Laughing at Dan


WELL, AT least Dan Quayle is still funny.

The latest in vice-presidential humor comes from Gary Cohn, a 32-year-old entrepreneur in Wheeling, Ill., who has set up the Dan Quayle Joke, Song and Blooper Line (1-900-USA-DANNY), which gives us something to do besides go to the bathroom when we take a break from CNN.

Cohn is the same guy who marketed the Dan Quayle Watch -- keeps perfect time but with the wrong numbers, as advertised in the Quayle Quarterly, the only publication devoted to the vice president.

There's something uplifting about all this, even though it could be really depressing if viewed in a certain light. But we're not going to stand under that bulb because we've got enough problems right now.

We're going to stand over here in the sunshine and enjoy the laughter because it's good for us, good for the country, and, Lord knows, it's good for Dan Quayle.

Imagine if nobody noticed that our vice president was a lightweight! He'd start thinking that America took him seriously and might even try to make important decisions instead of simply concentrating on saying, "What a waste it is to lose one's mind."

I love him for saying that. It was a scream. So was: "People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have a tremendous impact on history." Yes!

Even the hard-core conservatives planning to write angry letters to the paper for printing this have to admit that the guy is funny. Come on -- you laughed! Alone in your rooms with the shades drawn, you read how he said, "I stand by all the misstatements that I've made," and split a gut.

Dan Quayle is a klutz. He is like the guy on the company softball team who can't catch to save himself, and so when he gets up off the bench, everybody yells, "Wear two gloves," "Take a bucket," or "The ball is round and white."

That kind of razzing is healthy and a lot kinder than saying nothing because he's the chairman's cousin, or the vice president. When we make jokes about Dan Quayle we're seeing him for what he is and, in effect, saying, "You're on the team anyway and we understand."

Gary Cohn's laugh line has a lot of good-natured corn and high school humor. ("Did you hear Dan Quayle has a new book? He finished coloring the last one.") People are invited to listen, then tell their own Quayle jokes, and 5,000 people have done so since November.

Cohn also offers songs by the Washington comedy group Capitol Steps -- "Stand by Your Dan," "Talk Like a Dan" -- and has the man himself on tape with excerpts from his speeches.

As I sat there blowing two bucks for the first minute and 99 cents a minute after that on silliness, I felt a definite up and a certain fondness for our vice president. After all, Colin Powell would never say, "I didn't live in this century."

Deborah Werksman, co-publisher of the Quayle Quarterly, says people have proposed making him "Vice President in Perpetuity" because he's great for the economy and brings joy to millions. Also, that way he could never be president.

She says the man inspires music and poetry, serious as well as funny, and that it comes into her publication by the bagful. She notes that Dr. Joe Waldbaum in New York City, who bills himself as "podiatrist by day and folk singer by night," does gigs way off Broadway performing "The Ballad of Dan Quayle."

A singing podiatrist! Only in America. And as long as George Bush keeps jogging, why not enjoy the show?

Humor lets the air out of our tension balloons. It allows us to focus on the clown dancing across the tightrope instead of the 50-foot drop. And it's one of the best ways to be honest.

Let's not forget that we're laughing at ourselves here, too. Dan Quayle didn't elect himself! He belongs to the nation, at least until 1992, and we should appreciate what we've got -- a man who can say, "If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure" with a straight face.

To Dan! To Gary Cohn! To Dr. Waldbaum and Deborah Werksman! It sure beats looking down.

Susan Trausch is a Boston Globe columnist.

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