The first lady's lines were written by Landon Parvin, a longtime Washington speechwriter who does jokes for Mr. Bush and who wrote both comedy and serious speeches for Ronald Reagan. More to the point, Mr. Parvin wrote the lyrics to "Secondhand Clothes," the song-and-dance routine that Nancy Reagan performed to the tune of "Secondhand Rose" at the 1982 Gridiron dinner in Washington.I can't think of a better way to explain the meaning of the word "insidious." You want to humanize the President? Get the American public to imagine their President giving a hand-job to a horse but failing to do the same for his wife. In the words of the inimitable Cartman, "Sweet!"
That performance, which lampooned the first lady's taste in designers, was a hit after a string of public relations disasters, from Mrs. Reagan's supervision of the purchase of a $200,000 set of White House china to the trunkloads of dresses she took for a week of partying at the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana. Press coverage of Mrs. Reagan was subsequently more positive, and "Secondhand Clothes" is still cited as a reason.
In Mrs. Bush's case, playing off "Desperate Housewives" was a natural, even though Ms. Whitson said that Mrs. Bush had never actually seen the racy ABC hit show. Ms. Whitson said the first lady had heard about the characters and plot from the Bush twins, Jenna and Barbara, who are fans, and was planning to watch the entire first season on a DVD she has at home.
Ms. Whitson said Mr. Parvin sat down with the first lady some weeks ago to work out ideas. He then wrote a script and helped Mrs. Bush with her timing and delivery over several days of rehearsals, including one run-through shortly before the dinner. The first lady went on right after dessert, as Mr. Bush was at the lectern launching into the traditional presidential stand-up routine, in this case rehashing some of his worst jokes from the 2004 campaign.
Mrs. Bush suddenly got up and "interrupted" her husband, saying, "Not that old joke; not again." Then she added, as the audience laughed: "I've been attending these dinners for years and just quietly sitting there. I've got a few things I want to say for a change."
Ms. Whitson said that while Mr. Bush was in on the setup, he did not know what his wife would say. He reacted mostly by cackling with a beet-red face, including when his wife said, "George, if you really want to end tyranny in the world, you're going to have to stay up later."
Mr. Parvin, who said in an interview before the dinner that writing a speech about the Iran-contra scandal was a lot easier than humor, termed self-deprecating jokes essential for presidents. As a joke writer, he said that his most important task was to meld personality and topicality.
"First of all, you get the person's character in your head," he said. "But a lot depends on what's going on at the time. It's just a feeling that's in the air. So you take that feeling and distill it down to lines that reflect the perception of that person's character."
Or as Mrs. Bush noted on Saturday night about her husband and the ranch in Texas: "George didn't know much about ranches when we bought the place. Andover and Yale don't have real strong ranching programs. But I'm proud of George. He's learned a lot about ranching since that first year when he tried to milk the horse. What's worse, it was a male horse."
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