It took about a year of campaigning and several dry debates to get to the humor.

But it really came out in last night’s Al Smith dinner, and suddenly we have a couple of comedians zinging each other with frankly hilarious jokes.

McCain struck first.

“A major announcement. Events are moving fast in my campaign, and
yes, it’s true that this morning I’ve dismissed my entire team of
senior advisers,” he joked. “All of their positions will now be held by
a man named ‘Joe the Plumber.’”

Some of the best jabs we’ve heard lately.

Obama, in turn, announced that his vice presidential
running mate, Senator Joseph Biden, now prefers to be known simply as
“Joe the Senator.”

Although McCain referred to him as “Joe the Six-Term Senator” (an
obvious play on the plumber, Joe Six-Pack, and Biden’s long tenure).

McCain also joked that while many people call Obama “the one”, he had his own name for Obama.

“Being a friend and colleague of Barack, I just called
him ‘that one.’ [laughter] My friends, he doesn’t mind at all,” McCain
said. “In fact, he even has a pet name for me: George Bush.”

Very funny stuff. Their timing and delivery were spot on.

McCain also won laughs by slyly suggesting that former
President Bill Clinton’s support for Obama has been less than
wholehearted, because the Illinois senator won his party’s nomination
only after crushing the presidential hopes of Mr. Clinton’s wife,
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Speaking after McCain, Obama surveyed the audience and said: “There
is no other crowd in America that I’d rather be palling around with
right now.”

For political and news junkies, this was more fun than anything we’ve been watching all year.

“It is a tribute to American democracy that with two
weeks left in a hardfought election, the two of us could come together
and sit down together at the same dinner table … without
preconditions,” Obama kept his humor deadpan. “Now recently one of
John’s advisers told the Daily News [newspaper] that if we keep talking
about the economy, McCain’s going to lose. So tonight I’d like to talk
about the economy.”

Hard to judge what the best delivery of the night was, but their
gracious acknowledgement of each other had to be right up there.

The candidates laughed heartily at each other’s jokes, but they also spoke warmly about their mutual respect and admiration.

McCain said Obama “is an impressive fellow in many ways.”

“Political opponents can have a little trouble in seeing the best in
each other, but I’ve had a few glimpses of this man at his best, and I
admire his great skill, energy and determination,” McCain said.

McCain said Senator Obama’s campaign has made history…”Today is a
world away from the crude and prideful bigotry of [a former] time, and
good riddance. I can’t wish my opponent luck, but I do wish him well.”

And…

Obama reflected on the tough battles that have marked this presidential campaign.

“But I’ve said before and I think it bears repeating, that there are
very few of us who have served this country with the same dedication
and honor and distinction as Senator McCain,” Obama said. “No matter
what divisions or differences or arguments we’re having right now, we
ultimately belong to something bigger and more lasting than a political
party. We belong to a community. We share a country. We are all
children of God.”

And then he took his seat, next to Cardinal Edward Eagan, Archbishop of New York, host of the event.

(Here’s the transcript. We all need comic relief right now.)

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....