Humor A Great Tool

Press of Atlantic City
November 19, 2008

By Derek Harper

ATLANTIC CITY – So a mayor, a clerk and a municipal zoning official walk into a room …

And if lawmakers want the public to pay attention to what happens next at the meeting, a panel of humorists at the New Jersey League of Municipalities Conference on Tuesday said, it helps to lighten up a little.

Keeping a sense of humor allows one to be creative, it reduces stress and aids teamwork, said Joey Novick, a standup comedian and former Flemington borough councilman.

“One of the benefits, one of the things I advise you strongly to do in keeping your sense of humor is remember what got you elected,” Novick told about 110 officials at the Atlantic City Convention Center. “Remember that which motivated you to come into office. It wasn’t the money; it certainly wasn’t the amount of time. It certainly was the passion for the work and helping people. Keeping your sense of humor is ultimately, ultimately important.”

He recounted his run for office, including when his opponent attacked him with a mailer that read, “Tell standup comedian Joey Novick to sit down!”

Novick said he countered by recycling a Will Rogers line: “When I tell a joke, people laugh. When he tells a joke, it becomes law.”

He won that election as a Democrat in a heavily Republican community and held office for 12 years.

The panel discussion was run by Buena Vista Township Mayor Chuck Chiarello and included editorial cartoonist Jimmy Margulies, of the Record of Bergen County, who showed some of his political cartoons, and comedian Scott Blakeman, who told jokes for about a half-hour.

Political consultant Joshua Henne recounted how campaigns he worked on used humor to undermine the opposition and attract media attention to a campaign message.

When Gov. Jon S. Corzine took on Republican Douglas Forrester for the governor’s seat in 2005, they video recorded Forrester saying he ate hot dogs only with sauerkraut and mustard.

But at a fair shortly afterward, they recorded him ordering one with relish and no mustard. Clearly, Henne said, the man was flip-flopping.
It was nonsense, he said, but it attracted attention to the campaign’s other claims of inconsistency.

Similarly, he told the officials that humor helps get people elected because it shapes your image in the voters’ minds, adding it was most effective among important undecided voters.

But Henne pointed to U.S. Sen. John Kerry and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for whom easily mocked characteristics helped scuttle their higher Washington ambitions. President-elect Barack Obama offered opponents comparatively little to mock, Henne said, something that helped him avoid being negatively defined.

But for the public officials tasked with dealing with the public and mind-numbing topics such as municipal bond refinancing, he had a simple suggestion. The best advice, he said: “Just be personable. Be normal.”