There is an expression in show business..."Read the room." It means being able to sense what a group of people are feeling in a given situation. What is their temperature, mood, response? For a stage actor, it tells you what parts of a play are working, jokes that draw a laugh, dramatic moments that fall flat. Probably the best at this are standup comics. It is essential to intuit that your Trump material might not be best suited for that, no doubt, heavily armed crowd in Mobile. Biden old-jokes at the retirement home in Sarasota could possibly end with a fusillade of dentures and hearing aids.
Back in junior high school, a buddy of mine named Jim Liggett and I fancied ourselves a budding comedy team and wrote what to our 15-year-old minds were pithy and inciteful political jokes, many of which were thinly disguised cribbed material from the likes of Mort Sahl. We then cast about for any sort of gathering where we could spread our comedy wings, and make some pocket change. And we got a nibble. We were invited to strut our hilarious stuff for the 1st Baptist Church Youth Group in, yes, Vidor, Texas.
Vidor was, and probably still is, reputedly the most racist town in the state, and that's saying something. A sundown-town that, in earlier times, had a city limits sign warning folks with a surplus of melanin that to tarry there overnight would be a mistake. Years later, it was the site of the James Byrd dragging murder. So, we weren't playing the lounge at the Sands.
I won't go into detail, but suffice to say it was not boffo. We left after they grudgingly handed over our 50 bucks or whatever we charged, and exited a room full of kids who all had the kind of unhappy and quizzical looks you usually associate with someone emitting a giant, room-filling fart. On the way home to Houston, we reconsidered this career path, and I later went into journalism, and Jim became an Episcopal priest.
We hadn't learned to read a room that anyone with the sense that the good lord gave a small dinner salad could have read from low earth orbit. This brings me to two people who seem to think that the large home on Pennsylvania Avenue is in their future. Both went to Harvard, and I understand the university is considering a disclaimer in its recruiting material as a result. And neither one seems to be able to read the room.
Let's start with Vivek Ramaswamy. Yes, I have to. Born of highly successful Indian parents, he grew up in Cincinnati and, went to, yes, Harvard. He proceeded to make a bloody mint in pharmaceuticals and finance. All of that is terrific and the American dream. OK, he used to be very liberal-minded in his philanthropy, but that isn't the rage currently, so he now misuses the word "woke" for anything that, well, any Democrat favors. And certainly, we've seen politicians, or aspiring ones, turn on a dime regarding previously held beliefs when the political wind is at their back.
But rarely has it been done with such energetic petulance. Ramaswamy has the demeanor of a cantankerous gerbil on meth. And, here's where the reading the room part comes in. Whenever his debate audience gasps or outright boos his latest verbal missile at DeSantis or Haley, something tells him he's nailing it and it's time to double down. In a hilarious album years ago, Albert Brooks talked about disc jockeys emceeing rock concerts, when no one in the audience wanted to see or hear them. He decided there was something in the DJ's inner ear that turned every insult into a compliment.
"Boo, you jerk!"
"Thank you, it is a wonderful night, isn't it."
"I said boo."
"I said thanks."
That appears to be what's happening here, and not only is his overwrought and seemingly tireless debating style hitting the crowd as distinctly joyless, but maddening as well. It seems that no moderator, Fox or NBC, can convince him to put a sock in it. It's like the worst High School Class President contest ever. In April, only about 11% of the public viewed him unfavorably. Now, it's 32%. Only 25% view him favorably, and one presumes, the rest simply want to pretend he doesn't exist. The public may be ready to hand over the reins of power to a younger generation, but decidedly not this guy.
I don't know what kind of political advisors are working with his campaign, but like another annoying rich guy I could name, he apparently isn't listening. That or his DJ brain is turning it all into compliments. The only thing left for them is Ambien.
Our other example of faulty room reading can be summed up in this comment to the Texas Tribune...
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said he expects to run for president again in the future, continuing his fight against the left and their “woke” policies.
“I loved running for president in 2016. We came incredibly close. We came within inches of winning. It's the most fun I've ever had in my life and I fully hope and expect to run again at some point,” Cruz said in an interview promoting his new book, “Unwoke: How to Defeat Cultural Marxism in America.”
Yes, US Senator Rafael Edward Cruz (R-Cancun) harbors the completely mental notion that the country is longing for more of him. You know, they say that when a senator looks in the mirror, they see a potential President. Ted seems to have one of those "Time Man of the Year" mirrors at home.
Possessing the only face more punchable than Ramaswamy's, Cruz is seemingly the most disliked person in Congress. And let's ponder for a minute the cast of characters that includes, on both sides of the aisle. It's a veritable island of misfit toys and befuddlement that is currently leading us to the most unnecessary government shutdown imaginable. Among these nonentities, Ted stands out. As former Senator Al Franken wrote...
"I like Ted Cruz more than most of my other colleagues like Ted Cruz. And I hate Ted Cruz."
Even though he's been gone for 60 years, if JFK were writing "Profiles in Courage" now, well, there would still be no Ted Cruz chapter. Consider Trump going after Ted's wife...
Yeah, Trump posted that on the TwitterX-Orphan-Annie-Decoder-Ring, or whatever Musk is calling it now.
And Trump accused Ted's father of being involved somehow in the JFK assassination. Trump called Ted a liar and even worse, a Canadian.
And when it was all over this is the result of this very personal feud...
Yeah, Ted kissed the Cheeto Benito's ring and all was forgiven, by Trump. and then, there was the worst winter storm in modern Texas history. In 2021, over 200 people dead, the electric grid in meltdown, or it would have been if it could have generated some heat. And the Tedster...
Yeah, winging his way to sunny Cancun, where the palm trees sway and the heater works. Of course, someone with a camera, (and Ted forgot that everyone has a camera,) caught him. So-o-o...back we go to Bush Intercontinental in Houston.
And Ted, in the most Ted moment you can imagine, blamed it on the family who wanted to get away, oh, probably for the whole winter.
This week, I heard Ted on some national conservative blab fest on radio, talking about "his Texas Rangers" winning the World Series. He has proclaimed himself an Astros fan several times, but, hey, they lost this year, so-o-o...
He even joined in the Astros victory parade in Houston last year, and was hit with a beer can.
In fact, some Houston fans begged him not to enter Minute Maid Park for game 7 this year, as he is considered a jinx. So that's one more thing I can blame him for, well, except for our pitching that night.
And yet, our deluded Disraeli thinks he's ready, or more to the point, we're ready for him to lead the country.
The guy who, during a previous government shutdown he engineered, ruined "Green Eggs and Ham" for all of us during his filibuster, has decided that he's still viable in some future race for four years at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? The man that former speaker John Boehner called "Lucifer in the Flesh", the guy who told a Biden joke the day of Beau Biden's funeral, and elbowed his wife at a political rally, apparently has that DJ inner ear condition.
Reading the room is important for a standup comedian but absolutely essential for a politician. And these guys are exhibits A and B of that particular missing gene.
See. After my depressed piece last week, I wanted to write about silly people. Vivek and Rafael certainly fit the bill.
Now, he is part of the Texas Outlaw Writers, and if this doesn't pan out, the outlaw part will still work as he will indeed resort to robbing banks.