Obama Meets Chris Rock

How Does the Senator Compare with Pop Culture?

Charreah Jackson, BlackCollegeView.com

February 2007
He’s loud, cusses, cracks under pressure, can’t handle financial problems and doesn’t always achieve subject/verb agreement. He’s America’s first Black president, as portrayed by comics Richard Pryor, Chris Rock and Dave Chapelle. So, how does he compare to real-life candidate Barack Obama?

In 1977, Pryor kicked off his variety show as America’s first Black president. In a press conference, President Pryor is composed until a ” Jet” magazine reporter’s question confirms he’ll nominate radical Black Panther icon Huey Newton as FBI director. Pryor, now militant, comes unglued, later fighting a reporter who mocked his mom and confirming he will have White mistresses in the White House.

Obama, whose mother is White, is often called racially transcendent and has never lost his cool with the media. His African-American wife would be the only woman accompanying him to the White House, along with their two daughters.

Nearly three decades after Pryor’s skit, no Black has even won a presidential nomination, but the idea of a Black president has remained popular in entertainment.

Chris Rock’s 2003 movie “Head of State,” the largest production premised on a Black president, debuted at number one. Rock’s fairly unsophisticated character, Mays Gilliam, is a Washington, D.C. alderman who, chosen as a replacement candidate amid desperation, has barely traveled beyond his hometown.

Obama is a U.S. Senator, born in Hawaii to a Kenyan father and American mother, who spent parts of his childhood in Indonesia and Hawaii, attended Columbia and Harvard universities in the Northeast, and practiced law in Chicago.

Differences between Obama and conventional depictions of Black presidents might cause some to think the comparisons unfair, though other real Black politicians, such as Rev. Jesse Jackson, have actually been satirized as presidents in sketch comedy.

“It is an unfair comparison,” said William Jelani Cobb, a Spelman University professor and author of “The Devil and Dave Chappelle and Other Essays.” “All those fictional Black presidents were supposed to represent Black folks and were these militant Black presidents. [Obama] is the exact opposite. He’s an inside operator.”

Though Obama’s campaign continues to draw heavy support, some comedians joke the demands of president would be too much for him or any other Black man.

“There won’t ever be a Black president because he couldn’t deal with a seven trillion dollar national debt,” Cedric the Entertainer said in the 2000 film “The Original Kings of Comedy.” “‘Tell ’em, I ain’t got it. Ask ’em if they’d take a post-dated check’.”

The comedian also said a Black president could not handle something like the Monica Lewinsky situation President Bill Clinton experienced.

“You gonna ask me about that in front of my wife?” said Cedric, pretending to be president. He then leaps at an imaginary reporter, then switches roles, pretending to be an onlooker. “The president fight too much. He just like Anthony Mason.”

For comedian Paul Mooney, it’s not Obama’s actions that will keep him from the White House but his physical stature.

“He’ll never be president,” he said to the Wall Street Journal, following Michael Richards’s racist tirade. “It has nothing to do with his complexion. He’s too skinny. We don’t like skinny presidents. Both of them that we had, we killed — Kennedy and Lincoln.”

Assassination is sometimes brought up in the context of Black presidents. In rapper Wyclef Jean’s song “If I Were President,” the chorus says, “If I was president, I’d get elected on Friday, assassinated on Saturday and buried on Sunday.”

Michelle Obama, the senator’s wife, has even been asked in interviews if she feared her husband might be assassinated. She has either dismissed the notion or confirmed worries at different times.

The closest resemblance between a fictional Black president and Obama is character David Palmer on the FOX television show “24,” who was killed after his term. Palmer, like Obama, was a senator, but from Maryland. On the show’s first season, he was the frontrunner for the Democratic nod.

Dave Chappelle took another route by depicting a Black Republican president. His skit imagined President George W. Bush as a black man.

Ironically, the running joke of a Black president owes its roots to the idea it couldn’t happen.

“There was widespread disbelief that a Black man would ever be a serious contender for president,” Cobb said. “You can’t ever expect political institutions to address the issues of blacks. So, the whole ‘What if one of us were elected?’ was based on shared cynicism and the possibilities of politics.”

The possibility of politics continues to reveal itself as Barack Obama gains ground in his bid for the White House.

His record reveals a man who isn’t loud and hasn’t cracked under pressure. Though he once lost a bid for the House of Representatives, he came from behind in initial primary polls to capture his senate seat with 70% of the vote. He is educated; transcends race; effects change and is a BeyoncĂ© fan, according to the New York Daily News. Obama may not be the fictional black president in entertainment, but he has a shot at being the real thing.

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