People Are Taking Their Comedians Seriously, and Their Politicians as a Joke

Will Rogers? Ron Chernow? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The U.S. journalist and historian Ron Chernow spoke at the 2019 White House Correspondents’ Association annual dinner. He shared a quip attributed to humorist Will Rogers about the status reversal of comedians and politicians. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In November 1932 Will Rogers published the following remark in his widely-syndicated newspaper column. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Everything is changing in America. People are taking their comedians seriously, and their politicians as a joke, when-it-used-to-be-vice-versa.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The desire to be taken seriously is universal, and some comedians have made serious political proposals in the past. For example, a few months before Rogers published his statement, another prominent funny man, Charlie Chaplin, made a financial recommendation to the depression-weary world although it was not adopted: 2

. . . the world’s most famous comedian seriously proposes a plan to cure the ills of the world. It is not a plan to be accepted as a joke, or to be derided because it emanated from one who makes it his business to be a clown.

Briefly the Chaplin plan would call for international money, based on silver, and backed by bonds to prevent any deliberate depreciation. The economists will take Charlie Chaplin’s plan and tell him where it is good or bad.

In 1976 several U.S. newspapers reprinted the 1932 message from Will Rogers. The text was slightly altered, e.g., the phrase “in America” was deleted: 3

“Everything is changing. Now people are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke, when it used to be vice versa.”
Nov. 22, 1932

In 1980 “The Will Rogers Scrapbook” edited by Bryan B. Sterling included the saying: 4

Then it’s up to the voters to believe one man’s promise, or another man’s alibi. But this has been going on since George Washington started it.

But everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke, when it used to be vice versa.

In conclusion, Will Rogers should receive credit for the words he published in 1932. The phrasing has been altered as the statement has been replicated over the decades.

Image Notes: Tragedy and Comedy theater masks from Clker-Free-Vector-Images on Pixabay.

(Great thanks to anonymous person whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1932 November 23, The Piqua Daily Call, Will Rogers says (McNaught Syndicate), Quote Page 1, Column 1, Piqua, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1932 June 29, Oakland Tribune, Section: Editorial Page, Chaplin’s Plan, Quote Page 28, Column 1, Oakland, California. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1976 April 15, The Boston Globe, Will Rogers says, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Boston, Massachusetts. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1980, The Will Rogers Scrapbook by Will Rogers, Selected and edited by Bryan B. Sterling, Chapter 12: Our National Follies, Quote Page 102, Bonanza Books, New York. (Verified with scans)