Skip to main content

President Clinton's Sex Scandal Provides Ample Material to Political Satirists

Political satirist and impressionist Jim Morris. He began lampooning the presidents at about the time Ronald Reagan was sworn into office. Since then he's impersonated George Bush and Bill Clinton. He'll discuss what he's done with his act since the Clinton scandal broke.


Other segments from the episode on September 23, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 23, 1996: Interview with Jim Morris; Interview with Harry Shearer; Interview with Dan Perkins; Interview with Bob Dole; Review of Lauryn Hill's album "The…


Date: SEPTEMBER 23, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 092301np.217
Head: Impersonating the President
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The possibility of impeachment hearings is a grave matter, but the Starr Report is also providing unprecedented material for America's humorists. We're going to talk to a couple of humorists and see how they're dealing with the story.

Jim Morris is a political impressionist who specializes in impressions of President Clinton. He's been featured at the White House and a Washington Correspondents Dinner. He's also the co-author of "White House Confidential: The Little Book of Weird Presidential History."

We called Jim Morris Monday afternoon after he'd seen the video of the president's grand jury testimony.

Now, when you started off doing Bill Clinton in your routine, you were mocking things like Clinton's Big Mac attacks. This is more -- big distance between Big Mac attacks and dealing explicitly with questions about a sexual relationship. So how are you handling this new sexual material?

JIM MORRIS, POLITICAL IMPRESSIONIST; AUTHOR, "WHITE HOUSE CONFIDENTIAL: THE LITTLE BOOK OF WEIRD PRESIDENTIAL HISTORY": Well, it's really no different, because he is a man of huge appetites. We've all known that already. So none of this comes as a shock to me.

What amazes me is how open it's been, the fact that they're airing this stuff, broadcasting it. And it really troubles me that it sort of takes the shock value away if I want to do a joke about it. I mean, it's such an easy joke. Sex is easy, to begin with, for a comedian to get on stage and get big laughs. But these jokes are flying across the Internet at lightning speed and compete with that and stay original. And to step out of the gutter is a challenge.


So how am I dealing with it? I'm trying to get very clever, because you're competing with Jay Leno and David Letterman and all these other folks who are sending jokes over the Internet. And you have to be even more creative.

GROSS: So how are you dealing with oral sex and cigars in your routine? Are you going near this?

MORRIS: Sure. Sure. I mean, it's a very -- it's very difficult. I always like to work clean, but I can give you an example of how I walked the line.

Well, you know, my advice President Clinton would have been to go in there with Kenneth Starr, with the folks in the jury room, the grand jury in, you know, another part of town. My advice to him would've been to do what everybody else in the country is doing, and that's making fun of the situation. Maybe Clinton could've won some points if he went in their and said: look, I know you know that I, you know, wasn't completely truthful. Well, let me go in there and humor the guy.


Well, Mr. Starr, that's a very good question. But I have to tell you that she wasn't on my staff at the time. Ha, ha, ha.


Seriously, folks, I wasn't lying. I was sitting on the edge of my desk. But, seriously, folks, my first lady, she wasn't my first, by I married her anyway. And she wasn't my last, as I'm sure you've all gathered.

But, you, the American people, especially the folks sitting there watching me on closed circuit TV, I want the jurors and the grand jury process, I want to all know, you should have seen this coming. I said when I was re-elected that during the second term in the White House I would not be doing any major the decorating, but that I did want to pick up an occasional piece.

GROSS: Because of the sexual nature of the presidential scandal, we're hearing a lot of sexual talk in primetime, on television, sexual words used in newspapers like never before. And I'm wondering what that's got you thinking.

MORRIS: Well, it's got me thinking that Bill Bennett's onto something. He's onto a losing battle. You look at all of primetime. I mean, Fox Network, MTV, and its filtering out into the major networks now where you tune in and you see: hello, I am Ted Koppel and this is..." -- and then he says a word, you know, a naughty word.

When you see a news anchor come on and read the news and use these words, it just kind of shakes me up a little bit.


Hello, I'm Tom Brokaw with NBC Nightly News. Miss Lewinsky, having accepted the presidential (unintelligible) responded, and I quote: "Honey, do you like it when I..."

You know, I mean, I just -- this is like we're living in a surreal movie.


The president's peccadillos.

I do tune in to NBC to see him to pronounce those kind of words. But I would imagine the other newscasters are wrestling, as well, with these -- these words that we only use behind closed doors. You figure that certain shows and networks should be safe. I was watching "60 Minutes" the other night. You know, a show I can watch with my kids. But I don't know. Andy Rooney comes on and he says...


Hello, I'm Andy Rooney. Did you ever look at a prophylactic lately? Why do they call them rubbers anyway? I mean, you certainly can wear them on your feet.

And even if you could, you'd leave awfully strange footprints on the beach, now wouldn't you?

You know, I mean this is stuff that -- my kids can't see this. I'm embarrassed

GROSS: Now, Kenneth Starr is that a major part of this story, but we actually hear very little of him directly. You know, we hear him speak very seldom. Have you heard Kenneth Starr enough to be able to do an impression of him?

