Politicians rely on humour to gain favour with the voters, but push it too far, and you will be the butt of the joke


There is a popular belief that different nations have different attitudes to humour. Comparing Britain and the USA, it is often remarked that there are considerable differences. However, their attitude to humour in politics is rather similar due to the way that, as in many nations, politicians are mocked by the opposition. An example of this can be seen in the way that Donald Trump has been compared to Boris Johnson due to their matching yellow hair.

Although political humour and satire is popular, politicians generally desire to be taken seriously. For a political career, as in many careers, particularly when a position of power is held, not being taken seriously is as disastrous as (or perhaps more disastrous than) being hated. Politics and policies aside, a consideration of political personalities in relation to the use of humour is certainly an interesting one.

Politicians create a persona, a certain side of themselves shown to the media and each one has a different relationship with humour. This impacts politicians across the world; the USA and UK can be held as examples of this as they are often thought to have different attitudes to humour, yet this tendency can still have similar consequences for their politicians.

Many successful politicians do use humour. Within the right context, it can be a useful tool to make them seem more personable to voters. This can be seen in Barack Obama, particularly when he featured on the Ellen show. Humour helps him to come across as charismatic and does not put him in danger of not being taken seriously. Moreover, it does not make the viewer feel that they are laughing at him, but merely laughing along with him.

For some politicians though, the use of such humour would seem less appropriate. If they adopt a persona which is more serious, dancing on television would then seem out of character and the audience would probably find it confusing, rather than amusing. While David Cameron can get away with the occasional joke to appear more agreeable, it is hard to imagine him dancing in the way that Obama did. If he attempted it, it would look like he was trying too hard. It may even come across as ridiculous without the seemingly easy-going, laid-back attitude that Obama exudes. However, Cameron seems to understand this and knows the level of humour that is suitable for his persona.

Humour is not so beneficial for all political personalities because being laughed at can result in a loss of respect. For instance, Boris Johnson is a character that people often find hard to take very seriously. He deliberately encourages an amusing image of himself and people find this easy to laugh at. Whether he is stuck on a zip-wire or seen injuring a child during a game of football in Japan, he is often pictured as a laughing stock. This means that he is not always taken as seriously as perhaps a politician should be. Despite this, all this does not seem to have greatly inhibited his career as he has maintained his position as Mayor of London since 2008. Perhaps then, not being taken too seriously is not as harmful as it might initially appear, though it is unlikely that Mr Johnson could fill another role without having a character that people feel more respect for.

Similarly, Donald Trump is another political figure who is considered a laughing stock for many. However, this is not the way he sees himself. On the contrary, Trump takes himself fairly seriously, as a contender for the US presidency should. He is also taken seriously by his followers while simultaneously being mocked by those who disagree with him. In this way, humour is a threat to Trump. Many politicians face this exact treatment from those who oppose their views and Trump is merely an example of the way humour can be a threat to all politicians. This is beyond their control, regardless of the persona that they create. Perhaps policy, rather than personality comes into play here, and the extreme views that he holds are the reason why he is mocked.

The personality created by politicians and the way that they use humour can be very useful. It encourages people to laugh with them, making them more likeable. However, it can also lead to mockery, excluding them from certain positions where a higher level of respect is required. The humour that surrounds a politician is also often beyond their control, being created by the public. This generally involves them being laughed at, not with. How susceptible they are to this depends on the strength of feeling and the number of their adversaries. Humour can be either a destructive or useful force in politics, the current US presidential election is a fine example of how it can make or break a politician.


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