In a State of the Union address that was, for the most part, immediately forgettable, President Obama’s milk joke may turn out to be his only memorable line. “We got rid of one rule from 40 years ago that could have forced some dairy farmers to spend $10,000 a year proving that they could contain a spill — because milk was somehow classified as an oil,” Obama said, setting up the punch line that would repulse so many people. “With a rule like that, I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk.”
In the House chamber, the joke was first met with groans, then scattered applause, and smattering of chuckles. On Twitter, the response from political observers was harsher:
- “Obama should fire whoever gave him the ‘spilled milk’ joke. LOL Even the First Lady wasn’t impressed!” — CNN anchor TJ Holmes.
- “Spilled milk joke, ugh. Memo to Obama: Stay off the humor, stick to singing.” — New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn.
- “How did that one slip through, guys? ABC News’s Rick Klein. —
- “Spilled milk joke should have gone one more round with the speech committee.” — Columnist Kathleen Parker.
Here’s the thing: The joke didn’t fail, because it was never intended to be legitimately hilarious. Just like last year’s notorious salmon joke, Obama knew it was as corny as sixteen-acre corn maze in the shape of Sarah Palin’s face. You can tell by the way he (excuse the pun) milked the groans for all they were worth:
But why deliver a joke that you know isn’t funny? Because it’s a self-deprecating thing to do. Because it’s endearing. Because it humanizes you. Because you’ll remind people of their unfunny dad, who intentionally tells bad jokes for all of the same reasons.