This Comedian Refused To Apologize. I Agree With Her.

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 6, 2014 – 6:35 pm

On NBC’s New Year’s Eve with Carson Daly, a comedian named Natasha Leggero cracked a joke that offended many people.

The joke was about the social media uproar caused last month when SpaghettiOs tweeted a promotional photo of a noodle celebrating Pearl Harbor Day.

Here’s the video, and her joke:

“I mean it sucks that the only survivors of Pearl Harbor are being mocked by the only food they can still chew.”

Many people whose opinions I respect thought that Leggero and/or NBC should apologize. I disagree.

No, her joke wasn’t tasteful. I wouldn’t make it, and I probably wouldn’t attend a comedy show if I knew the comic was going to use Pearl Harbor as fodder. But I don’t believe that Leggero’s intent was to diminish the tragedy of Pearl Harbor or its survivors (I would have been offended if it had been). Rather, her quip played to me like nothing more than a silly “old people gum their food” joke.

Still, many people voiced their displeasure on Facebook and Twitter, and Leggero decided to respond with a defiant statement. I thought she got the tone just right.

“I wish I could apologize, but do you really want another insincere apology that you know is just an attempt at damage control and not a real admission of guilt? Let me just try instead to be honest.

I’m not sorry. I don’t think the amazing courage of American veterans and specifically those who survived Pearl Harbor is in any way diminished by a comedian making a joke about dentures on television. Do we really believe that the people who fought and defended our freedom against Nazis and the Axis powers will find a joke about Spaghetti O’s too much to bear?”

“My own father lost his hearing in the Vietnam War so the issue is pretty close to me too. So rather than apologize, let me offer another perspective.

On the one hand you have me, making a joke about how old people can’t chew tough foods very well.

On the other hand you have Veterans who receive inadequate care upon their return from active duty, rampant sexual assault against female soldiers, staggering rates of suicide, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, substance abuse and depression among soldiers and political gridlock that prevents these problems from getting solved quickly.

Where do you think your outrage and action would be better served?”

At the end of her statement, she encouraged her fans to donate to the Disabled American Veterans.

Natasha Leggero

The reason I agree with Leggero’s refusal to apologize is simple.

She’s a comedian.

Leggero is not a corporate brand. Comedians are granted far more license than the typical corporate spokesperson, and thank goodness for that. 

Could you imagine how dull comedy would become if it was sanitized to the point that no one was offended, ever? Would we really want to live in a world in which Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Dennis Miller and Chris Rock were never allowed to appear on television for fear that they might [gasp] say something unpopular?

There are, of course, limits to how far comics can go. Michael Richards (Seinfeld’s Kramer) went way over the line in a disturbing rant full of racial epithets. And Tracy Morgan went too far when he suggested that he would stab his son to death if he was gay.

As for NBC, I think we have to ask ourselves whether it’s reasonable to expect NBC (or any other network) to apologize for every spontaneous, unpopular joke made on its air by an unscripted comedian. Sometimes, that answer may be yes. But I’m not sure negative social media activity is the only metric to use in determining whether an apology should be offered. In some cases, a combination of evaluating the perceived offense and monitoring the social media activity may be enough.

This “crisis” passed quickly. And as happens with many of today’s social media “crises,” NBC’s has already become a distant memory.

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons user 92YTribeca


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Friday Fun: When Interviewers Don’t Prepare

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on December 13, 2013 – 6:02 am

Bob Newhart is one of my favorite comedians, so I was excited to come across this clip from his old show Newhart, on which he played a local television host and innkeeper.

In this clip from 1984, Newhart’s character, Dick Loudon, interviews retired Air Force Colonel Lloyd Menenger about his book, Up The Amazon.

The problem? He didn’t read his guest’s book prior to the interview.

I hope you enjoy this clip from the lighter side. Have a great weekend!

