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Posted at 8:35 AM ET, 10/ 9/2009

'Riffs Interview: As 'SNL' Satirizes Nobel-Winning Obama, Is Mike Luckovich Ready to Go Down That Same Road?

By Michael Cavna

MIKE LUCKOVICH: Obama is "smart and smooth -- he's a hard guy to satirize."

The Atlanta Journal Constitution's Pulitzer-winning cartoonist, MIKE LUCKOVICH, quickly honed in on his Barack Obama caricature during last year's campaign. What's been slower to evolve for him, he says, is zeroing in on the openings where President Obama is particularly vulnerable to satire.

Sure, Luckovich has done a steady diet of Obama cartoons this year, but as he acknowledges, typically the president is not the butt of his satiric point, but rather other people. Case in point: Luckovich's new Obama cartoon for today.

Comic Riffs has discussed Obama satire with cartoonists throughout his administration. Now, in the wake of last weekend's "Saturday Night Live" Obama-address sketch, the broader media and blogosphere has again taken a collective interest in measuring the State of the State of Humor when it comes to commenting upon the commander-in-chief.

Today, Comic Riffs asks Luckovich about the president, his own political cartoons -- and what he thought of the "SNL" skit.

MICHAEL CAVNA: Nearly 10 months in, is it getting any easier to satirize the president?
MIKE LUCKOVICH: I'm still having problems with Obama.

MC: What did you think of "Saturday Night Live's" most recent Obama sketch [in which he's satirized for accomplishing "nothing" as president]?
ML: He may not be going as fast on some issues as I'd like, but I think he's headed in the right direction. As an example, health-care reform at this point seems to be going more and more his way. I thought the "SNL" Obama sketch was pretty funny, though.

MC: Some cartoonists tell me their Obama satire has drawn accusations of racism. Can you speak to that -- does Obama's race ever play a factor in your commentary?
ML: Anyone can be satirized. So for me, his race has never been an issue -- it's never been something I've worried about. Obama transcends race. He's kind of like a rock star; he's not a black guy, he's not a white guy -- he's a superstar.

That said, he's still fairly difficult to hit because ... when he screws up, he makes the best of it. For instance, when he said that the cop [who arrested Henry Louis Gates] acted stupidly ... he probably shouldn't have said that. But after he said it, he made lemonade out of lemons and got the guys together for a beer. He took away the whole issue. ... I'm sure that's why those right-wing nutcases like Limbaugh have to make up negative stuff about him, like the "birther" stuff. The guy's smart and smooth -- he's a hard guy to satirize.

MC: Why do you think that is -- more specifically?
ML: He's so comfortable in his own skin -- plus, he's a good-looking guy. He's my favorite person to draw -- he's good-looking but he's got some interesting features. I like the challenge of trying to capture his look. Any president, I would say I like to draw ... but I especially like trying to capture Obama's looks. ... [For example] when he smiles, it almost completely changes his face. He's almost doesn't look like the same person.

MC: Do you think satirizing Obama will become easier for you anytime soon?
ML: At this point, it's got to get somewhat easier. The glow of [being] the first African American president will always be there, but it's receded a little bit. The opportunity for satire has definitely increased, but [again], I'm still not finding it that easy. ... Usually [in my cartoons], someone ELSE is the punchline.

MC: How about Obama's Cabinet -- does it provide quality fodder?
ML: Well, Biden has some gaffes -- nothing outrageous, but at least it's something. And there's always the HOPE of something fun coming out of his mouth. And most of Rahm Emanuel's stuff, he's made some insider blunders, like with health-care negotiations ... but it's sort of off-script. It's so inside-baseball that nothing has risen to the level of doing a cartoon. ... He hasn't done anything obnoxious for anyone to see. But maybe he's like a bomb and [will go off]. ... Plus, Hillary [Clinton] is smart and [Robert] Gibbs is qualified. ...

Cartoonists were in their golden era with Dubya, because he saw everything in black-and-white and nothing in shades of gray. ... He seemed not to know that he was totally unqualified to be president. And you had Cheney as the secret puppeteer -- it was just so easy.

'MIKE LUCKOVICH' (courtesy of Atlanta Journal Constitution)

MC: So if you had to predict: Where might Obama, for you, soon become especially ripe for satire?
ML: Well, I don't see him starting any unnecessary wars anytime soon. He's not drawn into things. Being a normal human being [though], he might want to mouth off about things going on. I guess I can hope maybe he'll [finally get ticked out] about that birth certificate.


MIKE LUCKOVICH: Does This Michael Jackson cartoon cross the line?


Besides Luckovich's work today, here's a trio other well-crafted Obama cartoons catching our eye, culled from across the mighty mighty Web ...

1. The Washington Examiner's NATE BEELER takes on the White House's "support" of Creigh Deeds.

2. The San Diego Union-Tribune's STEVE BREEN carves out a cartoon on Obama's approach to the war.

3. And catching up to Newsday's WALT HANDELSMAN from earlier this week -- Obama blows his health-care efforts...

IF YOU'VE GOT an opinion on the current state of Obama satire, 'Riffs readers, the floor is now yours.

By Michael Cavna  | October 9, 2009; 8:35 AM ET
Categories:  Interviews With Cartoonists, The Political Cartoon  
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Next: 'Riffs Picks: From the Nobel's Nervy 'Tude to a TV Superstar in the Nude--Today's Catchy Cartoons


And all of the above was written BEFORE the Nobel committee made their announcement. This should result in a tidal wave of new material!

P.S. as to the SNL clip - Once again HULU refuses to send content outside of the United States. YouTube may be overloaded, but at least they don't engage in excessive nationalism.

Posted by: kilby | October 9, 2009 9:04 AM | Report abuse

I love Mike Lukovich! More to the point: Obama is ultimately too hard to pin down. As the SNL piece clearly shows, he's got great ideas but no followthrough. He CAN walk and chew gum... the problem is that he is loath to actually elucidate policy. Those that are saying that he 'rope-a-doping' healthcare are hoping that this nailbiting strategy is a strategy and not a lack of forceful commitment. When will we know? Why is the amount of offal on the butcher's floor growing while the number of steaks not coming out to the customers is still 'none'? We don't have any the things that SNL's "Obama" mentioned. We do have Lilly Ledbetter, we do have discussion, we do have the beginnings of troop withdrawal from one misbegotten war and we have a truncated attempt to re-invigorate our economy but when are we going to find out if "...we can" will translate to we accomplished? I'm waitin'. And hopin'.

Posted by: BobfromLI | October 9, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

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