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Last week's first presidential debate, with its invoking of Big Bird and widely panned performances by President Obama and moderator Jim Lehrer, unleashed the campaign's biggest flood of comedy since Clint Eastwood's August impromptu chat with a chair at the Republican National Convention.
Thanks largely to social media, campaign-inspired comedy appears to be flowing faster than in any past presidential race. Eastwood's GOP speech quickly sprouted Internet memes (including “Eastwooding” – pictures of people speaking to empty chairs). Parody Twitter accounts @FiredBigBird and @SilentJimLehrer appeared even before Lehrer could finally get in the final words – "Thank you and good night" – capping last Wednesday's Obama-Romney contest.
The late night comedians also weighed in as fast as they could. Romney "fired Big Bird and won!” Jon Stewart declared in exasperation on “The Daily Show” Thursday. “He could have water-boarded Aladdin, put down Blue, deported Dora the Explorer and still won walking away.”
"SNL" devoted three segments to the debate – a cold opening (in which Obama is distracted by an inner monologue about forgetting to buy an anniversary gift), a MSNBC spoof (in which Obama's debate performance is treated like an unfathomable national disaster) and, of course, "Weekend Update" (which featured an appearance by Big Bird).
Others turned to Lehrer, criticized by some as ineffectual, as a humor source. David Letterman offered a list of "Top Ten Signs You Have A Bad Debate Moderator" (No. 5: “Barely stops clipping his fingernails to ask a question.”) Jimmy Fallon, meanwhile, did a pretty good imitation of Romney as he constantly interrupted Lehrer, admonishing him “Hush child!” – and far worse.
On “The Colbert Report,” Stephen Colbert, in the guise of his conservative pundit character, turned up the volume, taking a victory lap through the audience to a booming recording of “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.” "He hasn't done this poorly since he debated Clint Eastwood," Colbert said of Obama.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.