Reggie Brown, the comedian yanked off the stage at the Republican Leadership Conference, gives me his take. (P.S. Republicans love him.)
The big news out of the RLC meeting in New Orleans last weekend didn't involve a candidate, but a president--or rather, a presidential impersonator named Reggie Brown whose comedy set poking fun at the Republican candidates and the president scandalized the organizers, who yanked Brown from the stage mid-set and later put out a statement slamming him for "racially insensitive jokes." It turns out Reggie Brown and I have a friend in common, and yesterday that friend put us in touch. We talked about how the RLC event looked from his vantage point--much different--and what the fallout has been. (Hint: Not too bad--he's got a bunch of new Republican bookings, including Fox News this weekend.) Here's a lightly edited transcript, along with video of his aborted RLC act and another one from his website that I like.
Was a Republican political conference different from the stuff you usually do?
I normally do corporate comedy, so I'll travel around and do everything from medical associations to lawyer groups, things of that nature. This was the first major political event I've ever been invited to, so I was real excited to get up and perform my material. I thought it was cool that a lot of the people in my act--the candidates--were going to be there. Because my latest material is based on the 2012 candidates, and for them to all be there, I thought it would be a great opportunity to make 'em laugh and poke a little fun at them. I thought that showed a lot for the Republican sense of humor.
Did the organizers give you any guidance about what type of humor they were looking for?
No, no guidance was given prior to the show. They booked me to come down based on my website and the links my manager forwarded them of my recent work. I was booked to do my routine.
What was your intention going in? Seemed like you tried to kind of hit every target, Democrat and Republican.
Oh yeah. Our show is designed to be fair and balanced. If we hit the Republicans we hit the Democrats, and then the Tea Party. We want to make it accessible to everyone, and let everyone have a good time.
So walk me through what happened out there on stage? What was your point of view?
So I came out and was going through my material. I was loving it, the audience was loving it--great energy. We're feeding off each other. And I started to get into my set about their candidates for 2012, and the Mitt Romney joke drew a lot of 'oohs' and 'aaahs,' but also a lot of applause and laughter. I delivered a couple more on Pawlenty and Gingrich, and then as I started into my Michele Bachmann joke and her PowerPoint slide came up on the screen, the music came up. I thought it was a technical error, because we do occasionally experience a glitch with the PowerPoint. Then the mike cut out, and the gentleman came on stage and told me my time was up.
Did they indicate that they were unhappy with your performance? What did he say?
No, not at all. He just came out and said, 'Sorry, your time's up.' I thanked the audience, went backstage, and a few of the organizers were saying, great job, very well done, we're all excited for you. I left the stage feeling like I'd done a great job. It was awesome, it was great.
Did you get to talk to any of the folks in the crowd afterward?
We went directly back to the hotel, my manager and me, and I got mobbed by the attendees. They were all saying, "Oh my god! Are you the Obama? Is that the Obama guy?" Because at this point I was in a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. They were like, "You were amazing! You were the best part of this conference. Why'd they pull you off?" People were upset that they didn't let me finish. They were just very complimentary. It was amazing. I had an 85-year-old woman tell me it was the funniest performance she'd every seen in her life and that she'd almost wet her pants. It was very well received and I really am sorry to my fans that I wasn't able to finish.
So at what point did you become aware that the organizers considered you a political problem?
When we got back to my hotel room, all these articles started popping up. The first few were saying "Obama impersonator mocks president at GOP function." Then a few started saying there was a controversy over racist jokes and things like that. So it was crazy to see the spin they started to put on it after I left--feeling I'd delivered a great performance, being told I did well. And then the eruption online.
They put out a statement condemning your afterward, right?
Yes, I met the guy before the show, too, and his wife, and he was all excited. He was like "This is great, I'm looking forward to seeing the show." Like most of the clients he was all happy, smiley, taking pictures together beforehand. Then afterward he started releasing these statements that weren't so positive, or accurate.
Anything in that act you regret?
No, I don't regret one joke. That's what I do. We spend a lot of time tailoring my material. I don't mean to offend anyone through my comedy. It is intellegent humor that's pretty much up to the minute on the political scene.
You don't consider that joke about Barney Frank's "soft backside" a little offensive?
No, that was just in reference to him sitting on his big behind while Freddie and Fannie collapsed. It wasn't really in reference to anything else.
Did you have any qualms about taking the gig? Are political crowds tougher than ordinary crowds?
It depends. A lot of it has to do with the energy, but this was a great audience. You have to be able to poke fun at yourself. It's amazing how things blew up. We've gotten like 500 emails, and news reports from as far away as Europe and South Africa. We already have a lot more bookings that have come in since then, and actually more on the Republican side than the Democratic side. I'll be on Mike Huckabee's Fox show on Saturday, in fact.
Just to clear this up, I'd seen some of your earlier clips and interview on YouTube and you didn't strike me as someone who has any animosity toward President Obama.
