Oct 18

Obama and McCain move in stand-up comedy?

Senators Barack Obama and John McCain roasted each other at a recent dinner at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC. Both relied heavily on their scripts and notecards. Whilst this is not necessarily a bad thing, I was a little surprised considering they are both good speakers.

In these video clips there was some good natured ribbing, with the odd killer joke landed against the rival. In the McCain clip you’ll see him land a joke against Obama via Hilary Clinton. This gets quite a large reaction from the crowd, even from Hilary herself.

In my view, however, Obama generally outclasses McCain as an orator. Why? Because he comes across as being inclusive of everyone. He seems to genuinely believe in the change he hopes to bring to the White House and wants to help the average American. This passion, belief and excitement comes across every time he takes the stage.

Here’s the McCain clip from the first part of the evening:

As you’ll see Obama is quite self deprecating throughout his about how he is perceived by the media. Then he gets off a joke about McCain’s collection of houses and also one about Governor Sarah Palin and her opinions about Alaska being near Russia. Obama speaks after McCain:

Now that you’ve seen both clips I’ll share a bit more about what I think…

I feel that McCain is quite reserved and fairly stiff when delivering his speech. His jokes seem fairly forced and he comes across as though the jokes were written for him.

Obama on the other hand comes across as more relaxed and at ease. Even though his jokes may have been written for him, he delivers them like they’re his own. I think that’s the key difference between the two.

When Obama speaks he owns the stage and embodies the words like they’re his own and he’s coining them in the moment for the first time. In some instances he may well be, but obviously he’ll have speechwriters in his Democratic camp.

By having a sense of ease and owning the stage you can more easily deliver humorous material and your audience is able to respond to you as you come across as genuine. Even though he’s referring to notecards, Obama seems to be enjoying himself and, as I said earlier, has a good line in self deprecating humour. This enables you to have an audience warm to your because you can laugh at yourself and don’t take yourself too seriously.

How do you go about owning the stage? The more opportunities you have to get up and speak before an audience the more comfortable you will be in that environment and the more your confidence will grow as a result. It’s about speaking little and often. Just a couple of minutes several times a week can really help you.

McCain, meanwhile, doesn’t own the words. For me he comes across as someone who has been given the words to say and is often going through the motions without really taking ownership or embodying what he’s saying. He doesn’t seem relaxed either. Each punchline he delivers feels strained.

What do I mean by embodying the words? Simply, that you come across as believing in what you’re saying 100% and that the words are your own and reflect your beliefs rather than someone elses. Obama can come across as he’s pulling the words and ideas out of his stomach.

McCain on the other hand comes across as he’s trying to remember how he’s been coached and what the Republican party line is on certain issues.

So are they planning to move into stand-up? No, of course not. They were both engaging in the American tradition of a roast. Wikipedia defines a roast as “an event in which an individual is subject to publicly bearing comedic insults, praise, outlandish true and untrue stories and heartwarming tributes”.