BOTTOMLINE: The humour stakes seem to have risen in Canberra recently, with the arrival of Tony Abbott as Federal Opposition Leader – although one of the funniest examples took place in the central Australian Outback, reported by The Australian.
Mr Abbott and a small crew on quad bikes had boldly gone where no man had gone and got lost very much before, seeking out Aboriginal sacred sites in the Watarrka country.
The crew became a little concerned as darkness began to draw over the desert and their guides had not returned to lead them back to Kings Creek station. First, a message was drafted on a satellite phone which, with neither Mr Abbott nor anyone else able to discover the space bar, became WERELOSTNEARFOSSILCREEK. This was to be sent to his press secretary in Canberra, which would have had alarming consequences save for the fact that no-one could make it transmit.
An earlier message planned to be directed to the helicopter pilot back at the station, also unable to be sent, showed quick thinking under pressure by Mr Abbott in calling for an emergency drop: “Beer, water, food and rugs. Especially beer.”
Mr Abbott has found himself labelled as ‘gaffe-prone’ in his early weeks as Opposition Leader, and he has clearly been surprised by how some of his attempts at humour have been interpreted in the media.
So it was just a few decades earlier for Hollywood actor turned California Governor, and then US President, Ronald Reagan (known affectionately in Australia – at a time of possible thermonuclear annihilation of the planet, remember – as Ronnie Ray Gun).
Yet Ronald Reagan, the man who actually did bring about the end of the Cold War with the USSR, in consort with Mikhail Gorbachev, also found his natural humour misplaced and misinterpreted consistently during his time as Leader of the Free World.
His most famous incident came prior to a broadcast to America in 1984, when the Cold War was at its deepest. For a microphone test that was recorded, he chose to say: “My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you I just signed legislation which outlaws Russia forever. The bombing begins in five minutes.”
But, then, he could be ironic to the point of delightful honesty, such as this quip about the attitudes of government: “The government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidise it.”
His distaste for big government was a constant that drew regular refreshingly humorous barbs such as: “Government does not solve problems. It subsidises them.”
And this one, while President: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’.”
Along with this: “I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency – even if I’m in a Cabinet meeting.”
His self-deprecating style often worked against him, such as when the former actor was asked what kind of Governor of California he would make and he replied: “I don’t know. I’ve never played a Governor.”
Even way before environmentalism and global warming took hold among the general population of the US, he managed to infuriate the green movement by stating that “trees cause more pollution than automobiles”. He was talking about methane emissions from decaying old growth forests, compared with motor vehicle emissions controls in California. We know it, now, to be an interesting argument.
His reputation for easy delegation was not helped by his open quip: “They say hard work never hurt anybody, but, I figure, why take the chance?”
But quips about the economy were his speciality: “I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself.”
Although he did have the occasional mis-spoken moment later perfected by George W. Bush: “We are trying to get unemployment to go up, and I think we’re going to succeed.”
“The only reason some people get lost in thought is because it’s unfamiliar territory.”
– Paul Fix, Hollywood character actor.
“Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”
– Albert Einstein.
“This is like déjà vu all over again”
– American Major League baseball player, Lawrence Peter ‘Yogi’ Berra, who also famously uttered: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”