Not at all, I love our president. He has changed my life in ways I wouldn't have imagined. I have the best job in the world, I'm able to use my striking physical resemblance to him and my talents to develop this character that the world has been very receptive to. He's given me the opportunity to--and this may sound cheezy--but to live out my dreams. And it's been awesome. I love it.
You mentioned they yanked you before your Michele Bachmann joke. Want to finish your act for me? What was the joke?
[Speaking in the voice of Obama] What can I say about Michele Bachmann that she hasn't already said about herself? Now, last week she called me a one-term president. Uhh, now look. I may be a one-term president, but that's better than your former leader, George W. Bush, who was a one-syllable president.
The June 23 vote represents a huge popular rebellion against a future in which British people feel increasingly crowded within—and even crowded out of—their own country.
I said goodnight to a gloomy party of Leave-minded Londoners a few minutes after midnight. The paper ballots were still being counted by hand. Only the British overseas territory of Gibraltar had reported final results. Yet the assumption of a Remain victory filled the room—and depressed my hosts. One important journalist had received a detailed briefing earlier that evening of the results of the government’s exit polling: 57 percent for Remain.
The polling industry will be one victim of the Brexit vote. A few days before the vote, I met with a pollster who had departed from the cheap and dirty methods of his peers to perform a much more costly survey for a major financial firm. His results showed a comfortable margin for Remain. Ten days later, anyone who heeded his expensive advice suffered the biggest percentage losses since the 2008 financial crisis.
In the early 19th century, a series of massive quakes rocked Missouri. Some experts predict that the state could be in for another round of violent shaking, while others warn that a big quake could strike elsewhere in the center of the continent.
As I drove across the I-40 bridge into Memphis, I was reassured: chances were slim that a massive earthquake would wrest the road from its supports, and plunge me more than a hundred feet into the murky Mississippi. Thanks to a recently completed $260 million seismic retrofit, the bridge—a chokepoint for traffic in the central U.S.—is now fortified. It’s also decked out with strong-motion accelerometers and bookended by borehole seismometers to record convulsions in the earth.
The bridge passes a glass colossus, the Memphis Pyramid. Originally built as a nod to the city’s Old Kingdom namesake, the pyramid now enshrines a Bass Pro Shops megastore. The city recently spent $25 million to prevent the pyramid from being swallowed, perhaps by Geb, the ancient Egyptian god of earthquakes. Further downtown, AutoZone’s corporate headquarters also stands ready for a tectonic throttling, propped up as it is on top of giant shock absorbers, while, the nearby Memphis VA is similarly inured to temblors after the city spent $64 million dollars removing nine floors of the hospital to reduce the risk of collapse in a catastrophic earthquake.
American society increasingly mistakes intelligence for human worth.
As recently as the 1950s, possessing only middling intelligence was not likely to severely limit your life’s trajectory. IQ wasn’t a big factor in whom you married, where you lived, or what others thought of you. The qualifications for a good job, whether on an assembly line or behind a desk, mostly revolved around integrity, work ethic, and a knack for getting along—bosses didn’t routinely expect college degrees, much less ask to see SAT scores. As one account of the era put it, hiring decisions were “based on a candidate having a critical skill or two and on soft factors such as eagerness, appearance, family background, and physical characteristics.”
The 2010s, in contrast, are a terrible time to not be brainy. Those who consider themselves bright openly mock others for being less so. Even in this age of rampant concern over microaggressions and victimization, we maintain open season on the nonsmart. People who’d swerve off a cliff rather than use a pejorative for race, religion, physical appearance, or disability are all too happy to drop the s‑bomb: Indeed, degrading others for being “stupid” has become nearly automatic in all forms of disagreement.
It happened gradually—and until the U.S. figures out how to treat the problem, it will only get worse.
It’s 2020, four years from now. The campaign is under way to succeed the president, who is retiring after a single wretched term. Voters are angrier than ever—at politicians, at compromisers, at the establishment. Congress and the White House seem incapable of working together on anything, even when their interests align. With lawmaking at a standstill, the president’s use of executive orders and regulatory discretion has reached a level that Congress views as dictatorial—not that Congress can do anything about it, except file lawsuits that the divided Supreme Court, its three vacancies unfilled, has been unable to resolve.
On Capitol Hill, Speaker Paul Ryan resigned after proving unable to pass a budget, or much else. The House burned through two more speakers and one “acting” speaker, a job invented following four speakerless months. The Senate, meanwhile, is tied in knots by wannabe presidents and aspiring talk-show hosts, who use the chamber as a social-media platform to build their brands by obstructing—well, everything. The Defense Department is among hundreds of agencies that have not been reauthorized, the government has shut down three times, and, yes, it finally happened: The United States briefly defaulted on the national debt, precipitating a market collapse and an economic downturn. No one wanted that outcome, but no one was able to prevent it.
The U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union betrays a failure of empathy and imagination among its leaders. Will America’s political establishment fare any better?
