Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Bill O'Reilly tells us that Abraham Lincoln would never have appeared on Funny or Die, especially with America's national security under threat:
While O'Reilly said he doesn't really have a problem with the video "in general," the timing of it, coming in the middle of tensions with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukraine, was problematic. "Looks like Putin believes the president is a lightweight," he said. "Will a comedy will a comedy video counter that?"

"I'm all for PR," O'Reilly continued, saying he would have fine with someone like Press Secretary Jay Carney going on Funny or Die, but not with the president of the United States. "All I can tell is you is Abe Lincoln would not have done it," he said definitively.

"There comes a point when serious times call for serious action," O'Reilly said.
O'Reilly may have coauthored a book about Lincoln, but he seems not to know much about Lincoln. In particular, he seems not to be aware of the fact that Lincoln was known during his lifetime as a funny man -- Carl Sandburg would go on to call Lincoln "the first authentic humorist" to become president. As Lawrence Denton wrote,
[Lincoln] captivated the press. He loved to tell stories and often entertained crowds of all sizes with jokes and tall tales. The press loved Lincoln's storytelling because he almost always provided good copy. In fact, some did more than love it, some made money out of it. "Newsmen picked up this facet of life and some wrote about it.... Printers and publishers saw an opportunity, and so they began putting out little books such as The Humors of Uncle Abe and Old Abe's Jokes."
Would Lincoln have participated in a sophisticated, urbane entertainment? Well, he might not have just because his style was
much more down-home:
... his material generally related to plain people with whom his constituents could readily identify in an era when most people lived either on farms or in small towns.
But he was known for his wit -- in fact, he was called "the National Joker" in this 1864 magazine cartoon (click to enlarge):

And yes, that's from 1864. Lincoln's reputation as a joke-teller continued through the Civil War. In fact, he was criticized for this tendency, as Todd Nathan Thompson writes:
... caricaturists and satirists alike portrayed Lincoln's love of humor as inappropriately frivolous during a solemn and devastating war. Ray B. Browne, in his preface to a collection of Lincoln-related popular-cultural products, Lincoln-Lore: Lincoln in the Popular Mind (1974), explains that "[b]ecause of his constant humorizing, Lincoln's enemies pictured him as an inhuman monster who cracked jokes while sending boys to their death on the battlefield and while the nation was being shattered" (xi).
Thompson writes about another cartoon depicting Lincoln as "the National Joker," and links it to the belief that Lincoln joked while soldiers died:
The horrifying scenes of war depicted in the bubbles overhead -- the hospital, liberty aflame, and the battlefield -- imply that Lincoln's humor was in exceedingly poor taste in wartime. Part of this disgust arose from a false but powerful rumor (given credence by being printed in the New York World) that Lincoln had made off-color jokes while touring the Antietam battlefield.
I'd say that not only is Bill O'Reilly wrong about Lincoln, but O'Reilly, if he'd been around at the time, would have been one of the people msking the loudest attacks on Lincoln for his jokes.


aimai said...

I really found that Bill O'Reilly thing to be completely confounding. If you knew anythign at all about Lincoln, and he is supposed to know something about him, you ought to know that Lincoln was a famous cut up, jokester, and teller of tales.

Victor said...

Lincoln was our first "Stand-up/Improv President!"

Bull Orally don't know nothin' from nothin'!

The New York Crank said...

The big difference in this regard between Lincoln and Obama is that Lincoln probably would have had funnier repartee.

BillO, on the other hand, has the sense of humor of an avocado pit.

Very crankily yours,
The New York Crank

Greg said...

It's always not so much what O'Reilly says, but how he says it. The not-so-veiled message is, "You can disagree with me, but it's gonna cost ya." So go ahead, poke holes in his argument -- but his job remains to appeal to old proud white people convinced of their righteousness in a world gone wrong, people who look to him as a role model of how to Stand Tall. Those people won't let facts get in the way of admiring a man who "gets it."

Smilodon said...

Orilly may be right. Lincoln might not have gone on Funny or Die. Probably wouldn't have worked anyway.

Prairie Home Companion? He would have been a regular.