During last night’s State of the Union speech, President Obama told a very bad joke. Personally, I like very bad jokes but I am always prepared with a recovery line if my audience agrees that it’s a very bad joke. Here’s Obama’s line:
“I’ve ordered every federal agency to eliminate rules that don’t make sense. … We got rid of one rule from 40 years ago that could have forced some dairy farmers to spend $10,000 a year proving that they could contain a spill — because milk was somehow classified as an oil. With a rule like that, I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk.”
OK, not great. But, better than if he had not used any humor.
There is a nice analysis of this joke with some funny ad libs from Jon Lovett here: Obama’s Milk Joke 2 Percent Funny
I’m a fan of bad jokes used on very rare occasions. Mainly because we all love to groan at a bad joke. Even famous comedians use them. The key to a successful bad joke is to be funny after it bombs. We call that a saver line.
Once, Johnny Carson told a joke about the Lincoln assassination. The audience didn’t laugh. So, Johnny turned to Ed McMahon and said, “Still too soon.”
The audience roared.
Bad jokes are not inherently bad unless you use them too much or you don’t prepare for the fallout. I’d much rather see the President use a joke that bombs rather than not use one at all. But, what I’d really like to see is the President using a great saver line. In other words, if he had justmilked his failure a little bit, it might have worked out better!
So, even when it comes to Make it Fun, you should Do it Well.