If there is a regnant consensus among the men and women who steer the Western world, it is this: The globe is flattening. Borders are crumbling. Identities are fluid. Commerce and communications form the warp and woof, weaving nations into the tight fabric of a global economy. People are free to pursue opportunity, enriching their new homes culturally and economically. There may be painful dislocations along the way, but the benefits of globalization heavily outweigh its costs. And those who cannot see this, those who would resist it, those who would undo it—they are ignorant of their own interests, bigoted, xenophobic, and backward.
So entrenched is this consensus that, for decades, in most Western democracies, few mainstream political parties have thought to challenge it. They have left it to the politicians on the margins of the left and the right to give voice to such sentiments—and voicing such sentiments relegated politicians to the margins of political life.
Are the referendum results binding? How long will it take Britain to get out? What happens to the rest of Europe?
First, are the results really binding?
For the pro-“remain” side, this may be more wishful thinking than anything—given the scale of the “leave” victory—but, in theory at least, the referendum’s results are not binding. That’s because, in the U.K., it is Parliament that is sovereign. Referenda themselves are rare in the country—and Thursday’s was only the third in U.K. history.
The relevant legislation did not provide for the referendum result to have any formal trigger effect. The referendum is advisory rather than mandatory. The 2011 referendum on electoral reform did have an obligation on the government to legislate in the event of a “yes” vote (the vote was “no” so this did not matter). But no such provision was included in the EU referendum legislation.
What happens next in the event of a vote to leave is therefore a matter of politics not law. It will come down to what is politically expedient and practicable. The UK government could seek to ignore such a vote; to explain it away and characterise it in terms that it has no credibility or binding effect (low turnout may be such an excuse). Or they could say it is now a matter for parliament, and then endeavour to win the parliamentary vote. Or ministers could try to re-negotiate another deal and put that to another referendum. There is, after all, a tradition of EU member states repeating referendums on EU-related matters until voters eventually vote the “right” way.
In the book, Leonard took issue with the notion that China or India could soon eclipse America as a world power. “Those countries suffer from the same problems as the United States: they are large, nationalistic nation states in an era of globalisation,” he wrote. “The European Union is leading a revolutionary transformation of the nature of power that in just 50 years has transformed a continent from total war to perpetual peace. By building a network of power—that binds states together with a market, common institutions, and international law—rather than a hierarchical nation-state, it is increasingly writing the rules for the 21st Century.”
The Blake Lively vehicle, the harrowing tale of a surfer stalked by an angry cartilaginous fish, jumps the … yeah.
In July of 1945, during the final weeks of World War II, the USS Indianapolis was struck by a Japanese torpedo. The ship sank, leaving the survivors of the explosion—some 900 men—to float, helplessly, in the Pacific. The crew sent SOS signals; help never came. What did come, however, were sharks, specifically oceanic whitetips, and the creatures proceeded to pick off the survivors one by one. The ordeal lasted for four days. Only 317 men would emerge alive from what remains “the worst shark attack in history.”
News of the horror that had befallen the crew of the Indianapolis contributed to a national anxiety that remains with us, and that has been both channeled and exacerbated by pop culture. Deep Blue Sea,Kon-Tiki, Dinoshark,Soul Surfer,Sharknados 1-3 (with the fourth installment, Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens, planned for release in late July), and the many, many other films in the Jaws genre … all of them summon the fear that sharks are not just predators, but also—much more than other powerful animals manage to be—monsters. Call it, if you want (though you probably shouldn’t), fin-ema.
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s popular book series championed emotional restraint—an approach I’ve come to both question and appreciate in adulthood.
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s semi-autobiographical series Little House on the Prairie tells the simple but sprawling story of a young pioneer girl and her family as they journey across the American frontier in the 1880s. First published during the Great Depression, the novels have since been fairly criticized for their depiction of Native Americans, but this troubling aspect hasn’t diminished their popularity (they’re beloved by the feminist writer Roxane Gay and the former Alaska governor Sarah Palin alike). Today, the books disturb me as much as they move me—but as a kid, I longed for someone to develop the technology to print Little House on the backs of my eyelids, so that no matter what I was doing I could always be with Laura, racing ponies across the prairie or making maple sugar candy in the Big Woods.
The regulations and trade negotiations will be a nightmare to sort out, but the scariest part right now is the uncertainty.
Great Britain’s decision to extricate itself from the EU has consequences that are at once far-reaching and unknown. By Friday morning, no market was immune. Great Britain’s currency, the pound, had fallen to its lowest levels since 1985, and the FTSE (an index of the London stock exchange) and DAX (a German stock index) plummeted. In the U.S., markets opened in the red, gold (a commodity that many investors flee to at times of uncertainty) was up, and traders around the globe prepared for a volatile day amid the question of what the future will look like with the U.K. untethered from the European Union.
The health of an economy is significantly influenced by the policies and regulations that govern its financial systems. But the problem here goes far beyond a change in regulations: The bottom line is that no one really knows what will happen in either Great Britain or the EU—and that is in and of itself an economic problem. Markets don’t respond well to uncertainty. It’s understandable, then, that Great Britain’s historic move to shed its formal integration with Europe after almost six decades and the resignation of its prime minister all at one time would send markets into a bit of a frenzy.