The search for the funniest president continues! Warren Harding was amazingly popular in his day. Was he also amazingly funny?
We're joined by Sherry Hall, the site manager of the Harding Home Presidential Site in Marion, Ohio. She gives us insight into Harding's personal style (he considered himself a newspaper editor above all), his love of socializing, and his Midwestern humor -- the qualities that made him irresistable to a huge number of voters.
For all you scandal lovers, we also touch on the affairs and schlocky love letters that made Harding into a punchline when they were made public in 2014. And there's also some mention of Pokemon Go. Something for everyone!
MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "Beautiful Ohio" by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, "My Ohio Home" by Jean Goldkette and His Orchestra
The search for the funniest president continues! Andrew Jackson has a reputation for killing ... but not in a comedic sense. He actually murdered a dude. So if we're looking at the comedy of Jackson, how does that work, exactly?
Our guest is Michael Friedman, the composer and lyricist for the hit musical "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson." That production turned Jackson into an emo rock star, producing big laughs and amazing insights into the populist wave that Jackson rode into the White House. Michael helps us understand why Jackson CAN work as a comedic figure on stage -- even though much of Jackson's historical legacy can be seen as tragic.
MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "I'm Slappin' Seventh Avenue" by Duke Ellington's Famous Orchestra, "Tennessee Twilight" by the Eddie Condon Orchestra
The search for the funniest president continues! James Buchanan didn't have much to laugh about as president, what with that whole "Civil War" thing starting on his watch. But how much has that one huge stain warped our view of POTUS No. 15?
Patrick Clarke, the director of President James Buchanan's Wheatland, welcomes us into the historic home to talk about Buchanan's personality. JB enjoyed a four-decade career in politics that took him around the world, and strategic charm was a big part of his success. Find out what it looked like in practice!
MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "Buck Jumpin'" by Fats Waller and His Orchestra, "Pennsylvania 6-5000" by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra
Tony Roberts is one of the most purely entertaining headliners in the game ... and we've got him back headlining for a second year in a row (July 28-31).
On Friday morning, Tony and feature act Katrina Pope came by the club for another podcast interview ... or more accurately, we turned the mics on and Tony and Katrina took over. Lots of fun talking about hot dogs, live music, favorite comics and more.
Have a listen, then catch them at the club this weekend!
The search for the funniest president continues! Some presidents weren't all that funny in life ... but thanks to Twitter, they're cracking people up in death.
Yes, there are people out there using Twitter to assume the identity of dead presidents. And one of the funniest accounts is tied to one of the most obscure presidents, Millard Fillmore. Evan Marcus and Ira Lieman started @fillmoremillard in 2009 to speak on behalf of a guy who is six feet under the Buffalo tundra.
Who are they? Why are they doing this? What do they think of the actual Millard? And can we somehow hook them up with Alec Baldwin? All these answers and more on a fascinating and funny edition of Headliner of State!
MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "Off to Buffalo" by Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra, "Mason Flyer" by Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra
The search for the funniest president continues! Thomas Jefferson left behind a huge paper trail, but we're still arguing about where that trail leads. Was Jefferson a brilliant philosopher or a hypocritical racist? Was he a principled revolutionary or a calculating politician? And with all this background noise, can we ever hope to figure out the important stuff: If Jefferson was funny?
LSU Professor Andrew Burstein, the author of "Democracy's Muse," is our guest. And he has fantastic insights into both Jefferson's character and the ways that Jefferson has been misunderstood over the last 200 years. It's a great discussion that might change the way you think about American history.
Music: Hail Columbia, "I'm Coming Virginia" by the Benny Carter Orchestra, "In the Hall of the Mountain King" by Henri Rene's Orchestra
The search for the funniest president continues! Harry Truman might be one of the most likable presidents ... but does that mean he's also one of the funniest?
