To be or not to be funny…
Doug Simon (@DSSimonDoug), CEO of D S Simon Media spoke with David Litt (@DavidLitt), former comedy speechwriter (along with 6 others) for President Obama and current head writer/producer for Funny or Die, Washington, D.C. (@FunnyorDie), at the PR News Media Relations Conference in Washington, D.C., about how to pick the right moment to be funny for your CEO or the executive of your company.
In today’s vlog post, Doug spoke with David Litt who was the former speechwriter (along with 6 others) for President Obama and current head writer/producer for Funny or Die, Washington, D.C., about when to choose the right time to be funny during a speech or presentation and when not to be. David mentions that it is more comfortable for a CEO or executive to have jokes or funny lines throughout the speech instead of a punchline at the end of it.
Side note: One of Doug’s vlogs from 2012 was featured on Funny or Die. Don’t worry, he’s not quitting his day job. Take a look here.
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Doug: Hi, I’m Doug Simon from DS Simon Media, here at the PR News Media Relations Conference. And if you thought President Obama used humor well during his presidency, I’m standing next to one of the key people responsible, David Litt of Funny or Die. Thanks so much.
David: Yeah. Thanks for having me.
Doug: So what are some of the key things to think about when you’re trying to get a CEO in this place of the country to be humorous and effective?
David: Well, I think first of all, you have to pick the right moment. Not every moment for a CEO is going to be a great time to be funny. A lot of them know that very, very well. But at the same time, there are also moments, especially now, when surprising an audience can work wonders in this media landscape we have, where the internet is so important, Facebook is so important.
David: You need something that someone is going to share with their friend. So when you want to reach lots of people, when you want to do it in a surprising way, when you want to hold attention for a long period of time, humor can be a new tool in the toolbox for people who are in communications.
Doug: So let’s say you’re working with a CEO at an organization, is it better to sort of bring a touch of humor throughout a presentation, assuming the subject matter is appropriate? Or do you want to be serious and then hit them with a big surprise moment?
David: I think you can do both. It all depends on who the person is who’s speaking and how naturally funny they are, some of us are, some of us aren’t, and also, on whether you want to reset the audience– whether you want to reengage them every few minutes. That can be very useful in a speech. Or whether you want to have a big moment that everyone remembers.
David: And sometimes you want to do both, and sometimes you do neither. But something the president often did very effectively in his speeches were every four or five minutes he would just say something casual and funny, just because when you get a laugh everyone’s focused on you again. Everyone resets that attention clock and it gives them another couple minutes before they start to want to check their phone.
Doug: So it’s almost an effective use of an aside, as opposed to maybe a joke set up standard punchline.
David: Yeah. Exactly. A lot of people are intimidated because they say, well, you know I’m not a comedian. I don’t want to have to go tell a joke. But you can be funny and warm in the way you would be in a conversation, just in a speech. And I think that is, for a lot of CEOs, more comfortable, and also even more effective than a traditional setup, followed by a punch line, followed by a te, te, te right after that.
Doug: Now except for a brief moment in Funny or Die’s history when they actually accepted a video that I did on the site, generally you guys really know what humor is. What can you bring to organizations who want to spread their message partnering with you using humor?
David: Well, what we did, and I was in the White House when this happened, was Funny or Die brought in Zach Galifianakis to do a Between Two Ferns, an online talk show, with President Obama about the Affordable Care Act. It was a huge hit. And what we’ve done since then is open a DC office to try to bring that same set of ideas to all sorts of organizations and brands.
David: So people who want to work with celebrities, professional comedy writers, to put their own brand or their own leaders in the best possible light, even if they’re not necessarily the funny person– they can be the serious person in the room. We can often get millions of people online to watch something, to absorb a message, through humor. Where if you were doing it purely in an earnest straightforward way, it might be very well-crafted, but even so, it’s not going to get shared as much on the internet.
Doug: Now that sounds awesome. And now that truth doesn’t matter anymore in the world, and obviously, you have a strong presence in LA, I can just say since we’ve been such good friends for so long, people can just reach out to us in New York if they’re looking to engage with Funny or Die. That would seem to make sense.
David: Yes. This is our post-truth contact information, I guess? OK. Yes. They can do that. And I’m David Litt on Twitter. And people are welcome to get in touch and I would love to hear from all sorts of people about how they’re using comedy and also if people want to work with us, we’re always looking for new exciting projects.
Doug: And if we connect to your [INAUDIBLE] that people do, even liberals can laugh again. Thanks so much for spending time with us.
David: Thank you. Cool.