MORRIS: No, I haven't. And I suppose if I really wanted to I could tape what little we have of him. You know, I could fling the jacket over my shoulder as I stand in the driveway next to a car. But I try to recognize ahead of time whether or not he will be recognizable enough for the masses so that if I did perfect an impression, people would get it, would understand and say: hey, you now, that was worth the time, we all know Kenneth Starr.

So what I'm doing instead is I'm looking ahead at possible hearings on the Hill, and I'm picking out certain congressmen, and eventually, senators who will be very visible with public hearings. And so I'm working on a Hyde impression, a Conyers impression. There are plenty of others out there. That's who I'm working on right now.

GROSS: Well, you'll have to do a whole committee, huh?

MORRIS: Why not? Why not? I could try the president myself. I could try them myself. And I could defend myself as Clinton.

GROSS: Have you ever performed for the president?

MORRIS: Yes, yes I have. It was a very impromptu meeting. It was -- you want me to tell you about it? It was...

GROSS: Yeah.

MORRIS: I was meeting with the vice president, and he has a little office in the White House. And he took me by the hand and said: oh, boy, you got to follow me here.

And I sort of assumed he was taking me to meet with the president. He was really amused with me, you see. I was doing President Bush in his office saying...


Hey, how about this, Al? You like this office? I was here for eight years with President Reagan, yeah, Barbara brought me a box lunch every day. I really enjoyed it here.

So he said, "Follow me."

Takes me into the Oval Office, of all places, and it's just the three of us standing there -- Gore to my left, Clinton to my right. Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. And here I am. What do I do?

So I just went into character and took over. I was effectively the president for, I don't know, about 10 or 15 minutes. And I remember, before I left, I offered the president, I said: do you need me to make any phone calls for you on your behalf?


He said...


"I can think of a few people I'd like to. Yeah. Why not? You know, that would be fun."

And so I was doing schtick in the Oval Office. It was a lot of fun. But if I only knew what I know today, I would have washed my hands on the way out.

GROSS: Well, you've studied several recent presidents and done them in your act. Do you have any thoughts about what some recent presidents might be thinking about what President Clinton has gone through?

MORRIS: Oh, sure. Hold on. Let me put on...


How are you. This is Terry Gross? How are you? You know, I didn't want to say -- we didn't want to use any of this during the campaign back in '92, but we knew what he was made of. I think Ron wants to say something here.


Hello? Hello? Yes. Well, God bless you. I just had to say, back in my day we never even had fellatio. Oh, no. Back then we had to do just about everything by hand.


GROSS: Well, Jim Morris, I really thank you for talking with us.

MORRIS: Was Jim Morris speaking with you?


Yes, yes, I was here. OK. Well, it was nice talking with you, Terry.

GROSS: Jim Morris is a political impressionist and co-author of "White House Confidential: The Weird Book of Presidential History."

Coming up, political satirist Harry Shearer.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross
Guest: Jim Morris
High: Political satirist and impressionist Jim Morris. He began lampooning the presidents at about the time Ronald Reagan was sworn into office. Since then he's impersonated George Bush and Bill Clinton. He'll discuss what he's done with his act since the Clinton scandal broke.
Spec: Clinton; Reagan; Bush; Jim Morris; Entertainment

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Impersonating the President
Date: SEPTEMBER 23, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 092302NP.217
Head: Harry Shearer
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:25

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Satirist Harry Shearer has been chronicling President Clinton's career in an ongoing series of sketches called "Clinton Something," which is part of Shearer's nationally broadcast public radio program "Le Show." Harry also has a forthcoming book called "Why People hate Clinton." Harry Shearer is an alumnus of Saturday Night Live and does many of the voices on "The Simpsons." We called him to talk about the Starr Report and its aftermath.

I think that in some ways the Starr Report and the video testimony is changing how people talk about sex and what they feel comfortable talking about. I use myself as an example. I was having dinner in a deli the other night, having, I thought, a fairly loud conversation about oral sex, and the subject of the conversation was the president. And you know, you don't usually talk about oral sex in a, you know, fairly loud voice in a restaurant.

HARRY SHEARER, SATIRIST: I -- you -- that's such a relief. I thought you are going to tell me that they'd already named a sandwich after Monica Lewinsky.


I'm so relieved.

GROSS: It's on rye bread.

SHEARER: Yeah, and it's got tongue, I know that.


No. Given what we talk -- what we hear overhear -- but we overhear being talked about loudly in delis out here at least, I would say that would be a refreshing change, you know, (unintelligible) deals. You know, screenplays and deals.

You know, Bill Clinton has been dirty enough to say at one of his appearances on the road to contrition that he thought this journey he was on -- excuse me -- was good for Americans. And I -- if you grant him that, I guess one of the ways is that it has, you know, got anchorman saying "semen stains" without blushing -- the word "semen stains" without blushing, now, which has been good for them, at least.

GROSS: But, you know it's interesting, on the one hand, I -- on the one hand, I think people are speaking more openly about sex; on the other hand, there is this feeling that the sex police are out there now.