Matthew Algeo, the author of "Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure," is our guest. His book tells the story of ex-president Truman's 1953 road trip with his wife -- where he drove the car himself and tried (unsuccessfully) to travel incognito. It's a charming story that lets Harry's personality shine through.
Did Truman's "regular guy" ethic carry over to his comedy? Was he the best practical joker among presidents? And did highway patrolmen find his driving a little funny? Find out!
Music: Hail Columbia, "Kansas City Stride" by Count Basie and His Orchestra, "Kansas City Squabble" by Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra
The search for the funniest president continues! George W. Bush generates a lot of laughter ... whether it's through his good-natured charm, or through jokes at his expense. Does he deserve a shot at the title?
We're joined by the great comedian Frank Caliendo, whose Bush impression might be the best in the business. His take on GWB was seen on "MADtv," Letterman, at the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner and on comedy stages across the country. (And it might be seen at the DC Improv July 7-9, when Frank headlines five shows.)
And we're not just talking about Bush. Frank also does an incredible Donald Trump impression, so we're getting his insight on the presumptive GOP nominee for 2016.
Music: "Hail Columbia," "Under a Texas Moon" by Guy Lombardo, "Texas Shuffle" by Count Basie and his Orchestra
Franklin Pierce loved to party! But he married a woman who hated to party. And he was really charismatic! But he's usually remembered as a failed president.
In other words, Pierce was complicated. We're gonna need a top-notch expert to figure out if he was funny, and that's where Peter A. Wallner comes in. His two-volume biography of "Handsome Frank" is probably the most thoroughly researched work on Pierce in 75 years. We talk about the qualities that made Pierce so charming, whether Pierce had a drinking problem, and how Pierce kept his spirits up while enduring personal tragedies. (Such as, witnessing the decapitation of his son. Yikes.)
And stick around until the end for what might be the most juvenile bit of humor in this whole series.
MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "Drink to Me Only With Thine Own Eyes" by John Kirby and His Orchestra
The search for the funniest president continues! Some of Benjamin Harrison's contemporaries ridiculed him as a "human iceberg," and the nickname stuck. This episode, we're thawing him out to see if there's a great sense of humor buried under that reputation.
Charlie Hyde, the head honcho at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site in Indianapolis, helps us understand why Harrison could be so formal at times -- and he shares the things that loosened Harrison up. Plus, we talk about Harrison's special place in the history of presidential humor, as the first sitting president to address a Gridiron Club dinner.
We've got stories about a goat cart, Harrison fighting crime with his bare hands, and more ... It's a fun look at a lesser-known president.
MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "Benny Rides Again" and "Benjie's Bubble" by the Benny Goodman Orchestra
We're searching for the funniest president -- but focusing on laughs can obscure the less-pleasant parts of a president's legacy. For example, lots of the early presidents had slaves. And no one had more than George Washington.
So let's get into it! Our guest is Azie Dungey. Currently a writer for "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," Azie is also the creator and star of the "Ask a Slave" web series from 2013. She worked as a costumed interpreter at Mount Vernon, and the series puts a comedic (and thought-provoking) spin on her experiences. Can you use comedy to teach people about slavery? Does the stain of slavery ruin Washington's image? And, oh yeah, was Washington funny?
MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "Shorty George" by Count Basie and His Orchestra, "Washington Squabble" by Claude Hopkins and His Orchestra
The search for the funniest president continues! Herbert Hoover unfairly takes the rap for the Great Depression ... but if we look past all that economic moping, was he actually a funny guy?
Tom Schwartz, the director of the Hoover Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa, helps us find out. We discuss how Bert's Quaker upbringing shaped his self-expression, review some of his truly amazing accomplishments and explore his special (and humorous) connection with the youth of America.
MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "The Quaker" by the Erroll Garner Trio, "Fish Fry" by Benny Carter and His Orchestra
Big Jay Oakerson headlines the club May 13-15. We asked him to do a podcast, and true to his style of comedy he just sat down and started having a conversation. It's pretty amazing to watch the tightrope act live ... you get a unique comedy experience show after show.
