I hear there’s a new app called Sense of Humour – maybe you should download it?


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Chris Hipkins and sausage rolls – today I heard angry condemnation of Chris I’s supposed promotion of sausage rolls as a healthy eating choice … really? I suggest he’s not saying everyone in New Zealand should eat more sausage rolls, he was merely pointing out that, much like every Labour leader before him I’m sure, sausage rolls are unavoidable when doing the rounds New Zealand’s Country Women’s Institutes. And they actually taste quite nice. It’s life in New Zealand. Whether you vote red or blue, or green or beige, sausage rolls are unavoidable. Please give him a break on this one!

And the other Chris, Chris II, is not immune to the vicious barbs of humourless critics either – his off-the-cuff quip (in acknowledgement of the fact New Zealand’s population growth is no longer adequate for optimum economic growth) that the audience should ‘go ahead and have more babies’ was met with criticism that he was ‘outrageously dictating social policy and promoting anti-abortion policies’ – please people, it was a joke. Seriously, a joke.

I know politicians twist the truth, obscure facts, avoid answering the question, shamelessly criticise every aspect of opposition policy, kiss babies and pat dogs purely as a photo op’ (even if they hate kids and are allergic to pets), but they can still have a laugh … can’t they?

Perhaps the question should be, “Can ‘we’ still have a laugh?”

Are we now all so angry that we can’t take a joke? How dull. How utterly depressing.
We in the media must accept a large part of the responsibility for the de-humourising of our politicians. The media has trained the public to zero-in on missteps and characterised humour as a misstep.

On the other side the middlemen and middlewomen: the media minders, media trainers and press officers – the ones who baby-sit the politicians and tell them what to say, how to say it, when to say it, and what to definitely not say – have a lot to answer for. Most politicians have been trained to not to make a joke, to not use humour for fear it be misconstrued or worse, misappropriated and weaponised.

Unlike a good lawyer who advises his client to say nothing, the media manager insists the politician say something, but just not the wrong thing. “Stay on message – and remember the message doesn’t include humour or satire. Don’t be sucked into answering the question, because the question is designed to make you look untrustworthy or stupid. Instead stay on message. Don’t worry if the message has no relationship whatsoever to the question.”

Maybe that’s why when a delusional buffoon like Trump finally comes along with the self-confidence to say, “I know better than anyone, one plus one equals three, and black is green,” a large portion of the constituency says, “Finally, a guy who doesn’t play the game scripted by manipulative political stage managers – he’s our guy because he’s authentic. We can trust him.”


My advice to political media managers: allow your clients to be authentic – some voters quite like it.

To the public: if politicians are funny, it’s okay to laugh at their jokes; if they make a mistake, consider the context and maybe cut them some slack, even if they are not on your team.

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Alan Neben
Alan Neben
Alan Neben is a Mount Maunganui local and experienced New Zealand publisher. His columns provide a light-hearted perspective on social changes effecting New Zealanders

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