Kurt Schmoke funny? Don't make me laugh

November 14, 1995|By MICHAEL OLESKER

You know that storm Saturday night, when the snow descended and the wind rumbled across the heavens and thousands of homes were left powerless? You know what caused it? It was God's convulsive reaction to the news that Kurt L. Schmoke had been named one of the three funniest mayors in America.

Funny? The mayor of Baltimore is many things, but funny? Sorry. He's earnest and charming (between political campaigns), but funny? Forget it. (Although the mayor did get off a real knee-slapper during last summer's campaign, when he said, and I'm quoting loosely, "Did you hear the one about Danny Henson and Park Heights Avenue?")

Kurt Schmoke's idea of a municipal joke is Vera Hall. At $60,000 a year. Or Sheila Dixon, at any price. This is funny? Schmoke's idea of a gag line is, "How many Larry Gibsons does it take to screw up a mayor?"

But there was the news Saturday night, as snow fell on Baltimore and the wind howled like the wrath of gas and electric subscribers when they get their next bill: Right there on HBO's Comic Relief telethon, Schmoke was being hailed as the No. 3 funniest mayor in America.

All right, there's a catch: The field was limited to the 23 mayors whose cities have Health Care for the Homeless, which is the beneficiary of the telethon. Only nine mayors had the actual nerve to submit videotapes, from which HBO chose its three finalists. Schmoke was one of the nine.

His big joke: something about entering a telethon for the homeless in the same week he was urging Baltimoreans not to give money to homeless panhandlers who No! Wait! That wasn't a joke, it was the ironic truth!

OK, is it the mayor's fault he's not Billy Crystal? (Or even William Kristol?) Not at all. Around here, who's the last funny politician anybody can remember? (That is, intentionally funny? Vera Hall trying to fix the Jackie McLean case doesn't count. Nor does Sheila Dixon taking off her shoe and waving it around at a City Council meeting.)

Politicians aren't funny people. Some of them are nice people, and many of them don't particularly steal. But this isn't the same as saying that they're funny -- no matter how many good-natured disclaimers they may issue when questioned about it.

Charles Ecker, for example. The Howard County executive's a decent fellow, but funny?

"Yes, I have a sense of humor," he declared forthrightly yesterday, when he heard the hilarious news about Kurt Schmoke.

"How do you express it?" Ecker was asked.

"By laughing," he said thoughtfully, quickly adding, "but not in a disrespectful manner."

"Can you think of something funny you've said?"

"Yes," said Ecker, after a moment's pause for reflection. "It was in 1991. Bobby Neall was Anne Arundel County executive, and he was talking about how he didn't have enough dredging money. I said he could have ours. Of course, we don't get any."

Which, you see, is the joke.

And Kurt Schmoke as humorist?

"No," said Ecker, "Mayor Schmoke is awfully nice, intelligent, dedicated. But I've never known him to be funny. Now, Eileen Rehrmann, [Harford County's executive,] she's funny."

"Yes, she is funny," Rehrmann's press secretary, George Harrison, said yesterday. (How funny is that? She hires one of the Beatles as her spokesman. Well, let it be.) "She has a sense of humor, but people don't always realize it. She can needle people very nicely. When she was a delegate, she and Nancy Murphy used to needle the governor.

"She presented him with something for his bathroom in the State House. She gave him one of those seats that goes in a bathroom. A toilet seat, yes."

Yes, yes.

"She's kind of subtle in her sense of humor," Harrison explained.

Yes, yes.

Subtle.

Then there's C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Baltimore County executive.

"He definitely has a sense of humor," says spokesman Jay Doyle. "There's no doubt about it. Such as, when he gives speeches, he always says, 'Two things I've gotten from being a politician. A thick skin and a big belly.' "

Ah.

And John Gary, the Anne Arundel County executive.

"I don't know that we elect them to be funny," says Lisa Ritter, Gary's spokeswoman.

Which goes a long way toward explaining how Kurt L. Schmoke of Baltimore, a man known to be as hysterical as a zoning ordinance, gets named one of the funniest politicians in America.

Must have been by default.

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