Wait. Tell your chief executive to put down the kazoo and remove that squirting lapel flower.
There are plenty of reasons one should never, ever try to be funny in a speech, says Brian Agler, director of West Wing Writers. Many principals can’t pull off humor, a joke might backfire, and it’s extremely hard to be funny on demand.
Then again, the reasons to offer jokes are even more compelling than those against, Agler says in his Ragan Training video, “Humor Demystified: How (and why) to make every speech funnier.”
Humor connects with an audience. The technique can help pace a speech and divide its parts. Sometimes, the bigwigs just plain demand it.
“It’s also way easier to write than we think it is,” says Agler, whose work is regularly featured in The New Yorker and on McSweeney’s.
Here are ways to be funny and deploy humor, some coming from unlikely sources—politicians:
1. Defuse issues.
In 1984, Ronald Reagan was already the oldest president in history, and he was running for a second term. During a debate against Democratic opponent Walter Mondale, a journalist asked Reagan whether he had the stamina for another four years.