SHEARER: Yes. Well, I mean, I think that something -- maybe the truest thing that was said about this entire case was said very early on when Joe DiGeneva, the Republican former independent counsel on his own, and known Republican -- noted Republican Washington lawyer -- said of the independent prosecutor -- independent counsel's tactics in this case -- he -- Ken Starr's office is not doing anything that prosecutors around the country don't do every day.

I think what people may have felt as they heard these unseen voices in the videotape asking these incredibly intrusive questions, after all of the tactics that we've seen the is: my God, this could happen to me.

And I think, you know, one of the things we've seen is that the heritage of 20 years of widening prosecutorial power in the name of the war on drugs or the war on organized crime has resulted in a sort of a scary deal here.

GROSS: Well, Harry, the question I've always been meaning to ask, I guess this is the appropriate interview, how do you define "sex"?

SHEARER: It depends what you mean by define.


GROSS: Well, you know, you or somebody who has to deal with language all the time, because, you know, you -- you have a very good...

SHEARER: I'm into it. I'm into its for humorous purposes.

GROSS: Yes, exactly, exactly. So what do you think of the definition that was used in the Paula Jones case that the president has had to use?

SHEARER: Well, I think, you know, in a way one of the things that we -- it was possible to see in the videotape is that a definition that up to now had seemed like it was imprisoning the president in some kind of legalistic artifice of his own devising, is, in fact, something very fortunate that was handed to him by the Paula Jones lawyers.

And if, as Jackie Bennett, Jr. sort of ruefully asked: if they had asked him directly about oral sex, would he have answered truthfully. And he said "yes." I think it serves as an example of bad lawyering by the people representing Paula Jones, that they got themselves boxed into having to live by that definition and didn't see fit to ask the president a direct and clearly-worded question at the deposition.

You know, we might not be here if they had been. Well, I'd be here, I own this place.

GROSS: Were you uncomfortable watching the president's testimony?

SHEARER: No. I was on the couch for most of it, which is a comfortable place from me. But, no, I didn't feel badly for him because he was handling himself pretty well. I mean, I have just gone through my own civil lawsuits, so I know what it's like to testify and to give a deposition. I've been through those circumstances recently. You know, you learn in a situation like that that if you try to be discursive in your answers, two things will happen. Either your lawyer will tell you don't offer anything, and just answer the question, "yes," "no," or "I don't know."

And if you try to be discursive to run out the clock, as I think Clinton was in a lot of that, the opposing lawyer will normally say something to bring you in.

And I think what was remarkable was that the lawyers from the independent counsel's office, while they asked antagonistic questions and questions that certainly had a prosecutorial motive behind them, to say the least, really didn't have the nerve to say: Mr. President, please just concentrate on answering the question and don't offer these, you know, three and a half minute explanations. So in that sense, he was very effective in sort of taking control of the situation.

GROSS: Can I ask what your case was about?

SHEARER: Oh, I was suing -- I'm going to be redundant here, some jerk producer.


It's -- the only -- one of the few -- according to my attorney, it was the only civil case he'd ever heard about that ended in a draw.

GROSS: Oh, interesting. So do you -- do you -- are you tired of this story? I mean, do you hope that it ends soon?

SHEARER: Well, you know, I have two feelings about that. As a person who draws comedy from it, I hope it goes on forever. As a citizen, you know, I think that there's nothing -- is going to be more ludicrous in the annals of American history than the Supreme Court 9-0 decision ruling that a civil case wouldn't disrupt the presidency if it proceeded while the guy was still in office. I think people are going to look back at that case and then what ensued and go: what would those guys thinking?

GROSS: Harry, you know, one of the people who you're sharing our show with today is Bob Dole, who has a new book called "Great Political Wit." And it's a book about political wit over the years, quips and so on, made by presidents and presidential candidates over the years. And I'm wondering if you've thought of Bob Dole as a wit.

SHEARER: Yeah, I often thought of Bob Dole as a wit. I thought that was sort of the sad story of his presidential campaign, was a basically inherently witty guy who had been told by all his handlers: stay serious, don't do that.

And I thought that, you know, he is -- the unfortunateness of that campaign was that you could see him straining to keep his natural tendency to wisecrack under control, because it had cost him in previous campaigns. And you get around risk-avertive people in a political campaign, and wit is not risk-aversive. I felt badly for him in that circumstance; and also relieved for him that Newt Gingrich doesn't need his $300,000.

GROSS: Right. Are you imagining the possibility in the future of hearings in which Monica Lewinsky is called to testify about whether the president really touched her on the breast or genitals?

SHARE: Well, you see, I think this is -- I have a bet with several people that the president will resign sooner rather than later. And that's not based on where I think public opinion is that, but based on my estimate, high that is, of the cowardice level of Democratic members of Congress confronting the prospect that you've just asked about.

I just see in growing numbers Democrats going to the White House saying: Mr. President, I can't be on national television when those questions are asked, let alone have a staff member of mine put in front of me a question like that for me to ask myself. I can't be in that position. And the last really great thing you can do for the Democratic Party, aside from coming and helping us raise more money, is to not put me in that position.

And I see that -- I foresee that happening more and more as they look into the future and consider that prospect. I think it frightens the hell out of the Democrats in Congress.

