 00:00

Headliner of State: Millard Fillmore

The search for the funniest president continues! Some presidents weren't all that funny in life ... but thanks to Twitter, they're cracking people up in death.

Yes, there are people out there using Twitter to assume the identity of dead presidents. And one of the funniest accounts is tied to one of the most obscure presidents, Millard Fillmore. Evan Marcus and Ira Lieman started @fillmoremillard in 2009 to speak on behalf of a guy who is six feet under the Buffalo tundra.

Who are they? Why are they doing this? What do they think of the actual Millard? And can we somehow hook them up with Alec Baldwin? All these answers and more on a fascinating and funny edition of Headliner of State!

The @fillmoremillard Twitter feed

Millard Fillmore and You (video)

Fillmore's Buffalo home

MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "Off to Buffalo" by Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra, "Mason Flyer" by Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra

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