Fifty years ago this month, just as the nation grappled with the Cuban missile crisis and serious talk of nuclear war was mounting, a recording studio reverberated with laughter as actors and technicians gathered to record The First Family, a comedy album parody of the Kennedy White House that became the bestselling record album of any kind in American history. The comedian-in-chief was Vaughn Meader, a 26-year-old comic whose precise mimicry of Kennedy’s thick Boston accent was about to propel him to a celebrity that both rivaled and cemented that of the president.
Join us at the Mariemont Branch Library (3810 Pocahontas Ave., 513-369-4467) on Monday, October 29, 6:30 p.m., as College of Mount St. Joseph history professor Peter Robinson recalls this seriously funny moment in American political culture. We’ll laugh with some of the most hilarious moments from the album and consider how this landmark moment revolutionized the way that Americans laugh with and at the most powerful office in the free world.
PETER M. ROBINSON is an associate professor of history at the College of Mount St. Joseph and earned his Ph.D. from Miami University. While his scholarly curiosity extends to virtually all aspects of the human past, certain subjects are particularly fascinating to him, among them twentieth century United States history, cultural histories, and the history of American humor. He has been fortunate to be able to pursue these passions in the courses he teaches. Dr. Robinson also is fascinated by the historical intersections of political and popular culture expressed through the act of performance. He was privileged to be able to study the lasting effects of performances first hand during the many years he served as Director of Public Relations at the Tony Award-winning Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. He combined this experience with his more recent research—and his interest in humor—to produce his first book, The Dance of the Comedians: The People, the President, and the Performance of Political Standup Comedy in America, which was published by University of Massachusetts Press in 2010 and was recently released in paperback. Among his other activities, Dr. Robinson has contributed to the Washington Post on humor and the presidency, and he recently served as an advisor to Oklahoma public television for a documentary on the humorist Will Rogers. The program premiered in 2011 and has aired nationally on numerous public television stations.
ABOUT HIS BOOK: Why did Barack Obama court Jon Stewart and trade jokes with Stephen Colbert during the campaign of 2008? Why did Sarah Palin forgo the opportunity to earn votes on the Sunday morning political talk shows but embrace the chance to get laughs on Saturday Night Live? The Dance of the Comedians examines the history behind these questions the merry, mocking, and highly contested anarchies of standup political comedy that have locked humorists, presidents, and their fellow Americans in an improvisational three-way dance since the early years of the American republic. Although the focus is on humor, the book illuminates the process by which Americans have come to recognize that the performance of political comedy has serious and profound consequences for those on all sides of the punch line.