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Posted in Classic Clips | 2 Comments »

Billy Crystal’s Sage Advice For Public Speakers

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 27, 2013 – 6:02 am

I recently read Billy Crystal’s funny new autobiography, Still Foolin Em’.

In one passage, Crystal recalls a night early in his stand-up comedy career on which Jack Rollins, the well-regarded producer who managed David Letterman and Robert Klein, came to see him perform. The two men went out to dinner afterward.

Rollins wasn’t impressed.

 

Billy Crystal with Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones

 

“We had settled into a booth in a quiet restaurant when Jack said, ‘I didn’t care for what you did tonight.’ I wanted to stab him with a fork. ‘Why,’ I spit out. ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘the audience loved it, and you can do very well with what I saw, but I have no idea what you think about anything. You didn’t leave a tip.’

‘A tip?’ I managed to ask.

‘Yes, a little extra something you leave with the audience: you…Don’t work so safe, don’t be afraid to bomb. Come back tomorrow and don’t use any of this material; we know it works. Just talk. Let me know how you feel about things. What it’s like to be a father, what it’s like to be married, how you feel about politics—put you in your material. Leave a tip.’”

It seems to me that advice also applies to public speaking, since audiences almost universally want a sense of who you are, what you’re about, and what you believe in.

Overly scripted or memorized speeches in particular fail on this count. Too often, a “perfect” speech scores high on precision but low on connection, undermining the entire effort.

How can you leave your audience a tip by putting you in your material? Here are a few ideas:

  • In a speech advocating for a specific issue, address why you got involved in the cause.
  • In a sales pitch, address your initial skepticism about the product before you had an “a ha” moment which allowed you to see the brilliance in it.
  • In an informational speech, mention how the topic you’re discussing applied to you or someone you know in a real-life situation. (This video of an insurance specialist discussing his personal investment in his product is a terrific example).

Here’s the bottom line: Leave the audience a “tip,” and you’ll look mah-ve-lous.

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Hilarious: This Guy Is Leading Sensitivity Workshops?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 18, 2013 – 6:02 am

A reader sent me a link to a recent CBC Radio interview with Officer Murray Swift, a Canadian border guard tasked with conducting sensitivity training for his fellow officers.

Officer Swift’s interview with Peter Oldring of “This Is That” was jaw-dropping. In rather stunning fashion, Swift bullied the host throughout the entire interview, leading to a final answer that literally left me with my mouth agape.

I couldn’t wait to write about this media disaster, which surely would have landed on my top ten media disasters list for the year. But after exploring a bit further, I learned that “This Is That”—which I wasn’t familiar with—is a satirical program. (Thank goodness I did my due diligence!)

That normally would have killed this blog post. But the interview is just too great not to post here. So enjoy today’s post from the lighter side, even if “Officer Swift” is merely the product of a clever host’s imagination.

You can listen to the clip here

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Six Ways To Be Funny During A Speech (Without Getting Fired)

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 8, 2012 – 6:09 am

Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Dr. Steve Bedwell, a medical doctor and leadership speaker who uses humor to teach professional development skills to corporate, association, and health care groups.

Here’s the insider secret that comedians don’t want you to know—delivering a line isn’t that difficult. Al Gore, who no one would mistake for a stand-up comic, opens his ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ presentation with a fabulous joke: “My name is Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States of America.” To paraphrase Larry the Cable Guy: “I don’t care what your politics are; that’s funny!” I promise you, if Al Gore can do it, you can do it.

Al Gore’s joke is extremely (and, I suspect, painfully) self-deprecating which is my first tip: Do be self-deprecating. Then, not only will you be seen as somebody with their ego in check, it’s also extremely unlikely that someone will take offense. I open my speech with jokes about being bald: “I don’t need conditioner. I dream of split ends…the very thought of one hair becoming two!”

