Friday, March 16, 2012

A View From the Cheap Seats...St Patty's Breakfast Wrap-Up

This won't be a comprehensive summary of the speeches at this morning's St. Patrick's Day breakfast at the ICC, but just a couple things I scratched down in my program during the event.
The trick with the speeches at these sorts of things is to throw some jabs with just enough *oopmh* to actually land, but still keeping everything above the belt. That's not easy to do. If you try to go too tame, you won't be funny (and if you just substitute the names of people present into well-worn jokes that don't even necessarily apply to them, then you're just going to elicit groans). If you go too acerbic, you still wind up with the proverbial turd-in-the-punchbowl problem: People are a lot thinner-skinned in reality than they are in theory. Besides, humor shouldn't be used to mask actual barbs...if you recall the speech Owen Wilson gave to Isla Fisher in Wedding Crashers, his advice was sage -- "Everyone knows Jen loves to shop..." can be a lead-in to some guffaws and knee-slapping, but if you are going to use the pretext of humor to stand up and point out people's flaws, you're going to hear the caterers clinking the glasses, so to speak.

Anyway, back to the speeches. I didn't think there were any below-the-ribs uppercuts today. The Sun caught a lot of flak, unsurprisingly, but that was such a common theme that Campanini was able to just sort of raise his glass and roll with it. The CM's line about having more writers than the Sun landed in the sweet spot I described above, because it addressed issues of New Media vs. Old Media and the fading relevance of the city's paper of record, but left just enough unsaid so that those who know the background of the issues between the two institutions could enjoy what he pointed out, but there was no blunt force behind it...someone coming in from Elizabeth Warren's staff, for instance, might not know why it was so funny to some of us in the crowd.

Ditto for the CM's line about Sam Poulten registering ten times on the sign-in sheets, or Mayor Murphy's bit about the different advice that he and Rodney Elliott (the counter-Bernie) received when they asked Lynch a year ago about how they could speak at the breakfast -- that joke touched on Elliott's mayoral aspirations and his rivalry with Lynch without hitting any raw nerves.

One thing that people forget all too often when speaking in public: stay on your toes just enough so that you're able to call an audible when you need to. Senator Brown opened right up with, "It's great to be here with all these wonderful distinguished speakers, guests, etc...[and then, while glancing down at Murphy and losing the cheerful tone that the sentence started with] and the Mayor." Boilerplate stuff, but it was well-delivered and set the tone for the rest of Brown's speech.

Here's where Elizabeth Warren made a wrong turn: She gave the EXACT same opener. Maybe that's a sign that it's a hackneyed opening, but regardless, the bigger point is that she should've scratched that intro altogether. The joke simply doesn't work when someone just gave it, two speeches ago.

On a sidenote, that kind of reminds me of some of the interminable "hot-button issue" CC meetings where people come with prepared speeches. If someone gets up before you and says exactly what you were going to say, making all your key points, asking for the same considerations, etc. Just acknowledge what the previous speaker said, state your emphatic agreement, and be done. Don't just barrel ahead with Diatribe 1.0 just because it's what you prepared.

Kudos to State Rep. Tom Golden for originality with the movie posters (but could Henri Marchand have made a better Mini-Me?) and for Rep. Nangle continuing to *own* his cell-phone message bit. As for Rep. Murphy, I wasn't a fan of the pre-fab [insert name of subject here] jokes, but I will say this: He kept it short. Most of the speakers overshot the four-minute time limit, which dulled the audience's edge for speeches later in the lineup. This is probably the oldest advice around speech-giving, but that doesn't make it any less true: When in doubt, keep it short.

Sheriff Koutoujian drew some applause when he started a sentence with "In conclusion..." [think Bill Clinton at the 1988 Dem. Nat'l Convention] which might have been the funniest moment during his speech. Where he really confused people in the crowd who didn't know he had an Assistant in his office named "Pat Murphy" was the long, apocryphal story about "Pat Murphy" being arrested by his guys, which led the folks at our table (Citizens Media Group) to wonder: a) where is this material coming from? and b) who the heck calls our Mayor 'Pat?' Maybe a lot of people in the audience knew they weren't one and the same, but (speaking for one table, at least), that explained the puzzled silence from us during that part of the program. We only learned afterwards that the entire joke had nothing to with Hizzoner, the Mayor.

And speaking of keeping it brief, I hereby conclude this blog entry!


Progressive Veterans said...

The bit with The Mayor and Liz Warren went a little longer.

Warren said,'I would like to acknowledge all the respected elected officials here, .... and The Mayor.'

Murphy quickly chirped, something like, 'Have you been elected, yet?'

Warren answered, 'I'm working on it.'

Lot's of fun, today.

- Jack

C R Krieger said...

I was thinking of writing something, but I think Greg covered it.

Regards  —  Cliff