About the Author

Neal Milner

Neal Milner is a former political science professor at the University of Hawaii where he taught for 40 years. He is a political analyst for KITV and is a regular contributor to Hawaii Public Radio's "The Conversation." His most recent book is The Gift of Underpants. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Our new lieutenant governor Sylvia Luke put some humor into her recent inauguration speech. It went OK.

Mike McCartney used humor in his last appearance as DBEDT director. BOOM! Much more than OK. He was top of the charts, hysterically funny.

Luke’s jokes were careful and intentional. McCartney wasn’t trying to be funny at all. That’s what made his bit so richly comic. Or tragicomic.

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This is how political humor works: Two salmon walk into a bar. The bartender says, “How did you fish get in? Hey, Tony, change the lox.”

Pretty cheesy. I made it up — a grandpa joke. My granddaughter would groan more than she would laugh.

It’s different, though, if the jokester is a well-known public official. Suddenly that joke is right out of Chris Rock.

Luke’s inauguration jokes were wry, quasi-insider jokes, making fun of herself and her former colleagues in the Legislature.

Low key, no slipping the microphone off the stand and prancing around throwing f-bombs and talking about body parts. Much closer to a Chuck Schumer than to Amy Schumer.

Luke’s humor was a welcome relief from the usual big-day bluster. But baddah boom baddah-bing-wise?  Let’s just say she got the job done with requisite skill and grace.

But she shouldn’t give up her day job. Wait, she just did.

Still, if she had used my salmon joke, it would have brought down the house … and the Senate.

When public officials try to be funny they are held to a different and lower standard than the rest of us. All of a sudden, they’re comedians.

From the reactions in the media, you’d think that Luke had debuted as a cast member on Saturday Night Live. “Wow, she can be funny. Who knew?”

That’s a big overreaction, and it’s unfair because it dehumanizes her. It makes it seem that the way Luke worked in the House as a tough, flinty chair of the money committee totally defines her. Damning her with faint praise.

Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke peppered her inauguration address with self-effacing humor. David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022

The French take it to the next level by giving an annual grand prize for humor and politics. (The French have no regular prizes. All their prizes are grand.)

This year’s winner was Fabien Roussel who is, get this — the head of the French Communist Party!

The only award a dirty Commie can get in the U.S. is a prisoner exchange.

Here’s Roussel’s winning joke: “The petrol station is the only place where the one holding the gun is also the one who is robbed.”

You had to be there. It works much better in French where “pistolet” means both a pistol and the petrol pump. Still, a decent stand-up comedy routine has maybe a dozen jokes better than that.

Before President Barack Obama’s famous White House Correspondents’ Dinner monologue, emcee Jimmy Kimmel said that Obama “could probably be a comedian himself if he wanted to.”

Obama has excellent comedic timing. He knows how to deliver lines. But there is a difference between what he did at the dinner and a what a professional comic does.

Larry Jacobs, an eminent University of Minnesota political science professor, didn’t think Obama was that funny. “Obama is famously humorless,” he said.

Considering politician humor, Jacobs said, “We have to discount the scripted comments. The White House Correspondents dinner is now farmed out to professional comedy writers.”

Maybe Jacobs was having a bad day. Maybe he woke up on the wrong side of an unfinished manuscript.

But he’s right. Stand-up comics today write their own material. Obama in this case and probably in many others did not. That’s true of many politicians, especially the big shots.

Jacob’s Obama assessment is brutal, but trust me, the hallmark of us political scientists is that we speak our minds even if it costs us dearly:

Larry Jacobs walks into a bar. The bartender says, “No birth certificate, No service.”

Two political scientists walk into a bar. No one cares.

And that brings us back to McCartney who is not important enough to have a retinue of comedy writers at his disposal.

But the thing is, he doesn’t need it. He is naturally funny. So what if it is unintentional.

Mike McCartney used his last appearance as director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism to deliver a now viral one-liner. Screenshot/OLELO/2020

Considering how things work in Hawaii, there should be an annual prize for unintentional political humor. Call this award The Oy La La Prize.

The 2022 Oy La La winner? Mike McCartney, for his one-liner: “We’re still learning.”

McCartney brought his DBEDT term to a close first by botching the new stadium plans, then by administering a botch to the tourism contract.

Worse, or better in terms of the prize, he tried to defend them with actual public statements. Being intentional made it worse. That was of course unintentional. The beat goes on.

Put aside the stadium, which was mainly Gov. David Ige’s doing anyway, and focus on McCartney’s award-winning off-the-cuff tourism remarks.

McCartney’s contract blundering was too much even for the usually sedate Honolulu Star-Advertiser editorial writers who called his performance “odorific”, (which the Urban Dictionary defines as “When an odor is so fucking bad that you have to hold your nose because the stench pierces the towel covering your face.”)

When asked at a hearing (face towels recommended but not required) why after two rounds of what should have been a competitive but procedurally straightforward procurement process, it still got messed up again, Mike delivered his award-winning “We’re still learning” zinger.

Oy, Mike. Oy vey. It was so close to the end of McCartney’s term that his Uber was already outside idling to take him on his ride into the sunset, and McCartney said he’s still learning.

Mike, the pistolet holder robbing us, the public. Baddah-bing!

Sylvia Luke no doubt had some help with her speech. There are people in Hawaii who are very good at this. Jimmy Kimmel has never heard of them. Neither has Larry Jacobs.

Her writers would probably tell Luke that she did a good job, and that maybe next time she could build on her confidence by punching it up and stretching a little bit. “You can do it. We can help.”

Here’s all the help Mike McCartney needs to hone his award-winning skills: “Just stand up and say the first thing that comes into your head. Then say the second thing. Then the third, and the fourth.”

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About the Author

Neal Milner

Neal Milner is a former political science professor at the University of Hawaii where he taught for 40 years. He is a political analyst for KITV and is a regular contributor to Hawaii Public Radio's "The Conversation." His most recent book is The Gift of Underpants. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Latest Comments (0)

Mr. McCartney reminds of that game Whack-a-Mole…except that without ever getting whacked, he just pops up again somewhere. Hmmm…I guess it helps to have friends in high places.

Chillax · 1 year ago

With all the years Mike had been associated with the Tourist Industry you'd think he should be an expert by now. How did he get into those high powered position when he's still learning?

kealoha1938 · 1 year ago

He might be trying to replace Augie T. Ah, but Augie is funny yet gets the job done by taking his position seriously. He should be our next mayor. Even without a ton of experience he would be better than what we have now since his cabinet would be made up of people who really care about Hawaii and it's people.

Ken · 1 year ago

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