Are politicians allowed to be funny?

Post by Mike Klassen in

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London Mayor Boris Johnson
London Mayor Boris Johnson disarms critics and opponents with his sense of fun

Can a politician be successful in elected office as well as be funny? If you study Canadian politics like I do, you begin to have your doubts. This is not to say that a sense of humour isn't a tremendous asset when you're in elected office – it's the only thing that might prevent you from sticking your head in a gas oven. But it is very rare indeed when you see politicians given the license to be fun.

Humour can be a subjective thing, of course. Low humour is not very becoming of public figures unless they earn their living being a clown. High brow humour has a much smaller audience, and there is a great risk that not everyone will "get it". I think it's known among media and government insiders that Gordon Campbell, for example, has a sharp and sardonic wit. But this hardly comes across in those 6pm news sound bites. People like Campbell have to be very careful that they are not seen as flippant by making light of almost any topic no matter how absurd.

Someone who impresses the hell out of me for his ability to be deadly funny and a highly successful public official is London Mayor Boris Johnson. Johnson comes across a bit of a grown-up product of English public schools who spent more than a few moments guzzling yards of lager with the lads. His demeanor yells frat boy, yet his political cunning is unmatched back home.

Johnson, impressively, is a columnist with the London Daily Telegraph. One of his most recent commentaries weaves an interesting parallel between the political unity of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, and the increasing isolation of individuals in society – or the "Eleanor Rigbys" as he refers to them.

Dear oh dear, it's just as well I never said anything rude about the Lib Dems, eh? What? Did I say that? You mean I once accused them of being a bunch of euro-loving road-hump-fetishists who changed their opinions in mid-stream like so many hermaphroditic parrotfish? And are you telling me that senior Lib Dem sources are accusing me of being a Eurosceptic classics crank? Dear oh dear...

I have a project for the great new centre-Right, centre-Left coalition that we have elected. I have a plan to give meaning to the Big Society. As the Liberals and the Conservatives put aside their mutual antipathy, it is time for the Government to tackle the atomism and the loneliness – and the consequent unhappiness – that increasingly blights our society.

It's the kind of unbridled irreverence and partisanship that is usually eshewed by Canadian media for fear of annoying some their audience. Frankly, I think it's worth annoying a few folks because it means that people are actually paying attention to you.

A local politician recently tried her hand at taking a humorous view of Vancouver politics. Coun. Suzanne Anton apparently decided that the best approach to the hypnotic attraction of Gregor Robertson's chiselled jaw – the same jaw that has resulted in MSM man-crush epidemic – was just to have fun with it. You can read Anton's piece published in the Sun here.

Miro Cernetig has written an adoring portrait of Gregor Robertson, the mayor with the handsome face and nimble feet. But Cernetig forgot to mention a few others who love that chiselled jaw. For example:

- Chickens. They love the mayor. Their chicken brothers, sisters and cousins can all retire to Vancouver. And if they wear out their welcome in somebody's back yard, they can always move to the mayor's $20,000 shelter for homeless chickens. Plus, of course, he'll hire "people" to feed and care for them. And the "Freedoms of Chickens" manifesto (yep, this is no joke) ensures the cluckers won't actually have to do any work. They won't even have to lay eggs if they jolly well don't want to.

I'm not sure if Coun. Anton's humour succeeded in making its point with all readers, but I applaud her for trying. Whether people will "get it" and laugh along misses the point. As the lone member of the opposition on city council (I wouldn't dare put COPE into that category, given their accommodation of Vision Vancouver) who is regularly squashed by the Mayor's interpretation of council chamber rules, Anton effectively uses humour to help explain the absurdity that often emanates from Vancouver City Hall today.

I still haven't answered my question in the title of this post – are politicians allowed to be funny? I suspect the answer is yes, but with several conditions attached. I'm not sure if Anton's story will endear her to voters, or make her seem flip. I think it makes her seem more human in the controlled world of politics.

What do you think?

- post by Mike

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