February 26, 2004

Capitol Comedy

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Before I began reading a book about the President’s comedian, I had to ask myself what exactly that profession entailed. Thinking back over the Bush administration it occurred to me that he has said a lot of funny things, but I doubt many of them were intentional. Going back a little further, I remember a number of sexual jokes that came out of the Clinton era, but I again doubted if any of these were intentional (or at least I hoped they weren’t). Then it occurred to me that Americans probably didn’t want the one man who has the power to kill 99.9 percent of the world’s population at any given moment to be funny. I was therefore relieved to find the book is only superficially about a presidential comedian; its essence is about the political life of Cornell graduate and political satirist Mark Katz.

While you may not know it, you already know Katz. He was the guy who was in your honors classes back in high school and would always push the boundary of comedy within the classroom. Katz is also the guy who sat with you in your Cornell astronomy class because he too had heard it was the science course that non-science majors could take. Also, and maybe most importantly, he was that government major friend who wrote your grad school application essay for you.

Katz began his political career some five weeks before he was born with the news of the assassination of Kennedy. After successfully navigating a childhood of John-John haircuts from his mother and JFK clothing, he found himself and his brother returning home from school to cheer for and watch the Watergate scandal unfold on CSPAN. Katz’s first political campaign was for George McGovern where he broke a number of federal election laws by confronting voters on the way to the polls within his school and placing McGovern bumper stickers on every car in the parking lot. After high school, Katz moved on to Cornell to continue his education. While many of us may believe that our Cornell days shape our life to come, Katz only commits a few sentences to them: “My graduation from Cornell