WASHINGTON — In a surprise appearance on the Emmys, Sean Spicer did what a lot of celebrities, politicians, and other controversial figures do when they are trying to reset their image: They turn to comedy.
So why aren’t people laughing?
On Monday, Dan Rather wrote that “It is not funny that the American people were lied to. It is not funny that the press was attacked for doing its job. It is not funny that the norms of our democracy have been trampled.”
After an evening in which he was hounded for selfies at post-Emmy parties, Spicer told the New York Times on Monday that he now has regrets chiding reporters over their reporting on the inaugural crowd size.
Kellyanne Conway, in an appearance on “Fox & Friends,” credited Spicer for his “good humor,” while zinging Hollywood. “This is something that folks in Hollywood often lack — which is introspection and good humor,” she said.
That “lack of humor” applies to other moments as well. When President Donald Trump retweeted a GIF of him hitting a golf ball that knocks down his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, his gallery of critics were aghast and some, like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), called it “appalling and disgusting.” But a number of Trump’s supporters said that it was another example of not being able to take a joke, just as Trump’s prior retweets have been dismissed as jester-ish antics.
Yet Spicer wasn’t laughing so much seven months ago, when “Saturday Night Live” skewered his initial press conference, with Melissa McCarthy playing him. At the time, Spicer said that while there was humor in the skits, there was also a “streak of meanness” in them.
Seven months ago, Spicer apparently did not think it was so funny. Now, he’s in on the joke about his past fixation on crowd size.
Whether you are still laughing at the Spicer appearance probably depends on how seriously you take Trump’s divergence from political norms.
Walter Cronkite once recalled a moment during the 1964 campaign, when he was covering Ronald Reagan as he was out at Knott’s Berry Farm in California stumping for Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater. The aging crowd was unusual in their fervor for the candidate, to the point where Cronkite turned to a colleague and said, “This isn’t Knott’s Berry Farm, this is Berry’s Nut Farm.”
Reagan, Cronkite said, overheard him and let out a “big laugh, big laugh.”
“And then he cut that laugh short. And said, ‘Wait a minute, that’s not so damned funny.'”
Spicer actually is in a long line of political figures who have skewered themselves, whether it be on “The Tonight Show” or “Saturday Night Live.” Last year at the Emmys, it was Jeb Bush who made a cameo to mock his feeble performance in the presidential primaries. Self-deprecation can go a long way.
But chances are that if Spicer saw the Emmys as a way to soften his image for a future TV gig, he’ll be putting himself up for a lot more questions about his tenure with Trump. Seriously.