GROSS: Bill Bennett said something to the effect that it was OK to put the Starr Report on the Internet because the material may have been salacious, but it's not titillating. And he said that, you know, the way the Starr Report was written, he couldn't imagine anybody reading it and being, you know, aroused by it. What are your thoughts on that?

SHEARER: I just got a great mental picture of Bill Bennett trying to imagine people getting aroused.

GROSS: That's the odd thing about this story, though, isn't it?

SHEARER: Yeah, it is. Well, I mean, it does call upon -- I think that the first and I still think the primary danger to President Clinton in the wake of the August 17th speech, is it seems to me that it's still true, and he hasn't disproved it yet, that he's moved beyond the realm of the single entante, and that's pretty dangerous for a president.

GROSS: What do you mean?

SHEARER: Well, I mean every time he makes a speech, you know, his writers have to just be on double-duty to excise any words that could have anybody in the listening audience muffling a chortle, you know. And that list of words is pretty long at this point. I don't need to be explicit.

GROSS: Right.

SHEARER: But that's a fairly dangerous position for a president, you know, who -- especially one like this, whose basic -- you know, with a Congress dominated by the opposition party, whose basic weapon at this point is words. And so many of his words have been taken away from him because they induce laughter in the listenership.

GROSS: Harry Shearer. He hosts the nationally broadcast public radio program "Le Show." You can also hear it on his Web site at

His forthcoming book is called "Why People Hate Clinton."

Here's something Harry put together for last week's edition of "Le Show," using the voice of Ted Koppel.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.


SHEARER (IMPERSONATING TED KOPPEL): This was the definition: "contact with genitalia, Anus, groin, breast, inner thigh or buttocks of any person with an intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person."

This was the definition of genitalia: "any anus, any breast, any growing, any inner thigh, any genitalia, any geni -- any geni -- any genitalia, any buttocks, butt, butt, butt, butt, buttocks, any inner person, any groinus, any innertalia, any breastocks, any grointocks."

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross
Guest: Harry Shearer
High: Satirist and columnist Harry Shearer. He's the host of the syndicated NPR radio program, "Le Show," does several voices on "The Simpsons," and is a weekly commentator on ABC TV's World News Now.
Spec: Clinton; Harry Shearer; Entertainment; Media

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Harry Shearer
Date: SEPTEMBER 23, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 092303NP.217
Head: Lampooning the Investigation
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:40

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Dan Perkins is the creator of the syndicated political cartoon "Tom Tomorrow." He's drawn the president as saying: "I don't care if I am the most powerful man in the world. I'd give it all up in a minute in order to have sex with that moderately-attractive big-haired intern."

Dan Perkins has drawn Kenneth Starr working up a sweat, reading a magazine called "Hot Babes," while saying: "It is vitally important for the public to know that the president masturbated into his sink."

The latest "Tom Tomorrow" cartoon is on the cover of the "Village Voice." There's also new "Tom Tomorrow" book called "Penguin Soup for the Soul."

The Internet is filled with Starr Report action. Dan Perkins has had his own adventure on the Internet with a Kenneth Starr cartoon.

DAN PERKINS, CREATOR OF CARTOON "TOM TOMORROW": It was when this thing first broke and Clinton on "The News Hour" -- Katz -- with Jim Lehrer -- kept saying, "I did not to do that. I did not do that."

And the cadence of it reminded me of Dr. Seuss, and I wrote this parity called "Starr I Are," which was picked up, by the way, by "The New York Times" "Week in Review." And then some chucklehead out there transcribed it and put it online without giving me credit for it. And it went basically to everyone in the United States with an E-mail address. And then by the time the cartoon started running in most of my client newspapers around the contrary, I had people E-mailing me, accusing me of plagiarizing the, you know, myself.

If I could read the cartoon here.

GROSS: Yeah, why don't you.

PERKINS: So it's drawn in a Dr. Seuss-style, with Ken Starr holding a little sign that says "Starr I Are." And he walks up and says:

"I'm here to ask,
As you'll soon see,
Did you grope Ms. Lewinsky?
Did you grope her in your house?
Did you grope beneath her blouse?"

And Clinton stand up and says:

"I did not do that here or there,
I did not do that anywhere.
I did not do that near or far,
I did not do that Starr you are."

And Starr, in the third panel, continues:

"Did you smile,
Did you flirt?
did you peak beneath her skirt?
And did you tell the girl to lie
When called upon to testify?"

And Clinton ends up in the final panel saying:

"I do not like you, Starr you are,
I think that you have gone too far.
I will not answer any more,
Perhaps I will go start a war."

This was right when we were -- it looked like we were possibly going to start bombing Iraq.

And then in a tiny panel at the very bottom, Clinton concludes:

"The public's easy to distract,
when bombs are falling on Iraq."

Now, this thing went out on the Net, and the really aggravating thing was that there are a lot of lazy journalists out there who seem to view the Internet as just some sort of vast zone of freebies, that, you know, whenever they can think of a column idea, they can just go log on and lift something off the Net. And easily a dozen columnists -- I did a database search -- and there were easily a dozen newspaper columnists who ran this thing unattributed. Ironically, the only source that ran it with attribution was the conservative "Washington Times."

