Despite a wild first term, two years in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has kept her vibrant and wicket sense of humor.
MICHIGAN — In these tough times, a sense of humor can get you far. And there’s no one who knows that better than “Big Gretch” herself, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
She’s caught national attention time and time again for her creative campaign videos, swift clapbacks on Twitter, and collection of tongue-in-cheek T-shirts.
Over the past year, though, the nation has watched as she’s led the state through layered crises: the coronavirus pandemic, destructive flooding in mid-Michigan, and a backslide in unemployment, to name a few. She’s also committed to making meaningful police reforms in support of the ongoing national uprise against racial injustice and police brutality.
Her patterns of decisive, effective action throughout the first half of 2020 have elevated her approval rating, according to a poll released in June. According to data from Lake Effect, she has a 53% approval rating in Michigan. (President Trump’s approval rating among Michiganders? 44%, as of the date of publication.)
Whitmer Remaining Witty in the Face of Crises
Throughout all of Michigan’s recent hardship and strife, Gov. Whitmer has retained the characteristic sense of humor that helped her connect with constituents and win the gubernatorial race against former Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette back in 2018.
“Gretchen has always just made people feel comfortable,” said Tashawna Gill, political director for the governor’s campaign. “She’s a big person with all these responsibilities, but once she is with those constituents … she knows how to make them feel comfortable. And that’s a powerful thing right there.”
That said, Whitmer acknowledges that there hasn’t been as much levity in life this past year. The experience of her daily work has become outright surreal at times, Hour Detroit reported in February. She’s been left to contend with a pandemic, an assassination plot against her, armed protests at the Capitol Building, and a feud with a former president that casts its shadow over Michigan politics still today.
But she tries to remain bright and tackle life with humor. That’s key life advice she got as a candidate she carries with her always, and often to Michiganders’ amusement.
Today, we’re taking a look at some of Gov. Whitmer’s wittiest moments from her campaign and her first extraordinary term in office.
1. July 11, 2018: Gretchen Reads Mean Tweets
“On the campaign trail, we sometimes run into people looking to throw shade our way,” reads the description of this video. “So we decided to do our own episode of Mean Tweets.”
Inspired by a popular segment of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Gov. Whitmer’s campaign team gathered some offbeat comments and criticism from the Twitterverse and asked her to respond.
One Twitter user offered, “Mannnnnn…… Gretchen Whitmer so damn fine she makes me wanna be a Democrat again.”
“We’re gonna win this election one vote at a time,” she retorted.
Some accusations were so outlandish all she could do was laugh. Catch the full video:
2. February 27, 2019: Damn It Feels Good to Be a Michigangster
Gov. Whitmer’s all about reppin’ her state pride, and this mug is just one piece in her collection of Michigan merch. (Also worth mentioning are her Michigan mittens, which, when worn and displayed correctly, make a cohesive state of Upper and Lower Peninsulas.)
’Ganders were here for it in the replies.
“That cup!”; “Serious mug envy rn”; “Where did you get it? Please and thank you” …
One Twitter user even replied with a video of legendary actor Danny Trejo sporting his own Michigangster T-shirt.
3. December 6, 2019: “Happy BAT Day!”
After Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey called Gov. Whitmer “bats**t crazy” to a group of college Republicans, she came up with a response to take the cake.
She sent him a black-iced cake for his 65th birthday that said “Happy 65th BAT Day!” decorated with a white-frosted bat spreading its wings.
Shirkey did tweet his thanks to the governor, and his spokeswoman said “a good sense of humor” was helping repair the relationship, reports The Associated Press.
Check out this video from WZZM to see the cake at the center of it all:
4. April 1, 2020: Gov. Whitmer’s T-Shirt Collection
The Gov is known to rock a fun T-shirt, and she’s even used graphic tees to make a point on camera.
When she went on Comedy Central’s satirical news program The Daily Show with Trever Noah to talk about Michigan’s needs fighting the coronavirus, she wore a shirt proudly proclaiming she was “that woman from Michigan.”
That was, of course, acknowledging the tense and often acrimonious relationship she had with then-President Donald Trump. Whitmer was derisively called “that woman from Michigan” by Trump and handled the moment with professionalism and grace, leading to the phrase becoming something of a feminist point of pride among Michigan women. Shirts like the one she wore on the Daily Show sold amazingly well following the exchange in the days leading up to her appearance on the program.
But that isn’t her only witty shirt.
Here’s a look at some of our favorites.
5. April 26, 2020: Gov. Whitmer Gets Spoofed on SNL
“Hey there. I’m Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer. Might surprise you to be hearing from me, some smokeshow Midwestern governor nobody heard about ‘til a couple weeks ago. But governors are kinda havin’ a moment right now.”
That’s how Cecily Strong began her nearly spot-on impression of Gov. Whitmer a couple of months into the pandemic, filmed in a woodsy, vaguely Midwestern setting as the Saturday Night Live cast and crew worked remotely to avoid infection.
We say “nearly spot-on” because she made one big misstep in her impression: Michigan’s governor would never drink a Labatt’s.
“It’s kind of funny, but they got the beer wrong,” Gov. Whitmer told Fox 2. “It should have been a Michigan beer, not Labatt. We love Canada, but we drink Michigan beer.” She sported a (closed) bottle of Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale during the interview.
To get Strong on the right track, Gov. Whitmer sent her a Michigan care package full of Bell’s Brewery souvenirs, stickers, and, of course, six-packs.
