Episode 7, with guest Mark Katz of the Soundbite Institute

Mark Katz is our interview guest this week.
Show produced by Katherine Caperton
Original Air Date: April 23, 2011 on SiriusXM Satellite Radio “POTUS” Channel 124.  Click above to listen.

It’s one of the hardest speeches to give every year: the President of the United States, a job for which humor is “important but not essential,” must nontheless do stand up in front of 3,000 potential critics that comprise the White House Correspondents Association members, news organizations and their guests at their annual dinner.  The dinner, held as always at the Washington Hilton, took place on Saturday, April 30.  President Obama used the bulk of his remarks to target Donald Trump, and Saturday Night Live’s Seth Meyers weighed in with more broadsides against Trump in his routine.

In the week prior to the annual event, in this episode of Polioptics on XM Sirius Satellite Radio, we talked with Mark Katz of the Soundbite Insitute who, many times during the Clinton years, was on point for the suprisingly complex process of assmbling a funny speech.

Here are my two notes of advice for future guest speakers at the WHCA Dinner as someone who has watched almost every one of them going back to 1994, either in person or on television:

  • First, if you must use the Presidential “Blue Goose” lectern, and you’re more than 5’11” tall, don’t use the built-in step.  The step invariably brings the speakers mouth too far away from the microphones and makes it difficult to project into the room.
  • Second: if your trade is stand-up comedy, play your trade as you’ve been trained, with a hand-held microphone.  Your voice will project far better, you’ll be able to pace the stage, as stand-ups do, and hand gestures and timing will be far better.

In summary: don’t let the WHCA organizers strap you down to the podium just because “that’s the way it’s always be done.”  Liberate yourself from the Blue Goose, and give a better performance.

During my days at the White House, Mark Katz would become a fixture in the West Wing in the early part of the year, working with various staff members to craft a trilogy of humorous speeches for the Alfalfa Club, the then-named Radio and TV Correspondents Association Dinner and the granddaddy of them all, the White House Correspondents Association Dinner.

During the course of a four-year or eight-year presidency, the White House staff typically tries to one-up itself in complexity each year.  In his last appearance at the WHCA Dinner in 2000, President Clinton, working with Katz and others, offered up what may well be remembered as an Oscar-winning performance (certainly one which Kevin Spacey thought Oscar-worthy).


Some Presidents pull this off better than others.  In our conversation with Mark Katz, he lays out the unique challenges of making the President a funny guy.

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