And another odd thing was that it was picked out by a right-wing radio station in Seattle, the Rush Limbaugh affiliate there, and they were using it as they are station ID for awhile.

GROSS: Really?

PERKINS: Yeah. So I -- and it's still floating around. I just got an E-mail the other day, was sort of an updated version of it, taking into account current events. So it's really taken on a life of its own.

GROSS: Well, people have that on their E-mail; they'll now know what the source was.

PERKINS: Exactly.

GROSS: Yeah. You know, you also did a cartoon about Linda Tripp that just...

PERKINS: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: ... that just kind of questions...


GROSS: ... having -- that has just shown up in so many places. Why don't you kind of run through what that one's about.

PERKINS: OK. It starts out saying: "For months scientists have been puzzling over the mystery of Linda Tripp" -- and I have these two scientist saying: "she was the last person to see Vince Foster alive, she witnessed Kathleen Willey leaving the Oval Office, and she was Monica Lewinsky's confidant." And the other guy says: "the woman is a statistical impossibility."

And I have Linda Tripp at sort of the center of this kind of Twilight Zone-looking graphic and it says: "countless hours of arduous calculations have finally yielded a stunning breakthrough. Linda Tripp somehow exists in a focal point of the space-time continuum around which historical events inexorably coalesce."

And then it goes on showing her as a young girl with John F. Kennedy plotting out the Bay of Pigs, and she's with Richard Nixon with her trusty tape recorder, and finally she's whispering into Oliver North's ear at the Iran-Contra hearings.

And it concludes saying: "clearly further study is urgently needed so that in time we may learn to control this phenomena and find a way to use it to our advantage."

And there's an Iraqi soldier escorting Linda Tripp in to see Saddam Hussein and the soldier says: "Sir, the new member of the inspection team has arrived" -- and Saddam Hussein is thinking to himself: "I've got a bad feeling about this."

GROSS: So, Dan, do you think more people read political comics in times like this when people are obsessed with the story?

PERKINS: Probably. As I say, more people are certainly watching MSNBC and Chris Matthews and so forth.

GROSS: Well, I hope that's good for you.


PERKINS: Well, I really hate to profit by this whole thing. I just -- there aren't any heroes here, and it's all just so appalling and pathetic. I mean, you know, you think back and during Iran-Contra, you know, these -- this is something -- you know, the Reagan Administration was running a covert war. They had -- they -- you know, this cost tens of thousands of lives. You had Ollie North sitting in the White House basement drawing up plans for marshal law for god's sake.

And the Walsh Report, you know, didn't receive any where near the play that the Starr report is receiving and it's -- I think, basically, it's because Ken Starr understands the first rule of advertising: sex sells.

GROSS: Well, I think it won't be revealing any political bias on my part to say that I agree with you when you express the hope that this scandal will spell the end of the obnoxious cigar craze.


PERKINS: Yeah, I...

GROSS: Here, here.

PERKINS: ... I, obviously (unintelligible) a cartoon recently, where I've got a guy holding a cigar saying: "you know, I just can't put one of these things in my mouth anymore without thinking about" -- and his friend says: "yes, yes, I know, I know."


GROSS: Well, Dan Perkins AKA "Tom Tomorrow," thanks a lot for talking with us.

PERKINS: Oh, thank you very much.

GROSS: Dan Perkins is the creator of the syndicated political cartoon "Tom Tomorrow." The new "Tom Tomorrow" book is called "Penguin Soup for the Soul."

Coming up, Bob Dole on his new book "Great Political Wit." This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross
Guest: Dan Perkins
High: Political cartoonist Dan Perkins, otherwise known as Tom Tomorrow, the creator of the weekly syndicated cartoon strip "This Modern World." It stars Sparky the Wonder Penguin. Perkins discusses the strips he's created having to do with the Clinton scandal. "This Modern World" appears regularly in "The Village Voice," "U.S. News & World Report," "The Nation," and other publications nationwide. Perkins' new collection of strips is "Penguin Soup for the Soul."
Spec: Clinton; Starr Report; Entertainment; Sexuality; Dan Perkins

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Lampooning the Investigation
Date: SEPTEMBER 23, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 092304NP.217
Head: Bob Dole II
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:40

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Bob Dole knows what it's like to be the butt of political jokes, and he also has a reputation for being very funny, even if that's not the side he showed during his last presidential campaign when he was defeated by Bill Clinton.

Dole left the Senate during that presidential campaign. He'd served as majority and minority leader of the Senate during both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Yesterday, we spoke with Bob Dole about the Starr Report. Today, we talk about Bob Dole's new book, "Great Political Wit: Laughing Almost All the Way to the White House."

Do have a favorite joke circulating now about President Clinton's predicament, or are you afraid that that would force you to work blue?

FORMER SEN. BOB DOLE (R-KS), FORMER SENATE MAJORITY AND MINORITY LEADER: No, I don't know. Mind you, I haven't tried to make any -- you know, you never make -- never -- make politics in people's misery, whether it's personal or a hurricane or tornado or whatever some conflict. I think, it's sort of to back off now. Leno and Letterman and all these other people, they get paid for this; they can be as irreverent as they want.

