President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney dispensed with the usual election-time vitriol and engaged in some light mockery during Thursday night's dueling stand-up routines at the Al Smith dinner. For over half a century, most major party presidential nominees have stopped by the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, which raises money for Catholic charities, to deliver some jokes at their own—and each others'—expense.
Romney appeared onstage first, and his speech was peppered with jabs at Obama. Referencing the first 2012 presidential debate and the size of the national debt, Romney said "People seem to be very curious about how to prepare for the debates. First refrain from alcohol for 65 years, then get the biggest straw man and mercilessly attack it. Big Bird didn't even see it coming."
He added, ""In the spirit of Sesame Street, the president's remarks are brought to you by the letter O and the number 16 trillion." During the debate, Romney had announced his intention to defund PBS, which broadcasts the popular children's show.
After saying that "we’re down to the final months of the president’s term," Romney added, "So little time, so much to redistribute."
Obama took a few jocular swipes at Romney as well. "“Everybody please take your seats," he said at the beginning of his speech. "Otherwise Clint Eastwood will yell at them." Eastwood's speech on the final night of the Republican National Convention was widely regarded as an embarrassment for the Romney-Ryan ticket.
Both candidates also made sure to poke fun at one another's running mates. At one point, Romney wished aloud that Joe Biden was in the audience, “because he’ll laugh at anything.” And Obama made a joking reference to Paul Ryan's untrue claim that he had run a marathon in under three hours.
The candidates, as is customary, also made time for some self-deprecating humor. At the white tie, formal dress dinner, Romney quipped that it was nice to unwind and wear what he and Ann do around the house. Obama made light of his own middling performance in the first debate, joking that he had napped through the whole thing.
Obama even addressed msnbc's Chris Matthews. "I particularly want to apologize to Chris Matthews. Four years ago I gave him a thrill up his leg; this time around I gave him a stroke."
Al Smith IV, the governor's great grandson and the evening's master of ceremonies, also roasted the nominees. He acknowledged all the guests at the event, particularly the women, saying "Glad you made it out of your binders!"
Among his other one-liners:
- “You both look so dashing in tails. Or as you call it, governor, business casual.”
- "Romney is a very wealthy man, and a generous man.... Every year he gives at least 10% of his income to charity. [Applause] Not so fast! The charity is the federal government.”
- "But seriously, [Governor Romney] he’s been very generous to his church... We didn’t invite him here to speak. We invited him here to convert.”
- “Really governor, your father was from Mexico and you have five kids. Are you sure you’re not Catholic?”
- To Obama: “You’re not getting a free pass tonight. We’re excited to have you hear tonight. Almost as excited as we were in 2008.”
- “Jesus taught us that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Say what you will about the economy, Mr. President, it’s going to be a lot easier for a lot more people to get into heaven.”
- To Obama: “It’s never good when your opponent has produced more sons than you produced jobs. I’m pretty sure that number’s accurate. Paul Ryan gave it to me.”
Comedian W. Kamau Bell, the host of FX's Totally Biased, told msnbc's Rachel Maddow that, though both candidates were funny, Obama had the upper hand. "I feel like Barack Obama's like a Swiss army knife," he said. "He's got several different settings. Funny Barack is a very easy setting for him, whereas Romney kind of has Awkward Romney and Mean Romney."
While in New York, Obama also paid a visit to Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, although the interview was decidedly more serious. Stewart asked about the recent attack in Libya that killed the American ambassador, and Romney’s assertion that the White House came back with a confusing response. At the end of the interview, the president pled for people to go to the polls.