Joe Biden’s 2016 campaign for President is getting a bump, at least among television-watching good-government nerds, next week. As the New York Times reports, he’s making a surprise appearance on Parks and Recreation:
With the race won, a guest appearance by Mr. Biden on the NBC comedy “Parks and Recreation,” filmed way back in July, can finally be revealed. Everything about the scene, which the executive producer of the show, Michael Schur, labeled a “scenelet,” had been under strict secrecy. The show was warned that if any word leaked out before the election, some provision might have to be made to give the Republican vice-presidential nominee, Representative Paul Ryan, a similar cameo.
“It was all very byzantine and complicated,” Mr. Schur said. “There seem to be all kinds of specific rules, which I never fully understood. But we decided to err on the side of caution.”
Parks and Recreation got something of an early jump on the Biden-mania sweeping the memo-o-sphere. “What is your ideal man?” Leslie Knope’s best friend Ann asked her back in the show’s second season. “He has the brains of George Clooney in the body of Joe Biden,” Leslie responded promptly. But the show is hardly alone in its love for Biden. One of the things that will be delightfully odd to watch about a Biden run for president is that he’ll be one of the first candidates who is heavily defined by pop culture jokes before he officially throws his hat in the ring.
That process may have begun in 1991, when Kevin Nealon played him on Saturday Night Live during a cold open about Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings:
The riff on Biden as somewhat oversexed and socially inappropriate became the foundation of The Onion’s portrayal of the Vice President as a Trans-Am-washing, Summer-of-’87-remembering, Dave and Busters evictee. The image of Biden as a bro is all over Gifs of him with animated sunglasses descending on his face or fistbumping actor Kal Penn. It’s a raunchier ideal than the man himself, of course–Biden is famously devoted to his family–but it’s appealingly winking, and it’s schtick that makes his gaffes look minor. What’s sticking your foot in your mouth in comparison to asking Clarence Thomas for sex advice or hightailing it to Mexico for a while?
Biden’s done more family-friendly fare, too–he made a cameo on the third season of kids’ geography game show Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego to tell host Greg Lee that: “I just wanted to let you know that I proposed a Congressional resolution naming you ‘The Best Detective of the Year’…But some people were more comfortable with ‘Best Detective of the Month’…And a few preferred ‘Best Detective of the Work Week.’ Then someone suggested ‘best’ is an awfully strong word, so we decided to name you ‘The Somewhat-Notable Detective of the Next 12 Minutes.’ Congratulations, Greg.”
Biden may have a reputation for being something of a goof. But his laid-back response to his media portrayals–there’s some suggestion that he’s aware of and enjoys The Onion articles–and his willingness to do television is smart. The combination of a hunger for indication of candidates’ true selves, the ease with which memes, a la the Tumblr Texts From Hillary, can be blown up quickly, and the rise of political humor as a form of commentary as significant as serious news, future candidates for president are going to have to be comfortable skipping deftly from policy talk to self-satire. Biden may find himself challenged by a younger generation in 2016, but when it comes to handling political comedy, he’s an old hand.