Dr. Steve Bedwell

Tip Two: Don’t ever target members of the audience. This holds true even if the audience member is “afflicted” in the same way as you. For me hair loss is comedy gold. However, it really bugs some of the bald guys in my audiences, so I focus the hair loss jokes on myself. (If you ever see me speak you’ll notice that I’m having fun with members of the audience within a “sitcom” type situation that I’ve created and never at their expense.)

Tip Three: In a similar way, don’t target demographic groups unless they are your audience’s common enemy. For example, when I speak to doctors, malpractice lawyers are a great target. Be careful here though, one caustic line can ruin a wonderful presentation and be the thing people remember about you. You need your mental filter set at “if in doubt, don’t say it.” So, where might your funnies come from? Great question, which brings me to my next tip…

Tip Four: Let the audience write jokes for you. During one speech, I was about to swallow a four-foot long modeling balloon (don’t ask) and explained that I needed some encouragement. In reply, a woman at the back of the room shouted out: “Steve, you’re very handsome!” I’ve used Lisa’s hilarious response in every speech since that day…not only is it funny, it’s self-deprecating.

Tip Five: Let the audience tell you what’s funny. No one, not even a hugely experienced comic, can tell you if something is going to be funny before you present it to an audience. So, if an audience laughs at something you say, that’s a comedy gift—don’t let it go to waste. For example, back when I honed material at comedy clubs, I happened to mention that I lived in Kentucky. This juxtaposition of my British accent and the state I called home was apparently hilarious and got a huge (and completely unexpected) response.

Finally, tip six, don’t set yourself up for failure. Never say: “Here’s a funny story…” Or “I heard this joke about…” A while back I was introduced as “The medical doctor who’ll make you laugh out loud every fifteen seconds.” I could feel the audience setting their watches!

You can learn more about Steve’s professional and leadership development programs at http://www.mindcapital.com/.

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Eight Famous Presidential Visits To Late Night TV (Video)

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 26, 2012 – 6:12 am

President Obama appeared on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon Tuesday night and participated in a recurring bit called “Slow Jamming The News.”

Almost immediately, conservatives began attacking the President’s appearance as un-presidential.

Fox and Friends host Gretchen Carlson, for example, called his appearance “nutso,” and said, “I personally do not agree with the highest office of the land, the most important figure in the world going on these comedy shows. I think it lowers the status of the office.”

Is she right? Do these types of appearances lower the status of the office? First, watch the clip below to decide for yourself whether this skit went too far:

Ms. Carlson is right that this is all very new: President Obama is the first U.S. president to appear on a late night television comedy program during his presidency. But late night appearances are almost de rigueur for presidential or vice presidential candidates these days – and have been for more than a half-century. Here are seven examples of candidate appearances on comedy programs:

June 16, 1960: Senator John F. Kennedy appears on Jack Parr’s Tonight Show:

 

1968: Richard Nixon delivers a signature line on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In:

 

March 13, 1975: Ronald Reagan appears on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (although he was not a candidate at the time, he announced his candidacy for the 1976 race months later)

 

1992: Bill Clinton plays sax on The Arsenio Hall Show:

 

2000: George W. Bush delivers a Top Ten list on Late Night with David Letterman:

 

 

2008: Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin raps on Saturday Night Live (presidential nominees Barack Obama and John McCain also appeared on different episodes)

 

March 2012: Mitt Romney appears on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno:

 

Candidates regularly appear on late night comedy shows to display their “human” sides and to appeal to younger voters. It’s often a smart political decision, since many independent voters base their decisions primarily on personal factors, not policy or ideological ones.

Ms. Carlson’s angst may be legitimate, and it’s fair to argue that the President should uphold a certain level of dignity. But I couldn’t find any evidence that Ms. Carlson spoke out against Mr. McCain’s or Ms. Palin’s appearances on Saturday Night Live in 2008. In fact, her weekend counterparts at the time called Sarah Palin’s appearance on the show – the one in which she “raised the roof” during a ludicrous rap – “hilarious,” “great,” and “clever.”