But I haven't tried to -- you know, I've talked about Monica -- in fact, in the book I have a -- you know, we live at Watergate South; we're in 112, she's in 114. I think, I've got a little joke in there that I walk by, but always walked by real fast. I don't want to be subpoenaed.

So and -- but that's about the extent of it. I live in a famous neighborhood. Monica Lewinsky next door. Charlie Tri (ph) used to live down the hall, things of that kind, but nothing that ever would connect Clinton and Lewinsky in some, you know, some off-color situation.

GROSS: Now, you've been a guest on Letterman and Leno. Before you started guesting on those shows, what was it like to be the butt of the jokes when you were running for office?

DOLE: Well, I never got to see it -- hear them, but people would repeat them the next day. So, yeah, I think one of Leno's that I've -- you know, I've been using Grecian Formula so long that I got up in the original Grecian, or whatever...


DOLE: ... you know, all this stuff. It's kind of funny. I mean, you got -- you've got to be able to laugh at yourself.

One thing I've learned over the years, and I think I've always had a reputation, even my colleagues, you know, this sort of being funny in a sense that the sense of humor could kind of save the occasion or lighten the occasion. But you learn early that you don't -- you don't make fun of people in your jokes.

I used to tell a story about having a head injury in the war and then going into politics. But I had a letter from, I think, a group -- I can't remember the exact name -- that represented people with head injuries, and of course they were offended by this; this was 25 years ago. And I stopped using it. It never occurred to me that even though I thought it was funny and the audience always laughed, because it's sort of poking at myself, you know, people with head injuries didn't think it was very funny, and it was very insensitive of me to even do it.

So I think you've got to be prepared to get a -- aim a lot at yourself and you've got to keep it pretty high level.

GROSS: Now, there were Viagra jokes that were made...


DOLE: Yeah, I think there maybe one or two in there.

Yeah, Leno had some Viagra jokes, I think, and -- because I said in a very honest way, I thought, because I'd been very outspoken on prostate cancer. I had the operation in 1991, and I know a lot of men don't talk about it, don't want to hear about it, but they should, because they have a family or business or whatever, they owe it to their families. So we've sort of been trying to speak out on that. And to me this seemed to be a -- something that was also, you know, men don't talk about impotence. There are millions and millions of men out there who need help and I just said on Larry King one night, you know, made a statement that I thought might -- I think I have certain credibility in that area as far as prostate cancer, it might be helpful to men.

But some people picked it up and made jokes about it and even asked my wife about it and things of that kind.

GROSS: Dan Ackroyd used to do impressions of you on "Saturday Night Live"...

DOLE: Oh, he was good, yes. "Saturday Night Live," he was great.

GROSS: You liked his impression?

DOLE: Yeah.

GROSS: I wonder...

DOLE: I remember '88 when they had this -- the Bush-Dole debate or something...

GROSS: Yeah.

DOLE: ... I can't remember who played George Bush, but Ackroyd was, I thought, was pretty funny.

GROSS: Now, I'm wondering if you ever saw a really good impression of you and noticed something that the impressionist was picking up on that you didn't realize you did, and you had to, like, go to a friend or a loved-one and say: do I really do that?

DOLE: Well, I watched Norm McDonald a few time. In fact, I was on Norm McDonald of "Saturday Night Live," and he came out with a, you know, the same suit, the same tie, everything; we looked like twins, only he was much younger. And I always carry something in my right hand so people won't grab my right hand and break it off. And he had a pencil in his right -- he was all, you know, so we had a great time. That was after the election, too, but -- and Ackroyd, I can't remember, you know, I've watched him; in fact, I've told people he's gonna to have to loose a little weight if he's gonna to be Bob Dole, but...


DOLE: .... he's gone on to greater things. Yeah, I think you can sort of learn, I mean you know, some people -- I made a Visa commercial after the election. I had a lot of mail from people saying: Bob if you'd had done that before the election, I would have voted for you. I mean, people never see this side. They see maybe a side or somebody's told of a side or they see the negative ads. And I think most people, you know, like to think that you can go out and laugh and laugh at yourself and get other people to laugh; at the same time, you're a very serious person.

So that message didn't get through in '96, but that's history, that's over. I'm doing other things now.

GROSS: Do you think that most politicians have joke writers who write jokes for their speeches?

DOLE: I think most now would have. If they were gonna give a major speech, let's say the Grid Iron Dinner, which happens every year, as you know, in Washington, and they pick one Republican and one Democrat and they're suppose to get up and, you know, just knock the socks off the audience for about eight minutes. Well that's -- you've got -- most people will reach out for help.

I remember I did that early on with Ted Kennedy and he -- he murdered me. I mean, I -- my fellow never came through, and Ted had great stuff and I was -- I was devastated.


GROSS: What do you mean you fellow never came through?

DOLE: Well, the guy I had helping me. I mean, he kept saying: we'll do it, you know, you've got to be topical. Wait till the day of the event. I said: my God, I'm about to have a nervous breakdown.


