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Why Obama Nailed Funny or Die & Why Other Politicians Suck at Humor

Earlier today, Funny or Die published Zack Galifianakis's interview with President Obama on Between Two Ferns. So far, it has been a hit even with my conservative friends.

Politicians rarely come off looking comfortable in non-political environments. Why was President Obama able to pull off an interview mixed with snark, humor, self-deprecation, politics, and pop culture? Because he is regularly engaged in all elements on a regular basis — not just when the situation demands it. Hell the President is even a Game of Thrones fan.


Far too many politicians fail to connect with their constituents, and that is where our leaders fail. No wonder Americans feel politicians are out of touch. From not knowing how reproductive organs work to being (probably) unable to pick Seth Rogen out of a line up, our political leaders fail to grasp our everyday life. I don't mean just tort reform or property taxes but the things that engage all of us — earning a paycheck, traffic jams, and even the entertainment we consume. To do that, you have to step outside yourself and identify with people you don't know and in situations you're unfamiliar with. But I worry that is where the problem lies.


I have tried to work with various bosses on bridging that gap to make them more relatable to key audiences. I have also never been successful. My first attempt actually made the situation worse.

Several years ago, I drafted introductory remarks on behalf of Local Politician (who thankfully never reached the federal level). This for a conference a gazillion time zones away so meeting or talking with this Local Politician before the event was impossible. She was set to introduce Mavis Leno* — a woman known for her philanthropy and social advocacy.


Disaster began when I first met Local Politician literally 15 minutes before the event began.

ME: LP, it's so good to finally meet you! I'm Archibald Perkins. I've been trying to get in touch with you. Too bad we couldn't have talked beforehand.


LP: Who are you?

ME: Archibald Perkins. Boss told me to draft some remarks for you for the Mavis Leno introduction?


LP: Are you the one who left me a bunch of voicemails and faxes?

ME: Yes, that was me. I wanted to review these remarks with you.

LP: Oh. [pause] I didn't know what those voicemails or faxes were about so I deleted them.


ME: No problem. Here are the remarks, and I included a brief bio for Mrs. Leno, highlighting her social justice efforts. We start in a few minutes so you have time to review them.

LP: Uh huh. Okay.

A few minutes later, disaster began.

LP: Good morning everyone! I'm so glad you all could be here. [brief remarks about herself] And now I shall introduce our next speaker who...[scans notes]. She...is...uh. Looks like her name is Mavis [long pause] LEE-no. Le-NOW? Ah Mavis Leno! Wait...is that right? Apparently her husband, I guess?, does some television program that's on late at night, but I've never seen it. [pause] I don't know what any of that is. Mrs. LEE-no has done some...things.


The rest of the speech was just uncomfortable. Not only did Local Politician not know who Mavis Leno was, despite the information she literally held in her hand, but she admitted it to the entire room, including the guest of honor herself. And yes, Local Politician kept calling her Mrs. LEE-no the entire time.

I never thought a basic introduction could go as wrong as it did. Never once did I think I'd have to spell out Mavis Leno's name phonetically or I'd have to describe precisely what her husband did for a living. (At that time, Jay Leno wasn't even halfway through his Tonight Show tenure.) If that Local Politician had just called me the fuck back, then perhaps I could have noted this lack of knowledge privately and corrected it!


Ever since that low key disaster, I've avoided mixing pop culture, entertainment, music, and any other non-political references with anything work related. It's a shame too because the opportunities like the Funny or Die video are ideal ways to jazz up a message and deliver it effectively.

But, unfortunately for now, most politicians will stick to the standard speeches because those avenues are safe. Those same politicians will continue to ironically advertise jobs that say, "...creativity and a sense of humor are a must."


*Finally, a name I don't have to change!

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