“Everything is changing,” the popular political humorist observed. “People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.”
Guess who said that. Stephen Colbert, maybe? Dennis Miller? Samantha Bee? Chris Rock?
None of the above. It was Will Rogers (1879-1935), an easygoing Oklahoma cowboy of Cherokee descent who started in show business in 1902 as a trick roper in Texas Jack’s American Circus and Wild West Show. When he died in the crash of a small plane in Alaska 33 years later he was America’s premier political humorist – a star on Broadway and radio, Hollywood’s highest-paid actor and a columnist for the New York Times and other newspapers whose brief, pithy commentaries reached some 40 million readers nationwide.
As the following quotes show, many of his bipartisan political barbs remain stiletto sharp today, suggesting that though times change, politicians don’t.
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1. “The trouble with political jokes is that they often get elected to office.”
2. “Politics has got so expensive that it takes lots of money to even get beat with nowadays.”
3. “There are men running governments who shouldn’t be allowed to play with matches.”
4. “The country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer.”
5. “A fool and his money are soon elected.”
6. “The more you observe politics, the more you’ve got to admit that each party is worse than the other.”
7. “Last year we said, ‘Things can’t go on like this,’ and they didn’t, they got worse.”
8. “There’s no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you.”
9. “A politician is not as narrow-minded as he forces himself to be.”
10. “I don’t make jokes, I just watch the government and report the facts.”
Ed Williams retired in 2008 after 25 years as editor of The Observer’s editorial pages. Lorimer Press has published a collection of his writing, “Liberating Dixie: An Editor’s Life, from Ole Miss to Obama.”