DOLE: Anyway, our jokes weren't good, that's the point. And they weren't funny and people didn't laugh. And you can imagine standing up there with all these people from across America, sort of the opinion makers and editors and everybody else, and you're standing up there and nobody's laughing. And you feel like you've died and they forgot to bury you or something, and it takes forever to get off that podium.

And -- I followed Ted Kennedy -- this was way back in 1980 or something, but I've been on tour three times since and sort of recouped; but I have to confess Ted wiped me out that night.

GROSS: Did you have anybody working with you on delivery?

DOLE: No, I just sort of learned the hard way that. In fact, I started way back when I worked in a drug store in high school in Russell, Kansas. And my dad was pretty good at these little quips and sort of wisecracks. But -- and I remember when I first ran for Congress my chairman said: now, we don't need any more Jack Benny's in Congress -- cause I had a reputation for, you know, trying to have a little fun, get people to laugh, get their -- a lot of the time you're trying to get people's attention. You go in to speak to 500 people at say 8:00 in the morning, the last thing you wanted to hear is some dull speech.

You got to wake them up. I mean, you know, they're still sleepy, and you got to sort of keep them there for awhile and then you can make the points you want to make in your speech and get out of there.

But I think it -- you know, Eisenhower, I mean, everybody, Churchill, I mean -- I think one of my favorite stories in the book is where Lady Aster said: Churchill, if you were my husband, I would poison your coffee -- and he said: if I were your husband, I would drink it -- you know, so...


GROSS: Right.

DOLE: And Adlai Stevenson, you talk about a man with a whip, run against Eisenhower. And Morris Udal (ph), who ran for president, the Democrat, years ago, was in the House. And they got a great -- of course, Kennedy and Reagan, now, I don't know if they had writers, but they were good. They have good on delivery, President Kennedy, President Reagan. They probably were, you know, the best that I've known around.

GROSS: I'm wondering, you know, you resigned from the Senate during the presidential campaign, and then you lost and you were out of the Senate. Are you sorry that you resigned? Do you wish you were still in the Senate?

DOLE: Well, you're kind of like anybody else when they leave their work, whether it's the labor union or CEO or lawyer, doctor, professional man or woman, whatever, teacher. You kind of think, you know: gee, how are they gonna to do it without me -- and, yeah, you kind of miss it. And I watch C-SPAN a lot and I listen a lot, but I've -- I would say at this point, no, I don't -- I thought about should I do this -- I thought I was making a powerful statement that I was willing to give up something, because I know there's a lot of cynicism in the country, and a lot of people said: well, Bob Dole, he -- you know, he's gonna to run for president and he wants to keep the majority leader and he wants to be in the Senate. And I -- but I want to make a statement that I was willing to risk something and devote my full time for running for the president. And if I lost, I lost, not just the presidency, but my Senate seat and the longest-serving Republican majority leader's office.

So -- but I don't regret it, I mean, I knew at the time, you know, it was gonna be up hill to win, but I also knew it might convince some people that I was really serious about what I was doing.

GROSS: You were so use to winning elections, what did it feel like to lose...


GROSS: ... and to lose the big one?

DOLE: Well, it didn't feel good, but it was a great experience and we carried 19 states. We thought we were gonna to carry 23 or 24 and we knew we had a real uphill climb, but, you know, we always -- you look back and you try to analyze it and: was it my fault, was it somebody else's fault, was it negative ads? -- whatever it was.

But having had the experience was certainly an -- something that I never expected coming from a little town in Kansas. But we didn't get there, that was a disappointment. And we worked very hard and didn't make it, but you can't rehash it the rest of your life. You've either got to move on and -- still things I can do, but right now we're -- I'm chairing the World War II Commission. We're trying to raise $100 million, we've raised about $35 to $40 million.

We don't have a World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. President Clinton dedicated the site in 1995. We've worked out some controversy about the design and I think that's the unfinished business of World War II. So I'm spending a lot of time doing that. We do a lot of public service announcements on prostate cancer and things of that kind and -- plus my working Bosnia on missing persons.

So I've kept very busy, and I'm in the Berner & Lipfer law firm (ph) with some of my friends, like Senator Mitchell and Senator Benson, people I've worked with in the Senate. But it's -- I'm about as busy as I was. I just don't vote anymore.

GROSS: You vote in the elections, you just don't vote in the Senate.

DOLE: Yeah, I vote -- vote on the issues.


GROSS: You do vote in the elections, right?


DOLE: Right. Oh, yeah, I still vote in the elections.


GROSS: OK. Bob Dole, is there a good example of political wit from your book that you would like to leave us with?

DOLE: Well, a good example, well, gee, there are a lot of good example. You know, one is: "if you need a friend in Washington, get a dog." That was Truman.


GROSS: That's good advice.

DOLE: I think that's the way to end it, because the prescient's got him a dog and I saw the dog Friday. Buddy's getting big. That's a big dog. I've got little old Schnauzers. I bet Buddy can eat you out of house and home.

Maybe that's a good way to leave it; if you really need a friend, and we all do in Washington from time to time, get a dog.

