Humor - Soundbites - Speech Material

A funny thing happened to Doug Gamble on the way to this week's Presidential Inauguration: He became the Republicans' Majority Quip. An obscure L.A. based gag writer who works for the likes of Bob Hope, Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller, Gamble, 40, penned some of Reagan's most stunning anti-Democratic zingers during the1984 campaign. Remember how Reagan defused questions about his old age? "I think that remark accusing me of having amnesia was uncalled for," the President would tell adoring audiences. "I just wish I could remember who said it." That was Gamble's line.  So was: "They dream of an America in which every day is April 15th. We dream of an America in which each day is July 4th." How did this resident alien--a Candian citizen, Gamble wasn't able to

The pace of Gamble's political wit, unlike the tread of the Republican Party's grand old symbol, is not heavy-footed
                                                                                                    Photograph by Mark Sennet/Visages
vote for the man he helped reelect--work himself so deeply into America's political mainstream? To find out, read some of the top-drawer material he scripted for Reagan last year.

"It's great to live in a country where anyone who is ambitious, determined and hardworking can win the most powerful job in America. But as long as Dan Rather has It, I'll have to settle for being President."
--Washington, March 24, 1984.

"The media seem to blame the President for everything they can," Gamble complains. "They seem to look for scandal where none exists. If a politician gets a traffic ticket, they immediately call it Ticketgate." So in December of 1983 Gamble took on those nattering nabobs of negativism by writing a satirical piece that had Dan Rather blame the President for America's critical shortage of Cabbage Patch dolls. Though he did this primarily "for catharsis," he sent a copy to the conservative radio commentator Paul Harvey.

Harvey liked the conceit and read it over the air. Soon Gamble was one of many free-lancers feeding Reagan's hungry speechwriters.

"If my opponent's campaign were a TV show, it would be named Let's Make A Deal. You'd get to trade your prosperity for the surprise behind the curtain."
--Glen Ellyn, Ill., Oct. 16,1984.

Gamble himself has been known to take a flyer. He skipped college, going directly from high school to work as a radio newscaster, writer and reporter in Toronto. In 1977 he landed the "Once Over Lightly" column In Toronto's Sunday Star. "Sort of along the Art Buchwald line," Is how he describes it. Reader response was so enthusiastic, Gamble says, "I decided to try to write for comedians. I figured my best bet would be L.A." He arrived In 1980.

"The other side's promises are a little like Minnie Pearls hat. They both have big price tags hanging from them. "
-Nashville, Sept. 13, 1984.

For Rivers, Diller and other stand-up comedians who are not running for office, the fees on Gamble's jokes are fairly modest. He usually gets $10 to $50 per jape, though Hope pays him a retainer. (Invoking a self-imposed gag rule, he refuses to divulge what the GOP pays per laugh line.) It's

enough for Gamble and his wife, Ann, 39, a social worker, to live in a two-bedroom Studio City home with pool, which he describes as "a wonderful backyard with a house attached." His success has only deepened his ideological bent. "I love this country," Gamble says. "Since last summer I've been saying, only half jokingly, that I didn't think ABC's Olympic coverage was biased enough."

"With so many trouble spots around the world, I've told my aides that If they hear of any trouble they should wake me up immediately. Even when I'm in a Cabinet meeting."
--Washington, April 13,1984.

It's doubtful that wake-up duty will ever fall to Gamble. Despite his contributions to the campaign, Reagan's quickest wit remains outside the inner circle. He's never met the President and probably won't, even though the Gambles plan to attend the Inauguration. Gamble accepts this with equanimity. In fact, if the Great Communicator should need some further jokes at the Democrats' expense, Gamble will most happily provide them. "I don't have to sit down and ask myself, 'How can I be nasty to the Democrats?' That," he points out, "is how I really feel." Think of it as a labor of love. If, of course, you're a Republican.


Get Your Message Across by:
  • Dealing Successfully with the Media
  • Giving Powerful Speeches

                     James W. Robinson

A Bob Hope Joke-writer
Has Some Advice for You
Doug Gamble, a Los Angeles-based humorist, has written humorous material for Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan, and many other entertainers and politicians. He's a natural, one of the best. I talked to him recently about the role of humor in speeches:

"I think the use of humor in speeches and public appearances is becoming more and more important," Gamble told me. "We live in a society where audiences expect to be entertained as well as informed. But beyond the entertainment value of humor, we're seeing it used more and more to make points or reinforce ideas.

"For example, President Reagan told an audience during the '84 campaign that the Democrats' call for a tax increase is their typical knee-jerk reaction, and 'every time their knee jerks, you get kicked.' The line got a big laugh but also underscored the president's opposition to tax increases. It wasn't a joke for the sake of a joke, but one that made a point."

I asked Gamble why audiences seem to insist on humor, even when serious topics are being addressed.

"The simple answer," he said, "is that people enjoy hearing something that makes them laugh. But also, I think we generally feel more comfortable around someone who demonstrates a sense of humor, someone who breaks the ice by generating laughter in the audience.

"An audience won't necessarily relate to everything that is said in a speech, but virtually everyone in the audience will relate to something that's funny. Humor can serve as an instant connection between the speaker and the audience. And humor can be used even when serious topics are addressed because most people don't feel entirely comfortable with a speaker who takes himself or his subject too seriously."

What qualities does humor reveal in a speaker that are important to convey to the audience? Gamble replies:
"A speaker who uses humor is a speaker who wants to establish a quick rapport with the audience, something the audience usually appreciates. A speaker who uses humor (uses it effectively, that is) will probably be liked by the audience even before he gets to the heart of his message. Humor reveals in the speaker the fact that he cares about his audience and cares about his subject.

"It seems one of the personality traits we most value in others is a sense of humor. In fact, one of the worst things you can say about a person is that he doesn't have one."

Okay, Doug, you convinced us of the necessity for humor. Now, tell us how to be funny!

"The best source of humorous material for the speaker who can't come up with his own is a professional joke-writer. (Hint! hint!)

"Seriously, the kind of humor I most like to use myself and most enjoy writing for others is self-deprecating humor. I also think it's the type that can be used most successfully. People like people who can poke fun at their shortcomings. It goes a long way to getting them on your side by proving that you don't take yourself too seriously.

"When a speaker uses self-deprecating humor, he is revealing confidence in his own abilities. He's letting the audience know that he is so self-assured, he can readily poke fun at himself.

"President Reagan has used self-deprecating humor very effectively. When Walter Mondale accused him of `government by amnesia,' the President said, `I thought that remark accusing me of having amnesia was uncalled for. I just wish I could remember who said it.'

"When it was reported that he fell asleep at inopportune times, he said, `With so many hot spots around the world, I've told my aides that whenever they hear of trouble they should wake me up immediately - even when I'm in a cabinet meeting.'

"Governor Deukmejian uses a line in some of his speeches in which he tells the audience, `I understand that you have been searching for a speaker who can dazzle you with his charm, wit, and personality. I'm pleased to be filling in while the search continues.'

"By using this line, he has turned a disadvantage into an advantage. Instead of the audience sitting there and thinking that he's not a very exciting speaker, the listeners are on his side, laughing along with him.

"Another very successful kind of humor is the humor that reinforces a point. I wrote a line for a U.S. senator once who was making a speech on the high cost of medical care. He said, `I went to the doctor yesterday with a sore throat, and he told me to come back when I had something more expensive.' It amused the audience and reinforced the senator's theme."

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