Ajit Pai has proven in the past that he can be profoundly bad at telling a joke. On Thursday, he told one bomb after another at a gathering in Washington, DC.
Comedy is all about timing and Pai thought now was a great time to joke about his decision to repeal pro-consumer regulations to the benefit of telecom giants operating in wide swaths of the country as near-monopolies.
The FCC’s annual gathering of the Federal Communications Bar Association is kind of like the White House Correspondents Dinner. It’s an annual chuckle-fest in which telecom industry professionals hang out and let their hair down (a.k.a. “the telecom prom”).
The FCC chairman is expected to roast themselves at these events and Pai wa happy to reference all of the big headlines of the past year in which he’s ignored the overwhelming majority of the country begging him not to kill off net neutrality and been accused of refusing to follow proper notice-and-comment procedures.
Pai’s chairmanship has often been reduced to a joke, so it’s a wonder he didn’t manage to land a single punchline himself.
Cameras weren’t rolling at the event, but a Gizmodo reader has sent us a covert recording of Pai’s set. The quality of the video is mercifully poor so you won’t have to see too much of Pai smirking his way through what sounds more like a confession than well delivered satire.
Perhaps one of the more egregious of jokes, which reflects the frequent insinuations that Pai is a corporate shill, arrives at the 20:00 mark. “In collusion—I mean, in conclusion, sorry, my bad—many people are still shell-shocked that I’m up here tonight,” he says. “They ask themselves, how on earth did this happen?”
Pai then rolls queued up film of what he jokingly describes as a “leaked, 14-year-old video,” saying he can “no longer hide from the truth.”
The video is a skit that opens to 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” and takes place at “Verizon’s DC Office” in 2003, where Pai worked as an attorney before joining the FCC a few years later. A random Verizon executive tells him: “As you know, the FCC is captured by the industry, but we think it’s not captured enough, so we have a plan.”
“What plan?” Pai asks.
“We want to brainwash and groom a Verizon puppet to install as FCC chairman,” the executive says. “Think ‘Manchurian Candidate.’”
“That sounds awesome,” Pai responds.
We’d love to say it’s funny because it’s true. But for some reason, we’re having a hard time laughing.
Update: A helpful reader pointed out that the “Verizon executive” in the video joking about installing a brainwashed “Verizon puppet” as FCC chair (screenshot below) is actually Kathy Grillo, Verizon senior vice president and deputy general counsel.
At around 21:10 you can hear Pai say, “Hey ‘G’ what’s up?” while high-fiving Grillo.
Correction: A typo in a previous version of this article mistakenly said Pai joined the FCC in 2003. It was 2007. He was appointed a commissioner in 2012. We regret the error.
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