Barack Obama’s former speechwriter is opening up about what it was like writing jokes for the president — and his thoughts on Donald Trump skipping The White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
David Litt, who currently heads the comedy series “Funny or Die” told Vulture that he balanced his formal speechwriting duties with writing quips for the former president.
“There was one year where I was working on the Correspondents’ Dinner and simultaneously working on a speech about the Holocaust, so it was a very weird headspace to have to spend the morning on one and the afternoon on the other,” he said.
Preparation for the Correspondents’ Dinner was the equivalent of sitting in a television writers’ room, with speechwriters coming together with high-profile comedians, including Judd Apatow, to pitch jokes. Unlike writing individual speeches, this was not a one-person job.
“It would be very, very hard for one person to write the Correspondents’ Dinner on their own,” he said. “Jokes are just different than speeches in that way. Every line needs to be the best possible version of that line, and it’s all new, it’s all original.”
Litt added that Obama’s own personal gravitas helped lighten the writers’ loads.
“Part of what made writing jokes for the president a lot easier than writing jokes for a lot of other politicians is that he has that performer’s sense of self-awareness,” he said. “He could pull off a joke…because he knows, Okay, this is how I’m being perceived. That is not a requirement to be a senator or a president, but he happened to possess that.”
Once jokes has been narrowed down to a select few, they were brought to the president, who would then cut the ones he didn’t like, or try to shape the ones he thought needed work. Notes were never about making the quips tamer — if anything, it was the exact opposite.
“He would read something and say, ‘This is pretty good, but could we go a little edgier, a little sharper with it?’ ‘Sharper’ and ‘edgier’ were his two big notes, so you went back to your office feeling free to take an even bigger swing.”
And Obama’s favorite joke?
“The joke I wrote that he liked the most was from 2013, when he said, “You know, Republicans all agree they need to do a better job of reaching out to minorities. Call me self-centered, but I can think of one minority they should start with,” Litt recalled. “And I think he ad-libbed something like, “Think of me as a trial run.” It was fun when he would play off something like that.”
Litt went onto emphasize the importance of the Correspondents’ Dinner, and criticized Trump’s decision to skip out this year.
“Donald Trump is a bad person and that is reflected in his decision-making,” he said. “I don’t say that lightly. I don’t say that a lot of people are bad people. What I mean by that is, he does not understand the value of a free press. He doesn’t understand the value of being able to joke about yourself or admit that it’s a democracy.”
With President Obama leaving the White House, we also have to say goodbye to one of our favorite bromances of all-time.
Yup, you know what we’re talking about. The leader of the free world and his “brother” Vice President Joe Biden.
Remember that time Biden made a friendship bracelet for Obama?
Happy 55th, Barack! A brother to me, a best friend forever. pic.twitter.com/uNsxouTKOO— Vice President Biden (@VP) August 4, 2016
Or when their selfie game was on fire?
To honor the iconic White House friendship, we pulled together seven of our very favorite Jewish bromances.
Jonah Hill and Adam Levine
The actor and the Maroon 5 frontman have been best bros since childhood (they even carpooled to school together). In 2014, Hill officiated Levine’s wedding. #FriendshipGoals.
Seth Rogen and James Franco
Often a bromance is just hinted at: a longing glance here, a hug there, the rest is left to our (juicy) imagination. But not when it comes to best buddies Seth Rogen and James Franco. In a parody of Kanye West’s video “Bound 2,” they gifted us with a full blown make out session on a motorcycle.
Zac Efron and Dave Franco
James is not the only Franco brother who’s got some bro-loving. The bromance between Dave Franco and his “Neighbors”-co-star Zac Eforn is so real that tabloids even regularly announce that the two are dating. This was spurred on by a sarcastic Instagram post of James congratulating his little brother on the relationship with Efron. Sadly not true. A girl can dream, though.
Donald Faison and Zach Braff
Donald Faison and Zach Braff are one of the most iconic TV bromances, but their love extends from the set of “Scrubs” out into the real world. The two tweet at each other, spend birthdays together, and Braff even took over an AMA that Faison was doing on Reddit.
If this isn’t the picture of love, what is?
Ansel Elgort and Nat Wolff
“Divergent” star Ansel Elgort and “Paper Towns” lead Nat Wolff met on the set of “The Fault in Our Stars.” Since then the two have become inseparable and even tag their Instagram pictures with #bff. But the ultimate proof of their bromance was when they recreated this alternate “The Fault in Our Stars” movie poster pictured above.
Fans love their love so much that they create a celebrity couple nickname for them: Nansel.
Dave Coulier, John Stamos and Bob Saget
What’s better than two guys celebrating their bromance? Three!
Dave Coulier, John Stamos and Bob Saget met on the set of “Full House” in the 1990s, and have been friends since. They got to rekindle their guy love when Netflix rebooted “Fuller House.”
Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert
All I want in life is for someone to look at me the way Jon Stewart looks at Stephen Colbert.
Stewart gave his Colbert his start as a correspondent on “The Daily Show” and the two men continue to be close long after leaving the show. Stewart even used to have a bobble head of his friend in his office.
After all that Jewish bromantic love, its time for a celebration!
The stars are saying their final goodbyes to the Obamas.
Sarah Jessica Parker, Rachel Bloom and Judith Light were among the celebrities to bid farewell to the president and his family in a video shot by Vanity Fair.
“Thank you for the grace and the dignity and the majesty they brought,” Parker said. “And for carving out time and conversation about people who need advocacy.”
Light expressed her wish that the president’s eight years remain cemented in the consciousness of Americans for many years to come. “I only hope that the brilliant legacy that you created is something that stays in the hearts and minds and souls of all of us,” she said.
Bloom took a different approach, effusively apologizing for (presumably) the person about to step into the president’s shoes.
“We’re so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m sorry,” she said.
The White House also released a goodbye video, asking those who participated to recall their favorite Obama moment.
Jerry Seinfeld talked about the unforgettable experience of shooting a segment with the president for “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”
“Knocking on the oval office window,” Seinfeld said. “That was probably the peak of my entire existence.”
Gloria Steinem commented on how inclusive the president was. “It’s the first time in my life I felt like the White House belonged to everybody,” she said.
Meanwhile, over on social media, stars expressed their appreciation and sadness after Obama’s final speech.
I love u @POTUS In good times & bad the buck stopped w you. Thank u for being a true leader & for 8 yrs of astounding, immeasurable progress— Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) January 11, 2017
We’ve always known President Obama is, at heart, a lovable nerd. Soon we’ll get even more proof; the president guest-edited the November edition of WIRED, which the magazine’s editor in chief Scott Dadich recently wrote will be focused on frontiers, including “the final one, because it turns out President Obama is a big Star Trek nerd.”
Teasing that issue, on Friday WIRED released President Obama’s list of the books he finds essential. Works by two Jewish authors made the cut: Israeli Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” and Israeli-American Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow.”
While the article didn’t include Obama’s personal comments on each book — we can only dream — WIRED’s Charley Locke gave suggestions on how best to enjoy them. “Sapiens” takes a fresh look at the biological and sociological history of humanity; Locke wrote it’s best enjoyed “as a pick-me-up when you need to feel a little species pride.”
“Thinking, Fast and Slow,” is Kahneman’s exploration of two distinct methods of human cognition: fast and instinctive versus slow and methodical. The book is based in Kahneman’s work as a psychologist and economist — he’s won the Nobel Prize in Economics, no big deal — and Locke advises you read it “before your irrational self takes control and decides to just watch Netflix instead.”
Harari has a new book coming out in February, “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.” If we’re lucky, maybe Obama will book club it with us. After all, by then he’ll have some free time on his hands.
Talya Zax is the Forward’s culture fellow. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @TalyaZax
Bette Midler weighs in on the State of the Union and the President.
Jewish celebrities and other famous Tribe voices took to social media largely to praise President Barack Obama for what was his final State of the Union address.
Some were overtly political; others funny; and some took aim at the Republican delivering the opposition party’s response: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
Here’s a sampling:
I want @FLOTUS to stay on as First Lady when @HillaryClinton is president— Sandra Bernhard (@SandraBernhard) January 13, 2016
Actually, The White House is @nikkihaley’s mouth. #SOTU #SOTU16— Judy Gold (@JewdyGold) January 13, 2016
“No president has ever faced the fog of lies and misinformation that this president has”…so true. How we all suffered for it, all of us.— Bette Midler (@BetteMidler) January 13, 2016
Apparently, Scalia and Thomas had a pressing poker game tonight. #SOTU— Josh Gad (@joshgad) January 13, 2016
When y’all bring prayer into your political speeches it alienates this American— Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) January 13, 2016
Update: @nikkihaley’s upper lip found outside Governor’s mansion in South Carolina. #SOTU #SOTU16— Judy Gold (@JewdyGold) January 13, 2016
This is a good, smart, trustworthy man. I’m so grateful we had him. Thank you @POTUS.— billy eichner (@billyeichner) January 13, 2016
YES! LETS DO THIS !??@PSIimpact https://t.co/TahHayrq1w— Debra Messing (@DebraMessing) January 13, 2016
pic.twitter.com/IQ6JRG2dv4— Julie Klausner (@julieklausner) January 13, 2016
American leadership is crucial to overcoming global challenges. But we’re most effective when we work together with our allies. #SOTU— Madeleine Albright (@madeleine) January 13, 2016
A conservative group got #KimDavis a seat at the State of the Union. Which husband will she bring? Curious about the State of Her 4th Union!— Bette Midler (@BetteMidler) January 13, 2016
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