How wooden is Al Gore?
"He's an inspiration to all the millions of Americans who suffer from Dutch elm disease."
But seriously, folks, we're talking about the Vice President of the United States—let's have a little respect. "Al Gore's sense of humor is one of the best-kept secrets in Washington," says Mark Katz. But if the secret should ever get out, some of the credit will go to Katz, who lives to make sure that even wonks can get yuks.
Katz, 32, who came up with the two Gore badda-booms! above (both delivered by the VP at the Gridiron Club dinner in 1994), is humor consultant to the Democratic National Committee. When a prominent Democrat says something like, "Capitol Hill is a very cold place—I saw a couple of Republicans huddling around Bob Dole for warmth," that's Katz doing his job.
The son of an orthodontist and an office manager, Katz grew up in suburban New City, N.Y., where his smart mouth got him into frequent trouble in school. "My career path," he says, "was basically from the principal's office to the Oval Office." He got his start in politics with Michael Dukakis's 1988 presidential race; Katz, a Cornell graduate, was employed to punch a little humor into the press releases. "Even today," he says, "when the Dukakis campaign is referred to as a joke, I can't help but feel a little bit proud." George Stephanopoulos—a friend from the Dukakis staff—recruited him to write one-liners for Bill Clinton in 1991. "Clinton asked me to help," jokes Katz, "and I said, 'I'll see if I can find the time.' "
Now Katz, a bachelor and the sole employee of the Sound Bite Institute (actually Katz's one-bedroom apartment on New York City's Upper West Side), does a lot of his work on the Metroliner to Washington. Katz, who declines to say how much he gets paid for his services, has even lightened up speeches for Hillary Clinton ("When the President called for a 25 percent cut, I went for 50 percent," she said recently, explaining a new hairdo).
"A big part of the job is staying up-to-date on what's happening," says Katz, who pores over newspapers and magazines for inspiration. "It's very, very rare that I think of a joke when I'm doing my laundry—partly because I so seldom do my laundry."