Strong reprised the role in early 2021, on a segment where Kate McKinnon’s Anthony Fauci hosted a game show to distribute the COVID vaccine because, “Getting the vaccine shouldn’t be a competition, but Americans will only want to get it if someone else can’t.”
Catch the full Message from Whitmer skit:
6. May 2, 2020: Big Gretch
“We ain’t even ‘bout to stress, we’ve got Big Gretch. / You can find her in the press under Big Gretch.”
Detroit rapper GmacCash created Gov. Whitmer’s anthem, “Big Gretch,” as a tribute to her leadership during the coronavirus pandemic. Check out some of the lyrics:
If you wanna leave the state you can stay gone,
But right now Big Gretch says stay home.
All that protesting was irrelevant.
Big Gretch ain’t trying to hear ya’ll or the President.
How we gonna take orders from a non-resident,
Talkin’ bout it’s safe but he ain’t coming with the evidence.
When it’s all over, you invited to the cookout.
When it’s all over, you deserve to get took out.
And she doing it for Michigan,
So when she at the stand everybody should be listening.
And the Big G herself embraced her new nickname after the song’s release.
“This is too much,” she posted on Twitter. “Love the nickname. Love the song. See ya at the cookout, GmacCash. Until then, Big Gretch says stay home and stay safe.”
Here’s the full song:
7: August 17, 2020: Shark Week
As she was getting ready to deliver her speech to the Democratic National Convention in 2020, Gov. Whitmer told the room at UAW Local 652 that it wasn’t just shark week.
Knowing the mic was live, she didn’t say the expletive that followed, but she did make it very clear.
The moment, shown in this tweet from The Recount, immediately inspired t-shirts, masks, candles and more political memorabilia, and as she explained a few days later, wasn’t actually a reference to the convention.
She told News O’ Clock hosts Casey Rackham and Hayes Brown that it came about from advice she got as a candidate—that happy warriors win and she needed to draw smiley faces on her pages of debate notes to remind her of that. Gov. Whitmer found the advice silly and saccharine, but as she prepared her remarks for the DNC, she leaned into it. A smiley face wasn’t going to make her smile, but a good joke would.
So at the top of her notes, she wrote “It’s Shark Week.”
“Where women used to be demure, now if a woman is talking about menstruation she might say, ‘Well, it’s Shark Week, mother—,'” she explained. “It’s funny and it’s about women’s empowerment, and it makes me smile. So I would write ‘It’s Shark Week’ on top of my paper.”
She wasn’t expecting the clip to hit the internet, though acknowledged when she said that it could happen. She embraced the moment of comedy and women’s empowerment she embodied in that moment.
“I did not intend for it to get captured and distributed,” Gov. Whitmer said about the clip. “Nonetheless I persisted in telling the joke that got me some notoriety.”
8. December 16, 2020: A Whole New Meaning to Up North
Located firmly at the crossroad of heartwarming and amusing, in the lead-up to the December holidays in the age of COVID, Gov. Whitmer invited Santa to join her in a video conference with children.
Jolly Old Saint Nick reassured Michigan kids that everyone at the North Pole was safe and practicing proper masking and social distancing, and reminded kids to do the same.
“Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas Michiganders!” said Father Christmas, “I know lots of boys and girls across the great state of Michigan who have been extremely nice and safe this year. Just like every year, I will travel to homes across the world to visit boys and girls and spread holiday cheer. Don’t forget to leave out a carrot for Rudolph so his nose glows extra bright and wear your mask!”
When a child suggested leaving hand sanitizer out with the milk and cookies, Whitmer said it was a great idea.
“We know this holiday will look different in many ways, but Michigan’s children can be assured that Santa Claus will continue his yearly tradition of visiting millions of children around the world,” Whitmer said. “I know Santa, his elves, and the reindeer have been safe this year and our kids showed them how Michiganders do their part to keep each other safe by wearing a mask, socially distancing, and washing hands frequently.”
9. May 20, 2021: They Aren’t All Gretchen Winners
Like any comedian, there are going to be jokes that totally fail to land in the repertoire of Gov. Whitmer. That was absolutely the case when she announced her Vacc to Normal vaccination campaign. Vacc, obviously, was a play on the words “vaccine” and “back” that she tried to have some fun with.
When saying the plan needed to be re-examined in light of changing conditions and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one attempt to play on those words fell particularly short of her hopes.
“When the CDC came out with new mask guidance, we had to go Vacc to the drawing board,” she told reporters at the news conference announcing the change.
The joke wasn’t great. Reporters at the event were heard saying they didn’t even realize it was supposed to be a joke, Deadline Detroit reported. And like any comic whose joke fell flat, Whitmer felt the sting of the silence.
“Come on, that’s kind of funny,” she said. “You’re not paying attention.”
Even the greatest comedians have off days. It’s safe to say May 20, 2021, was one of Big Gretch’s. That still worked out better than when her husband has tried to get in on the act.
10. July 19, 2021: Meet Michigan’s Bark Rangers
The state’s First Dogs, on the other hand, are absolute Twitter rising stars.
Kevin and Doug Whitmer, the self-described “goodest boys!! of michigan!!!” have over 7,000 followers on Twitter. They joined the platform in August of 2019 and have posted a stream of cute, funny content ever since.
At the end of July, to honor 100 years of Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources, the top dogs went on a camping trip, replete with bark ranger patches and playing in nature. And, of course, pup tents.
But it’s not all fun in the sun and roasting marshmallows for Kevin and Doug. Sometimes, they gently roast their human too.
This year, the First Dogs decided to celebrate another animal’s festival by announcing on Twitter “It is. SHARK WEEK!!! motherpuppers!!”