Funny Girl (and Guys): Early Campaign Videos Play for Laughs

It’s early yet, but a few of the presidential contenders are confident enough to rely on comedy instead of choler in their video presentations to prospective voters. Instead of earnest policy tomes on global warming, actor and candidate-to-be Fred Thompson is reviving a nearly extinct species, Republican humor, while the funniest of the bunch is — who’d a thunk it? — Hillary Clinton.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson got the ball rolling with his two deadpan “interview” videos. Richardson meets with a job interviewer who recites the candidate’s extensive credentials in domestic and foreign affairs. Richardson himself hardly can get a word in edgewise against his interlocuter, sitting across the desk from him like a panda hoping for some bamboo.Richardson’s spot is especially refreshing because, while politicians always claim to listen to their constituents, usually they talk.

Republican hopeful Fred Thompson has gotten in a little tiff with liberal icon Michael Moore over Cuba, health care and cigars. The clip from Slate explains it well. While not laugh-out-loud funny, Thompson is sly and pointed in the spot.

Perhaps this means that the Republican right is emerging from its long decline into depression that followed the 2006 elections and is finally ready to laugh at itself again. Well, no they’ve never really been able to laugh at themselves. Sneer, anyway.

And finally, Hillary Clinton, searching for a campaign song. The senator is cheerfully good-humored, poking a little gentle fun at campaigning.

So does this mean a kinder, gentler campaign trail? Have those advertising attack dogs been instructed to heal?

“That’s a big question,” says Michigan State University Political Science Professor Bruce Vanden Bergh, an expert in campaign advertising. “My guess would be that they know they have a long way to go. I’m sure the intensity and the negativity will pick up as we get closer to the election and closer to conventions.”

But it’s an interesting issue, Vanden Bergh says, whether candidates will use the internet differently than they use conventional television advertising. “They know people go there to be entertained,” he said. So candidates may be reluctant to be as hard-hitting online as they are in other media. “We’re in unknown territory here,” he says. “It will be interesting to see who has the courage to take the risks, who makes it work in a whole new medium.”

The use of humor in these early videos “indicates confidence in yourself and in the audience. If you use humor well, the audience feels smarter. When you’re self-effacing, the smarter voter gets that. It reinforces him and strokes his ego. And it makes you look more human. But only certain personalities can do it.”