Sam Venable  

Department of Irony

This time of year, I always enjoy watching presidents give their State of the Union speeches. 

Not because of the history that’s being made, of course. Not because of the championship oratory, either. Nor the hard-hitting social, economic, and diplomatic issues that are raised. Or the heart-warming patriotism woven throughout. 

No, no, a thousand times no! You hear one State of the Union speech, you’ve heard ’em all. The only thing any president, Republican or Democrat, really needs to say is: “Despite the mess Congress and I have gotten this country into, it is still alive and kicking. I expect this trend to continue. Thank you and good night.” 

Instead, Hizzoner drones on incessantly about the unprecedented accomplishments of his administration and the boundless prosperity this country could achieve if only those lousy (take your pick: Democrats, Republicans) would cooperate. Big deal. 

The real show takes place out in the audience. Watching members of the House and Senate jump through their obligatory hoops as the dog-and-pony show unfolds is more entertaining than a Three Stooges film festival. 

Invariably, the applause and standing ovations fall strictly along party lines. When a Richard Nixon, a Ronald Reagan or a George Bush (I or II) reports on the status of the nation, the Democrats scowl, sit on their hands, and make snide comments to their colleagues. When a Jimmy Carter, a Bill Clinton or a Barack Obama is at the podium, the Republicans are similarly stricken mute. Never fails. 

Nonetheless, I will say this for the political bodies at a State of the Union speech: They’ve got to be in tremendous physical condition. All that hand-pounding and leaping-to-feet surely grows burdensome after a while. 

After President Clinton’s address in 1996, commentators for ABC News said that during the 61-minute stem-winder, he was interrupted by applause 56 times and treated to 27 standing ovations. Even for veterans of the baby-kissing and chicken-dinner circuits, this is a strenuous workout. Perhaps they warmed up before the event with squats, leg stretches, and finger extensions. As any fitness expert will tell you, limber muscles don’t cramp as readily as ones that are coiled like box springs. 

And who knows? Maybe this is a new career option for members of Congress when frustrated voters finally induct them into the Royal Order of the Boot. It would be a natural for the Home Shopping Network: “Get your copy of ex-Senator Bilgewater’s new aerobic workout on DVD today! It worked for him! It’ll work for you! Just a few minutes a day, and you can stay in shape without leaving the comforts of your office!” 

One word of marketing caution, though: Politicians travel in different fiscal circles than the rest of us mere mortals. We think $14.95 for a DVD is pricey; they think $149,500 is a bargain. So unless they pare their “special introductory price” expectations accordingly, there might not be many takers. 

Sam Venable is an author, stand-up comedian, and humor columnist for The Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel. He may be reached at