Also chatting: feature act Mike Finoia, who is Jay's buddy (and roommate). We talk about the Philly scene, what got them into comedy, and Jay's upcoming Comedy Central special.
The search for the funniest president continues!
James K. Polk is legendary for getting stuff done -- his four years in office featured a war with Mexico and tremendous territorial expansion of the United States. But did Polk do it with a smile?
John Bicknell, the author of "America 1844," joins us to chat about the 11th president. We talk about Polk's legendary work ethic, what made him so driven, and whether humor EVER found its way into his White House. He won one election as a dark horse ... is there any chance he'll be elected funniest president?
MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "Charlie Horse" by Charlie Spivak and his Orchestra, "Tennessee Twilight" by the Eddie Condon Orchestra
The search for the funniest president continues! Chester Arthur (1881-85) was probably a funny guy ... he was a very effective cog in New York City's Republican political machine, so he knew how to rub elbows with the best of 'em.
But if we've giving him a shot at the title, we need to think outside the box. Christopher Oldstone-Moore is an expert in the history of facial hair, grooming and other projections of masculinity - and he just published a great book, "Of Beards and Men." He's helping us figure out if Arthur was the funniest LOOKING president, thanks to his amazing whiskers.
We get context for the "bearded age," the peculiar 50-year span when America's leaders dared to wear facial hair. Chris explains the origins of Chester's look, and the statement he was trying to make. And ultimately, we figure out if it's cool to use our modern standards when deciding if Arthur was, in fact, funny looking.
It's a hair-raising discussion. HA!
MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "Fine and Dandy" by Teddy Wilson and his Orchestra, "Blind Arthur Breakdown" by Blind Arthur, "He's Pulling His Whiskers" by Hot Lips Page and His Band
When you work in a specialized field, you ALWAYS have to keep on learning new job skills ... even if you're a medium! Cindy Kaza returns to the podcast to tell us about her travels to Indonesia, as she tries to understand mediumship and spiritual connections in other parts of the world.
Cindy is back on our stage May 4!
Ian Bagg is one of the great road warriors of comedy -- stand-up has allowed him to circle the globe. The road brings him to DC May 5-8, so we're catching up with him before he gets to town.
Ian tells us how his experiences playing hockey helped shape his humor, shares his thoughts on chatting with an audience, and gives us some more perspective on "Last Comic Standing." (He was a top 5 finalist in 2015, and you gotta hear what the tour bus was like.) Have a listen, then check him out at the club next week ...
The search for the funniest president continues! Today, most people just know Taft as the heaviest president -- but in his day the big guy was one of the most lovable public figures in America.
Our guest is Jon Lurie, a professor emeritus of legal history at Rutgers University who published a Taft biography in 2012. We talk about Taft's famous full-body laugh and his sardonic sense of humor. We review the most famous fat jokes at Taft's expense -- and the ways Taft responded to them. And most important, we try to figure out why a famously fun guy seemed so miserable while serving in the White House.
MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "Super Chief" by Count Basie and His Orchestra, "My Ohio Home" by Jean Goldkette and His Orchestra
The search for the funniest president continues! Martin Van Buren took the rule book for American politics, set it on fire and wrote his own. He more or less invented the notion of professional political parties, then used his amazing creation to get Andrew Jackson elected president. When Jackson retired, MVB succeeded him in the White House.
But was he FUNNY? Journalist/historian/author James Bradley is a co-editor of Van Buren's papers -- he knows "Old Kinderhook" cold. We talk about the comedy Van Buren would have grown up with in his father's tavern and the ways he practiced humor to his political advantage. Most important, we talk about MVB's political revolution -- and the generations of presidential humor that became possible as a result.
MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "Martin on Every Block" by Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra, "Ultrafox" by Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club Quintet
The search for the funniest president continues! FDR rewrote the rule book for presidential behavior ... including the use of humor. His deeply personal connections with voters, reporters and fellow world leaders produced a lot of laughs (and also a bunch of government programs, but who's counting?).