GROSS: Is that why you have a dog with you on the cover of your book?

DOLE: Yeah, my dog -- yeah, in fact, he's here today. But poor little thing he's getting pretty old. He's about 16, have trouble walking, and he's lost a lot of weight. But he's also the September dog on the Purina dog calender so...


DOLE: He's having a big month.


GROSS: Thank you very much for talking with us.

DOLE: Okie-doke. Good luck.

GROSS: Bob Dole has a new book called "Great Political Wit."

Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews the new CD by Lauryn Hill of the Fugees. This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross
Guest: Robert Dole
High: Former U.S. senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole. He ran opposite Clinton in the 1996 presidential campaign. He has a new collection of humor: "Great Political Wit: Laughing Almost All The Way to the White House."
Spec: Bob Dole; Politics; Clinton; "Great Political Wit"

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Bob Dole II
Date: SEPTEMBER 23, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 092305NP.217
Head: Lauryn Hill
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:50

TERRY GROSS, HOST: As part of the R&B group the Fugees, Lauryn Hill won a Grammy for her cover of Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly." She has a new solo album called "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," on which she is the producer, writer and lead vocalist.

The album entered the charts at number one, setting a new first week sales record for a female artist.

Rock critic Ken Tucker admires the CD's range and ambition.


Now I don't
Now I feel
Now I don't
Now I don't

As I look at what I've done
The type of life that I have lived
How many things I pray
the Father will forgive

KEN TUCKER, ROCK CRITIC: At the age of 23, Lauryn Hill has already been an actress. She had a recurring role on the soap opera "As the World Turns" and appeared in "Sister Act II."

She's proven to be the most arresting voice in the Fugees, managing to give a fresh urgency to a song that I and I bet a lot of people were pretty sick of, Roberta Flack's "Killing me Softly."

And on "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," she really stretches out. Rapping with clipped intensity, and at various moments here invoking older artists as diverse as Al Green, Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley.


Beware of the false motives of others
Be careful of those who pretend to be brothers
And you never suppose it's those who are closest to you
To you

They say all the right things to gain their position
And use your kindness as their ammunition
To shoot you down in the name of ambition
They do

Forgive them Father for...

TUCKER: What made Hill's version of "Killing Me Softly" so invigorating is that she drained all of Roberta Flack's melodrama and self-pity from the song the way a mechanic drains oil from a car.

The same is true of nearly every cut on this CD. This is the sound of a very strong independent-minded, even eccentric, woman; one whose ambition, unlike those of so many young artists, never seems beyond her grasp.

Just listen to the grand sweep and delicate memories evoked by "Every Ghetto Every City."


Writing my friend's names on my jeans with a marker
July 4th races outside Parker
Fireworks in Martin Stadium.

The untouchable PSP
All the crazy niggers
The car beat got a way through urban tongue
Hillside brings beat with the cops
Self-destruction record drops
And everybody's name was Muslim.

Sensations in '88
Drag the kids from out of state
And everybody use to do the whop
Whop it out

Jack yo' body
A lot of Biz Mark use to air buff the party
I wish those days they didn't stop
Every ghetto, every city...

TUCKER: If the music there reminds you of Stevie Wonder's "Living in the City," well, Hill has made the style her own with its vividly precise memories of childhood.

She then takes that '70s soul style and creates what I think is a minor masterpiece on the same theme called, "Every Thing is Everything."


I wrote these words for everyone
Who struggles in their youth
Who won't accept de-sectioning
Instead of what is truth

It seems we loose the game
Before we even start to play
Who made these rules
We're so confused
easily lead astray.

Let me tell you that every thing is everything
Every thing is everything
Every thing is everything

After winter must come spring
every thing is everything

Our philosophy...

TUCKER: "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" is marred slightly by spoken word conversational sections at the end of some cuts that grow tiresome over the course of repeated listening; but that's a minor flaw.

The "Miseducation" of the title refers, in part, to Hill's disillusionment with pure romance. This is the chronicle of a young women's growth into wise maturity.

There may not be a smarter CD released all year.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for "Entertainment Weekly." He reviewed the new album "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill."

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross
Guest: Ken Tucker
High: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviews the new solo album from R&B singer Lauryn Hill, who is part of the group the Fugees. The CD is called "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill."
Spec: Lauryn Hill; the Fugees; Entertainment; Music Industry

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Lauryn Hill
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Daughter of Warhol star looks back on a bohemian childhood in the Chelsea Hotel

Alexandra Auder's mother, Viva, was one of Andy Warhol's muses. Growing up in Warhol's orbit meant Auder's childhood was an unusual one. For several years, Viva, Auder and Auder's younger half-sister, Gaby Hoffmann, lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. It was was famous for having been home to Leonard Cohen, Dylan Thomas, Virgil Thomson, and Bob Dylan, among others.


This fake 'Jury Duty' really put James Marsden's improv chops on trial

In the series Jury Duty, a solar contractor named Ronald Gladden has agreed to participate in what he believes is a documentary about the experience of being a juror--but what Ronald doesn't know is that the whole thing is fake.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue