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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!

Monday, 22 February 2016 06:00

Headliner of State: Calvin Coolidge

The search for the funniest president continues!

There’s no question that Calvin Coolidge was funny – stories of his wit have survived the test of time. But what makes him fascinating is the way he used his natural humor strategically. “Silent Cal” was a true innovator in packaging and selling his personality to the public, in a way that both advanced his popularity and his policy agenda.

Our guide this week is arguably the leading Coolidge scholar of her generation. Journalist / author / historian Amity Shlaes has written four New York Times best-sellers, including “Coolidge,” a 2013 biography of the 30th president. She’s also the chairman of the board for the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation. Coolidge himself would have wanted this whole thing off the record, but get ready to enjoy the silence.

Music: Hail Columbia, "My Silent Love" by Isham Jones and His Orchestra, "Plymouth Rock" by the Benny Carter Orchestra

Next week: Ulysses S. Grant tells us about Ulysses S. Grant. Seriously.

Monday, 15 February 2016 09:00

Headliner of State: John Adams

The search for the funniest president continues! Take a little bit of Seinfeld, then mix in some Don Rickles, some David Sedaris and an encyclopedic knowledge of political philosophy. That might the recipe for John Adams – our second president, and possibly the funniest of the Founding Fathers.

Amanda Norton of the Massachusetts Historical Society helps us get inside Adams’ head. We talk about his gift for insults, his love of observational humor, his willingness to get a little cheeky, and his comedy partner for life – Abigail Adams. Plus, we get insight into why Adams is sometimes remembered as a frump.

 

Music: Hail Columbia, “Big John’s Special” by Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra

Next week: Amity Shlaes on the silent comedy of Calvin Coolidge.

Monday, 08 February 2016 00:00

Headliner of State: Richard Nixon

The search for the funniest president continues! Richard Nixon wasn't a cut-up, but few people inspired more laughs. Does he deserve a shot at the title?

This week's guest is Patric Verrone, a writer/producer for "Futurama," the TV show that made Nixon's head the president of Earth. We're talking about Nixon's second life as a cartoon, the qualities that made Nixon such an easy target, and Nixon's role in changing the very nature of presidential humor. To quote Zapp Brannigan, "Baby, it'll blow your mind."

PLUS: Patric's  amazing presidential hobby!

Music: Hail Columbia, "California Here I Come" by Eddie Condon and His Band, "An Orange Grove in California" by the Golden Gate Orchestra

Monday, 01 February 2016 00:00

Headliner of State: Andrew Johnson

Our 17th president had a tough act to follow, and let's just say he didn't exactly crush it.

The quest for the funniest POTUS continues with a look at Andrew Johnson, a man who overcame crippling poverty to become ... well, the first impeached president. Did Johnson laugh in the face of adversity? Did his humor (or lack thereof) help or hurt him during his presidency? And should he get credit for one of the funniest ceremonies in American political history?

Our expert is David O. Stewart, the author of "Impeached" (and several other excellent books). A former constitutional lawyer, David has studied the impeachment saga from several angles -- including the ways that Johnson's personality affected his relationships and inspired his enemies.

Music: "Hail Columbia," "Tennessee Twilight" by the Eddie Condon Orchestra, "Johnson Rag" by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra

Monday, 25 January 2016 01:46

Headliner of State: James Madison

"This is a guy who's exceptionally smart and exceptionally confident ..." But is he funny?

The quest to find the funniest president continues with James "Father of the Constitution" Madison! Christian Cotz, the director of education and visitor engagement at Montpelier -- Madison's awesome home in Orange County, Virginia -- helps us answer all the big questions. Could Madison work a room? Was he a straight man for Dolley? And did he ever get tired of the short jokes?

It's a fun and fascinating look at possibly the most important figure in the shaping of the America we know and love.

Music: Hail Columbia, "State and Madison" by Joe Herlihy and his Orchestra, "Dolly Mine" by Luis Russell's Hot Six

Monday, 18 January 2016 02:25

Headliner of State: James Monroe

The quest to find the funniest president continues! This week, we're traveling to Fredericksburg to talk about president No. 5, James Monroe.

Our guide is Daniel Preston of the University of Mary Washington -- the man in charge of editing Monroe's papers. We're talking about JM's personality, "public personas" in the 19th century, and how exactly you can get to know a guy who's been dead for 185 years. 

For more on Dan and Mary Washington:

Next week: We head to the OC to chat about James Madison! This series is made possible by Telegraph Giraffe.

MUSIC: I'm Comin' Virginia (Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra), Wintergreen for President (Hal Kemp and his Orchestra), Hail Columbia

Monday, 18 January 2016 02:18

Monroe's Indian Abduction Fan Fiction

It today's installment of Headliner of State, we're looking at the humor of James Monroe. Our expert, Daniel Preston from the University of Mary Washington, mentions a peculiar and amusing letter that Monroe wrote to a friend. Basically, it's Indian abduction fan fiction.

Dan graciously gave us a copy of this letter, so here's the relevant text. This was written by Monroe to his buddy John F. Mercer on August 8, 1784 -- just as Monroe was getting ready to travel through the western frontier (which at the time was Ohio and Michigan). Check it out:

Dear Sir,

I will not complain of your not writing me hitherto since my allegations against you would only serve to dispose you to criminate me, and I am every way inclind to merit & possess your friendship & esteem. I found my friends in Virg well & glad to see me. I intended not to ave wasted so much time with them as the rout I am now on was in my view, when I left Annapolis. But their attention & the want of money, an affliction you may tell the Ladies I am no stranger to, detaind me.

Monday, 11 January 2016 07:00

Headliner of State: Bill Clinton

In 2016, America chooses its next president - and the DC Improv chooses the funniest president of all time.

For our debut, speechwriter and humorist Mark Katz helps us look at Bill Clinton. Mark was the writer / editor / coordinator for Clinton's speeches at the "Silly Season" dinners: the White House Correspondents Association, the Gridiron Club, and so forth. His memoir about those years, "Clinton and Me," has fantastic insights into Clinton's personality, the art of speechwriting and humor in general.

More on Mark Katz:

This podcast is made possible by Telegraph Giraffe. Next week: Dan Preston of Mary Washington helps us with James Monroe.

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