As the funniest, and most sarcastic person I know, even I have the good sense to understand when to keep my humor at bay.
While appearing on “The Colbert Report”, which aired earlier this week, Brooklyn Rep. Yvette Clarke offered a surprising glimpse into both her lack of historical knowledge of the borough she represents, as well as a current understanding of her own sense of humor. In this interview, Clarke told Stephen Colbert that slavery persisted in Brooklyn until as late as 1898. However, slavery was legally abolished in New York in 1827. You can see the clip HERE.
To be fair, this is not an easy show for a guest. Mr. Colbert is a genius with a staff of brilliant writers. It’s tough to compete with that. Clarke should not have tried. But since she did, she had plenty of opportunity to lighten the moment by simply saying, “I was kidding.” Better yet, don’t joke about a topic that simply isn’t funny (i.e. slavery). Instead, she made Colbert, and the rest of the country, uncomfortable with her comments and poor delivery.
I have never met Representative Clarke, nor do I pay much attention to her as I live on the Upper West Side and no one in public office tries to be funny up here. Perhaps she has a great sense of humor and is always the funniest person in the room. Or her jokes are always met with uncomfortable laughter. One thing is certain; she was not funny in this spot.
Here’s my advice. Humor does not always work. Don’t try to be funny in situations when you are not 100% positive that your jokes won’t die on the vine. In print interviews, sarcasm never works, as a journalist cannot put an emoticon after your quote. On television, it’s a bit easier, but jokes have to be clear. Not everyone gets sarcasm and if you are in a serious profession or senior role, the expectation is that everything you say should be taken seriously.
Sarcasm can be quite dangerous. Consider that your comments will be repeated verbatim without the wink and nod that you delivered with your statement. Think about how those comments will resonate among a broader audience. Often, you will see that not everyone will get it and some might be offended. Worst case is that you may appear ignorant (see above).
As a result of this interview, Clarke’s spokesperson’s response has been that the representative was simply joking with Colbert. “It’s a comedy show — it’s meant to be light and meant to be funny. Unfortunately, it was a joke that some people understood and some people didn’t understand,” he said. For the record, I did not understand it.
I’ve been a spokesperson for many people over many years, on a wide range of topics. I’ve never had to publicly explain that my boss just simply isn’t funny. That wouldn’t be uncomfortable at all.
Melissa Daly has worked in financial communications for nearly 20 years, with a special focus on media relations and key message development around critical issues. Melissa formed MFD Communications after spending three years at Goldman Sachs as Vice President, Corporate Communications. Prior to that, Melissa was a Director at Brunswick Group, a London-based financial and business communications firm. There, she spearheaded its financial services business in the US, managing communications for hedge fund, private equity, insurance and traditional asset management firms. Melissa also worked at Fred Alger Management, The Hartford and Lipper in communications and media relations roles and has frequently appeared on CNBC and CNN as an industry commentator. Her experience spans across business sectors and continents.