Bill Harris of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum helps us get inside Roosevelt's head. We talk about the origins of Roosevelt's sometimes corny humor, his willingness to be silly in serious settings, and his calculated use of laughter to control certain situations. Plus we break down two bits of comedy associated with FDR: the famous "Fala speech," and the Broadway musical "I'd Rather Be Right."
MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "Happy Days Are Here Again" by the Casa Loma Orchestra, "Hyde Park" by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra.
Clayton English won the 2015 edition of "Last Comic Standing," and now he's making his DC Improv headlining debut (March 31-April 3).
He tells us about the scene in his hometown of Atlanta and why it seems to produce so many great comics. He gives us some scoop on "The Walking Dead." AND we find out how they passed the time on the "Last Comic Standing" tour bus.
It's a fun chat with a very cool guy ... check it out, and if you want tickets, get 'em ASAP.
The search for the funniest president continues! When presenting himself to the public, Lyndon Johnson tried to be the stiff, serious model of a president. But as a politician, LBJ had a remarkable gift for humor. Many of his friends (and foes) remember him as the ultimate storyteller. Armed with an endless supply of folksy anecdotes and colorful expressions, Johnson could use comedy to control a situation, whenever it seemed necessary.
Our guest is the great playwright Robert Schenkkan, the man behind "All the Way." That play -- which won several Tony awards in 2014 -- dramatizes the first year of Johnson's presidency, when he was fighting for both passage of the Civil Rights Act and his election in 1964. Robert has produced a remarkable character study of LBJ, and he tells us how LBJ's sense of humor fits into that portrait.
Music: "Hail Columbia," "Under a Texas Moon" by Guy Lombardo, "Texas Shuffle" by Count Basie and his Orchestra
The search for the funniest president continues! Rutherford Hayes was a good lawyer, a fine soldier and a world-class beard-grower. But was he also the funniest president?
Kristina Smith of the Hayes Presidential Library and Museums (located in beautiful Fremont, Ohio) get us acquainted with the 19th president and his sense of humor. We talk about Hayes' diary, his skill as a conversationalist, and the many ways he is exactly like your dad. Seriously, Hayes might be the ultimate dad president.
MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "The Bearded One" by Nat Pierce and his Orchestra, "My Ohio Home" by Jean Goldkette and his Orchestra
Up next: Back to the 20th century ...
The search for the funniest president continues! William McKinley had a pretty amazing political career. But after an assassin voted Bill out of office, Theodore Roosevelt stole his spotlight, his thunder and a lot of his legacy. The American public has forgotten a lot about the 25th president.
Should we try to remember his sense of humor? Our special guest is Chris Kenney, the director of education at the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum in Canton, Ohio. He's giving us a crash course on McKinley's personality and sharing a few stories showing the lighter side of a very successful politician. Plus, we get a little more insight into what it's like to play a president -- Chris sometimes dons the top hat and does a first-person interpretation of McKinley.
MUSIC: Hail Columbia, "McKinley for President" by Ray McKinley's Orchestra, "Little Niles" by Randy Weston
Next week: To be determined
The search for the funniest president continues! William Henry Harrison is the closest thing we have to a punchline president. After a lifetime of public service, he became the commander-in-chief, then died one month later.
But does that make Harrison the funniest president? Our guest this week is Megan Amram, a fantastic comedy writer and Twitter savant who worked on "Parks and Recreation." She was the lead writer on the 2015 episode titled "William Henry Harrison," so she's actually given some serious thought to the comedic value of the ninth president.
We talk about Harrison, the joy of weird museums, and the ethic of "Parks and Rec" -- one of the most respected (and fairly bipartisan) sources of political humor from the last decade.
Music: Hail Columbia, "Indiana" by Art Tatum, "Indiana" by Earl Fatha Hines
Next week: William McKinley, with the assistance of the McKinley museum in Canton