Joe Gandelman: The comedy god gives you Toronto Mayor Rob Ford
The universe’s comedy god has answered prayers of comedians everywhere who seek a sure-fire punch line: He has given them Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Ford has become a living unfunny joke.
For years people joked when a politician said something silly: "What is he? On crack?" In the case of Canadian politician and businessman Rob Ford, the answer at least one time would be "yes." In May, allegations started about a video showing Ford smoking a crack pipe. He denied it, but then earlier this month police announced they had a video showing Ford puffing away. So Ford apologized, refusing to resign, explaining it happened last year when he was in a "drunken stupor."
It’s the old joke. A guy had to go to court for running a stop sign. His friend gives him this advice: "Just apologize to the judge and say you didn’t see the sign because you were drunk at the time."
And then something interesting happened:
Ford’s poll numbers went up.
He began to be a popular punch line for comedians and writers. Comedian Arsenio Hall cracked (no pun intended): "Apparently ‘Rob Ford’ is an old Canadian name meaning ‘Marion Barry.’’ Jon Stewart told good folks of Toronto:" I heard that your mayor Ford’s approval ratings went up after it came out that he smoked crack... You know what that makes you as a city, Toronto? Enablers." Author Diane Francis wrote in the Washington Post: "The last time a Canadian politician attained any name recognition outside Canada was in 1970, when Pierre Trudeau dated Barbra Streisand."
Then the Toronto Star released a video of Ford in an angry, drunken rant, showing his overweight body pacing around the room, with him hissing: "Cause I’m gonna kill that (bad word) guy. ... No holds barred, brother. He dies, or I die, brother. Brother, you’ve never seen me (bad word) go. You think so, brother? But when he’s down, I’ll rip his (bad word) throat out. I’ll poke his eyes out."
But his poll numbers aren’t moving. The CBC reported his "approval rating has apparently held steady despite a scandal-plagued week involving admissions of crack cocaine use, public intoxication and the release of a video of the mayor swearing violence against an unknown party. Forum Research pollster Lorne Bozinoff told CBC News Network on Saturday that Ford still enjoys a 44 percent approval rating. Even so, the vast majority of people still want him to step down. About two-thirds of those polled said they want him to resign or seek rehab."
Legendary Democratic strategist James Carville had some advice for President Barack Obama, whose poll numbers are going south faster than elderly New Yorkers to Florida in winter: "I think the best thing he can do is take a toke on the mayor of Toronto’s crack pipe..."
But it’s no joke. Ford represents a 21st century prototype. The only difference is that so far most of these utterly shameless politicians seemingly reside in the United States. All hung in there until public opinion or the voters forced them out. In San Diego, where serial sexual harasser Bob Filner resigned as mayor, the San Diego UT’s Matthew Hall asked " which guy is worse? Who is the greater civic embarrassment? In all honesty, I’d personally make the decision based on this factor: Filner directly hurt other people while Ford’s drug use hurts only himself."
Not exactly. Ford has hurt the overall image officeholders and reinforces a negative cliche. The videos that demean him and his office suggest the United States and Canada have more than ever in common in their political cultures.
Meanwhile, comedians, Tweeters, and bloggers all note that Ford looks like SNL’s late obese comedian Chris Farley, who died of drug abuse. If Ford remains in office it’ll be a sign that slowly, but surely, minimal standards for politicians in the 21st century will suffer Farley’s tragic fate.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.