What The New Yorker And Jimmy Fallon’s Chris Christie Jokes Teach Us About Political Humor

CREDIT: New Yorker

When the New Yorker unveiled its Chris Christie cover pegged to the revelation that the New Jersey Governor’s aides had created massive traffic problems as a form of political payback, I had to admit I thought it was a rare miss:


CREDIT: New Yorker

I understood what they were getting at: that Christie’s behavior had been childish and selfish. But portraying him as a chubby kid in short pants playing with a ball in traffic actually seemed to underestimate what was at stake here. Revenge is not becoming, but in the Christie administration, it’s become something more than childish impulse. It’s a deliberate strategy of the Christie administration to paint people who question the governor as deserving not just responses but punishment. That’s more malevolent, and more grown-up, than a temper tantrum.

And that’s why I preferred Jimmy Fallon’s team-up with Bruce Springsteen to rewrite “Born To Run” to riff on the scandal:

Part of what works about the clip is that it’s silly in a way that doesn’t minimize the scandal or suggest that Springsteen and Fallon feel superior to Christie. The two men joke about the misery of getting stuck on the GWB with a painfully full bladder, and the indignities finance industry types getting stuck in traffic with blue-collar peons. And they keep the focus on the consequences of Christie’s aides’ actions, rather than trying to parse questions of culpability that will be settled by political reporters and subpoenas.

What happened to people who were affected by the traffic closure was ridiculous. But a willingness to inflict ridiculous consequences on innocent people is actually a rather serious thing to do. People who want Chris Christie to suffer the consequences of the tone he appears to have set in New Jersey would do well to remember that. Lampooning him as fat (a subject on which Linda Holmes has a great number of eloquent things to say) or childish both falls into the same sort of tactics Christie himself uses, and misses the point that Christie’s vindictiveness and hectoring style has made him extremely successful. That doesn’t mean we can’t mine humor out of the bridge scandal, and anything else might follow. But that humor needs to be in service of the idea that Christie’s powerful when he shouldn’t be, rather than assuming that everyone shares the idea that he’s laughable.