Is Carlson’s line really that it’s fine for a Republican or Democratic nominee to appear on these shows, but not the sitting president? It’s her right to believe that, but I see it as a distinction without a difference. If anything, it seems to me that a presidential aspirant has to work harder to be seen as presidential than the incumbent.

The debate, therefore, is somewhat predictable, with pundits on both sides playing a set role and performing set lines, as if on cue. Appearances on late night comedy programs are good if the pundit likes the candidate, and bad if they don’t.

To answer the question posed by this post, President Obama definitely explored new turf in his appearance. But Americans are used to people in power appearing on these shows – candidates Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush (and others) paved the way – and Mr. Obama’s appearance is a logical continuation of that tradition.

 

President Obama appears on Late Night With David Letterman in September 2012

 

An increasingly diffuse audience means that politicians have to use different means to reach their targets. And President Obama was perfectly on message. I think this appearance was on the right side of the line, if only barely. But expect to see a lot more of them from future presidents.

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


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Want To Learn Public Speaking? Try Stand-Up Comedy.

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 25, 2012 – 6:12 am

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Deborah Brown and Clayton Fletcher of Peppercom, a strategic communications firm based in NYC. I asked them to write this article to describe their fascinating approach to presentation training, which uses comedy to help people break through their inhibitions.

According to surveys, people are more afraid of public speaking than dying. And, we’re not just talking about a conference with 500 people. We find employees are just as afraid to present to five people as they are to 500!

We’ve learned that through stand-up comedy training, offered as part of our proprietary Comedy Experience program, employees become better, more fearless speakers. We teach organizations great and small to employ storytelling techniques mastered by professional comedians. And, we walk the walk. Everyone at Peppercom – from management to interns – has performed stand-up comedy at least once, and many of us entertain comedy club audiences all over New York on a regular basis.

So, what does comedy have to do with business? Everything!

Below are four tips on how you can incorporate comedy skills into successful business presentations:

Comedian Clayton Fletcher, co-author of this piece, uses comedy to help public speakers

Tip #1: Use Storytelling to Engage Your Audience

Comedy skills are remarkably similar to presentation skills, since a comedy routine is itself a presentation. When you’re on stage, you need to engage your audience, right? The last thing you want is to see them texting, Googling, doodling, or falling asleep. An audience that is laughing is 100 percent engaged; a funny presenter commands attention and respect more than a bland one—that’s just common sense, right?

The key to engaging your audience as well as creating outstanding presentations is storytelling. This is the same required ingredient in outstanding comedy performances. Comedy, today, is not about joke telling, as in “three guys walk into a bar…” It’s about narrative based in truth. Comedy club audiences want to learn something about the speaker, and guess what? So do business audiences. Sharing a true story increases confidence; after all, you know the material – it’s your story. You know the journey you want the audience to take before you even go onstage. The goal of leading the crowd along that path gives a speaker confidence and a sense of direction. Presentations should be thought of in the exact same way, a story, a revelation, a journey!

Tip #2: Read The Audience

Another skill we can learn from great comedians is how to read an audience. Comics know how to pay attention and react to the body language and other non-verbal indicators, whether the crowd is laughing, yawning, slouching, squinting, giggling, frowning, ignoring, smiling, resisting, or engaging. If a stand-up is losing the crowd, she can improvise, ask questions, comment on the situation, and use her sense of humor to elicit a better response! You can do the same thing as a presenter. If an audience seems uninterested, ask a question. They’ll immediately respond. You can also say something off the cuff or be honest in the moment.

Co-author Deborah Brown

Tip #3: Make Nervous Energy Work in Your Favor

Does the idea of presenting make you nervous? Good! You’re supposed to be nervous. Being nervous is a good thing; it lets people know you are passionate about your topic and that their reaction matters to you. The same is true of all comedians. They, too, are nervous before going on stage but they understand how to make that nervous energy work for them. Nervous energy is kinetic energy that must be harnessed and embraced onstage. Don’t fight the nerves. Channel the nervous energy into your storytelling abilities and you’ll transform nervousness into passion.

