What’s so funny about the TSA?

Step right up! / Photo by Comedy Nose - Flickr

To the hundreds of thousands of air travelers who are inconvenienced by their invasive and allegedly unconstitutional screening procedures, the Transportation Security Administration may be nothing to laugh about.

But take a few steps back from the airport spectacle and the agency that likes to see itself as the last line of defense against terrorism is kinda funny.

For example, here’s a list that’s been making the rounds online. I received it several times last week from readers who thought I might find it amusing:

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Statistics On Airport Screening From The Department Of Homeland Security

Terrorists Discovered: 0
Transvestites: 133
Hernias: 1,485
Hemorrhoid Cases: 3,172
Enlarged Prostates: 8,249
Breast Implants: 59,350
Natural Blondes: 3

The list also made a crack about Congress that I can’t repeat on this site.

Having a laugh at the TSA’s expense is not without its risks. Last year, during his State of the Union address, the president tried.

“Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail, which could allow you go places in half the time it takes to travel by car,” he said. “For some trips, it will be faster than flying – without the pat-down.”

Civil liberties groups were not impressed.

The president isn’t alone. Just last month, TV personality Geraldo Rivera tried to make a funny on the air at the TSA’s expense.

He bombed, too, for reasons that should be obvious. The TSA may funny, but rape is definitely not funny.

Even the pros fall flat when they try to poke fun of airport security.

South Park couldn’t pull it off with its “Toilet Safety Administration” parody. See for yourself.

Conan O’Brien noted that TSA Chief John Pistole and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have each personally received a TSA patdown.

“Yeah,” he says. “It’s been called the world’s least sexy threesome.”

Bah-dum dum.

And David Letterman, commenting on the option between a body pat-down or a naked scan, remarked, “I think I speak for everybody when I say, ‘Hey, why can’t we have both?’”

(Rolling eyes.)

If you think those are bad (and they are) wait until you get to the airport. The screeners — who are not professional comedians — crack jokes that are incredibly unfunny. Here’s one transportation security “officer” who thought Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, made for interesting material.

It doesn’t.

Most of the time, when someone says the TSA is a joke, they don’t mean it in a way that is remotely humorous. This 2010 editorial in the Washington Times is a good example. Although the headline declared the agency to be a joke, the story that followed didn’t have any zingers or punchlines.

The headline-writers are correct: Just because the TSA isn’t funny doesn’t mean it’s not a joke.

Take this week’s dustup at Southwest Florida International Airport, where an internal TSA investigation revealed that over a two-month period, 43 workers didn’t perform secondary checks on as many as 400 people after the passengers went through security.

Funny? No. But a joke, nonetheless. Anyone who has watched the TSA in action knows that screeners aren’t consistent and that an internal investigation at any airport would likely reveal the same failures. Southwest Florida just drew the unlucky straw.

How about last week’s Congressional hearing, in which TSA managers were in the hot seat answering questions about being overstaffed by up to 40 percent?

A joke, too.

The reason: Even though Congress will whine about the TSA’s inefficiencies and shortcomings, it will give it what it wants, in the end. It will fund the agency another year, which is exactly what it did last week.

Somewhere inside a well-guarded compound in Pakistan, a career terrorist is probably smiling at this circus we like to call airport security.

Maybe in the end, the real joke is on us.