"Does anybody know what the difference between a bulldog and a hockey mom is?" Bob Barr, former Republican member of Congress and now the Libertarian presidential candidate, asks. "The bulldog gets vetted!"
Barr's joke elicits a roar of laughs and a couple of "oh's!" among the audience at the 15th Annual Funniest Celebrity in Washington Contest.
The annual fundraiser is an opportunity for pols, pundits and journos to challenge Washington's reputation as a stiff, self-serious town -- and also a good measure of what topics in the political zeitgeist are particularly ripe for ridicule at the moment. This year, John McCain's vetting process in his hunt for a vice presidential candidate was a repeated theme.
When Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas and Republican primary contender, took over the microphone, he joked that he was hurt by McCain's decision not to ask him to join the GOP ticket.
"John McCain didn't even vet me," Huckabee said. "But he didn't vet Sara Palin either."
Huckabee also poked fun at his onetime Republican primary rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. "Mitt has more positions than an underaged Chinese gymnast," Huckabee said.
At the end of the night, Huckabee was the winner of the funniest celebrity in Washington prize. But the producer of the event, Richard Siegel, says the aim of the evening is not the competition, but simply to bring people from all political sides together in a lighter setting. The evening also is a charity fundraiser, this year benefitting VSA Arts, a nonprofit organization that helps people with disabilities learn and participate through artistic expression.
"Oftentimes they have to be serious, they don't have the opportunity to be funny," said Siegel. "This gives them a chance to lighten up and give a humorous message."
For a lot of the politicians and journalists, telling jokes is far from a typical part of their daily work. Riz Khan, a news correspondent for Al-Jazeera, said he used his stand-up routine at this event to poke fun at some serious issues, like "how difficult it is for a brown man with a Muslim name to go through security."
Khan joked about even former Secretary of State Colin Powell being "randomly selected" when he goes through security checks at airports these days. On stage, Khan asked the crowd, "So, who put me on the billing as explosively funny?!"