Tip #4: Show Vulnerability

It’s good to be vulnerable. When you’re on stage, you feel naked with all eyes on you. Instead of pretending it’s easy, show vulnerability, communicate to the audience that you’re human. The audience then finds you more relatable, assuming they are human as well, of course. Vulnerability, nervousness, and authenticity make people want to hear what you have to say.

We have conducted our Comedy Experience program for many companies, and the big takeaway has been the immediate and tangible results. For example, at one major corporation, we were asked to teach comedy to a group of scientists, engineers and researchers. These brilliant and serious professionals were reticent to try this idea, to say the least. But by the end of the session, they were laughing, connecting, and sharing. Everyone who performed got big laughs and the team-building power of laughter broke down the walls of skepticism one lab coat at a time. It was quite spectacular to watch as, one by one, these seemingly humorless people broke out of their respective comfort zones and connected with one another on a new and deeper level.

Comedy training is a corporate game changer that works best as an ongoing, culture redefining program. However, the tips outlined above will at least give you the immediate confidence you need to think of your presentation in a different way.

Comedy skills share a lot with business skills…and that’s no joke!

Deborah Brown is a partner/managing director of Peppercom, a strategic communications firm based in New York City. She tweets at @DeborahBrown21.

Clayton Fletcher is a professional comedian and Peppercom’s Chief Comedy Officer. He tweets at @claytoncomic.

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Tracy Morgan: When Does Edgy Humor Go Too Far?

Written by Brad Phillips on June 13, 2011 – 6:22 am

Late last week, 30 Rock star and comedian Tracy Morgan made headlines for a stand-up performance he gave in Nashville that seemed to encourage violence toward gays.

According to one audience member, Morgan said: “If my son was gay, he better come home and talk to me like a man and not [mimicking a gay, high pitched voice], or I would pull out a knife and stab that little [Nig***] to death.”

Morgan went on to say that gay people were “pussies” for complaining about bullying, which he minimized as not that bad.

Comedian Tracy Morgan. Photo Credit: David Shankbone

Another comedian, Christopher Titus, also got into trouble last week for saying he would “hang out on the grassy knoll all the time” if Sarah Palin is elected president, “just loaded and ready.”

Both comedians apologized for crossing the line, but that raises an interesting question: What, exactly, is the appropriate line for comedians? Surely, comics and social satirists should have more license for politically incorrect humor than, say, a politician. But where, exactly, should the line be drawn?

My opinion is beneath the following survey; please cast your vote before reading my opinion so my own views don’t sway yours!

 

Do Comedians Go Too Far When They Use Violent Imagery In Their Routines?

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My View: I‘m a strong believer in free speech and want comedians to have the right to express their controversial and occasionally ugly views, regardless of whether or not I agree with them. But yes, there’s a line, and violence directed at a specific group crosses that line most of the time.

“Joking” about killing a gay son in our post-Matthew Shepard world has consequences, giving tacit approval to those who would commit violence against homosexuals.

And “joking” about killing a politician in our post-Gabrielle Giffords world is cringe worthy at best, if not outright dangerous. 

Tracy Morgan deserves this fallout, and I hope other comedians take note. They may have the “right” to say violent things – but I hope their careers suffer for saying them. And just to be clear, I don’t want their careers to suffer as a result of government censorship, but rather from audience rebellion.

That’s a lesson Seinfeld’s Michael Richards learned the hard way.

What do you think? Please add your thoughts to the comments section below.

Related: Charlie Sheen: Why #Winning Isn’t Funny

Related: Five Types of Political Humor: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

P.S. The below video features an interview with audience member Kevin Rogers. Watch until the end – I found the end quite moving. 

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

    Brad Phillips

    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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