Comedy Writer Doug Gamble Gives a Lift to the G.o.p., and Vice Versa
How did this resident alien—a Canadian citizen, Gamble wasn't able to vote for the man he helped reelect—work himself so deeply into America's political mainstream? To find out, read some of the top-drawer material he scripted for Reagan last year.
"It's great to live in a country where anyone who is ambitious, determined and hardworking can win the most powerful job in America. But as long as Dan Rather has it, I'll have to settle for being President."—Washington, March 24, 1984.
"The media seem to blame the President for everything they can," Gamble complains. "They seem to look for scandal where none exists. If a politician gets a traffic ticket, they immediately call it Ticketgate." So in December of 1983 Gamble took on those nattering nabobs of negativism by writing a satirical piece that had Dan Rather blame the President for America's critical shortage of Cabbage Patch dolls. Though he did this primarily "for catharsis," he sent a copy to the conservative radio commentator Paul Harvey. Harvey liked the conceit and read it over the air. Soon Gamble was one of many free-lancers feeding Reagan's hungry speechwriters.
"If my opponent's campaign were a TV show, it would be named Let's Make a Deal. You'd get to trade your prosperity for the surprise behind the curtain."—Glen Ellyn, Ill., Oct. 16, 1984.
Gamble himself has been known to take a flyer. He skipped college, going directly from high school to work as a radio newscaster, writer and reporter in Toronto. In 1977 he landed the "Once Over Lightly" column in Toronto's Sunday Star. "Sort of along the Art Buchwald line," is how he describes it. Reader response was so enthusiastic, Gamble says, "I decided to try to write for comedians. I figured my best bet would be L.A." He arrived in 1980.
"The other side's promises are a little like Minnie Pearl's hat. They both have big price tags hanging from them."—Nashville, Sept. 13, 1984.
For Rivers, Diller and other stand-up comedians who are not running for office, the fees on Gamble's jokes are fairly modest. He usually gets $10 to $50 per jape, though Hope pays him a retainer. (Invoking a self-imposed gag rule, he refuses to divulge what the GOP pays per laugh line.) It's enough for Gamble and his wife, Ann, 39, a social worker, to live in a two-bedroom Studio City home with pool, which he describes as "a wonderful backyard with a house attached." His success has only deepened his ideological bent. "I love this country," Gamble says. "Since last summer I've been saying, only half jokingly, that I didn't think ABC's Olympic coverage was biased enough."
"With so many trouble spots around the world, I've told my aides that if they hear of any trouble they should wake me up immediately. Even when I'm in a Cabinet meeting."—Washington, April 13, 1984.
It's doubtful that wake-up duty will ever fall to Gamble. Despite his contributions to the campaign, Reagan's quickest wit remains outside the inner circle. He's never met the President and probably won't, even though the Gambles plan to attend the Inauguration. Gamble accepts this with equanimity. In fact, if the Great Communicator should need some further jokes at the Democrats' expense, Gamble will most happily provide them. "I don't have to sit down and ask myself, 'How can I be nasty to the Democrats?' That," he points out, "is how I really feel." Think of it as a labor of love. If, of course, you're a Republican.