Patton Oswalt on Trump, Obama, David Lee Roth, and Rutgers linguistics

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At the Writers Guild of America Awards on Sunday night, host Patton Oswalt predictably made some Trump jokes in his opening monologue. What wasn’t so predictable was an extended analogy involving ’80s hard rocker David Lee Roth and the linguistics department at Rutgers University. The key line: “Donald Trump taking Obama’s job would be like if the head of linguistics at Rutgers made fun of David Lee Roth, and David Lee Roth was like, ‘I’m gonna take his job.'” A shout-out to Bruce Tesar, chair of the Rutgers linguistics department?

Oswalt’s bit starts around 5 minutes into the monologue, after some banter with James Woods, who was in the audience.

And by the way, I feel bad — I feel bad for Trump.
The poor guy — look. Here’s what happened.
They had that, that, uh, the journalist dinner, the correspondents dinner.
Obama went up, made fun of Donald, very mean.
And Donald said, “I’m takin’ his job. You don’t make fun of me. I’ll take your job.”
Spent all this money. Now he has the job, and he’s sittin’ there, goin’, “This job sucks. My life before this was amazing, it was golf and hookers and jets.”
[crosstalk with James Woods]
Donald Trump taking Obama’s job would be like if the head of linguistics at Rutgers made fun of David Lee Roth.
And David Lee Roth was like, “I’m gonna take his job, zibbly-bobbly-boop.”
And then he spends 40 million dollars.
And he goes into that first meeting like, “All right, I’m the head of linguistics at Rutgers! Bring on the hookers and the cocaine!”
And they’re like, “No, we’re gonna talk about the lack of recursion in German Romantic poetry.”
And he’s like, “Humaly-bebaly-zibbly-boobly? What just happened?”

Oswalt is referring to the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner where Obama mocked Trump, which many observers point to as the moment that Trump decided he would run for president. It also helps to be familiar with David Lee Roth’s 1985 hit, “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody,” which features some scat singing modeled on Louis Prima’s 1956 medley of those songs. Some lyrics sites transcribe the scat refrain as: “Humala bebuhla zeebuhla boobuhla, Humala bebuhla zeebuhla bop.” (Here it is on loop for a half hour.)

Update, 2/21: On Twitter, Patton Oswalt confirmed my hunch that his joke was based on Tom Wolfe’s recent book The Kingdom of Speech (discussed here and here), which was excerpted last year in Harper’s. Wolfe focuses on Dan Everett’s controversial claims about the lack of recursion in Pirahã, so Oswalt’s joke transposed that linguistic nugget to German Romantic poetry.



10 Comments

  1. C Baker said,

    February 20, 2017 @ 11:45 pm

    Oswalt is referring to the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner where Obama mocked Trump, which many observers point to as the moment that Trump decided he would run for president.

    Really? Well, gee. Thanks, Obama!

  2. Guy said,

    February 20, 2017 @ 11:48 pm

    “Some lyrics sites transcribe the scat refrain as: ‘Humala bebuhla zeebuhla boobuhla, Humala bebuhla zeebuhla bop.’ (Here it is on loop for a half hour.)”

    What an age to live in.

  3. Phil said,

    February 21, 2017 @ 7:58 am

    Its a joke but what’s a bigger joke,people not getting out there and getting in line and voting!

  4. Coby Lubliner said,

    February 21, 2017 @ 9:15 am

    Is Oswalt a fan of Oscar Wolfe?

    [(bgz) I’m guessing we can blame autocorrect for that.]

  5. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 21, 2017 @ 10:31 am

    Now I’m idly curious if “Rutgers” was a semi-arbitrary improvised choice, or if a half-dozen professional comedy writers spent an hour in a conference room sitting around a table and trying out the same line with different university names substituted in before reaching consensus that “Rutgers” was le mot juste.

  6. rootlesscosmo said,

    February 21, 2017 @ 11:00 am

    So lang dem Wasser Helle,
    So dacht ich, nicht gebricht,
    So fängt er die Forelle
    Mit seiner Angel nicht.

  7. Mr Punch said,

    February 21, 2017 @ 12:41 pm

    It’s my understanding that among comedy writers “New Jersey” is considered inherently funny.

  8. Lazar said,

    February 21, 2017 @ 2:40 pm

    Poor New Jersey. When YouGov asked Americans what they thought of the states, Jersey was literally the only one to receive a net unfavorable rating.

  9. rpsms said,

    February 21, 2017 @ 5:53 pm

    Well, you *do* have to pay to get out of New Jersey, generally

  10. Steven Lubman said,

    February 25, 2017 @ 11:44 pm

    rpsms, there are still many free smaller bridges out of New Jersey + Interstate 78 and 80 and local roads into PA and NY.

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