Political humor can be fun – and healthy

Healey nearly choked on one 'mean tweet'

A LITTLE LAUGHTER goes a long way in politics.

Donald Trump should keep that in mind as he takes over at the White House. Someone in his position needs a sense of humor, an ability to laugh and be laughed at. But so far Trump doesn’t get it.

Al Franken, the former Saturday Night Live writer and performer who is now a US senator from Minnesota, told the New York Times recently that Trump never laughs. Franken watched Trump closely at the Al Smith Dinner in New York City in October, an event where the two presidential candidates traditionally engage in some good-natured ribbing of each other to the delight of the audience.

“I wanted to see if Trump laughed,” Franken said. “And he didn’t. He smiled, but didn’t laugh.”

Here at CommonWealth and MassINC, we’re not known for being funny, either. But every five years we take a shot at humor when we celebrate an anniversary. At our 15th, we put on a show called Serious Fun that featured politicians in funny videos and skits. The late Tom Menino brought down the house with his portrayal of Vito Corleone in The Godfather, lecturing a stand-in for developer Don Chiofaro. (Menino wouldn’t do the scene with Chiofaro himself.)

We celebrated our 20th anniversary in December, and we tried the same formula again. It wasn’t easy convincing politicians to step outside their comfort zone, but eventually many of them agreed to do it. And they seemed to have a lot of fun, just as the audience did.

Gov. Charlie Baker and his transportation secretary, Stephanie Pollack, played the Blues Brothers, getting the band back together to fix the T. Baker, exhibiting a Dan Ackroyd swagger and even a bit of a Chicago accent, pulled off his part surprisingly well. Pollack, known more for her serious policy chops, rose to the occasion, too.

Gov. Charlie Baker as Ellwood Blues.

Gov. Charlie Baker as Ellwood Blues.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Attorney General Maura Healey read actual mean tweets they had been sent. Healey, known for picking tough fights with ExxonMobil and gun owners, nearly choked on one tweet that included the word fart. “I can’t even say this,” the mortified attorney general said on camera.

Former governors Michael Dukakis and Bill Weld demonstrated a knack for comedy. And Newton Mayor Setti Warren, US Rep. Katherine Clark, Senate President Stan Rosenberg, and developer Chiofaro (this time he got a role, but he’s still waiting for city approval to build a new tower) all played along.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Mayor Marty Walsh’s video focused on his young staff, played by the sons and daughters of real staff members. Walsh’s staff takes humor seriously. They have developed an in-house capability to turn around funny videos because they realize that laughter can be just as important as policy papers and speeches in building connections with voters.

Thanks to all who participated. Let me know if you have any ideas for the next shoot.