***All rights reserved
Earlier this week, The National Post invited a panel of humorists to answer some questions about Elizabeth May’s ruinous attempt at comedy in her speech to the Parliamentary Press Gallery Dinner.
It appears that my invitation to participate in their funny people panel got lost in the mail. Or they might have sent it to the wrong email address: FYI, I’m hotmail.ca not .com. Had I been tapped for the assignment, though, this is how I would have responded.
On the surface, you could say Elizabeth May fell victim to the classic civilian mistake of trying way too hard to be on the edgy side of funny. That’s a recipe for disaster if ever there was one.
A closer examination, however, reveals she actually wasn’t trying at all. The 4, maybe 5, pages of notepaper torn from a spiral-bound notebook—a cheap one, too, if the hanging chads were any indication—strewn higgledy piggledy on the Plexiglas podium looked an awful lot like something she jotted down in the ladies room while touching up her lipstick before going onstage.
A speech can be in point-form but chicken-scratch on scrap paper is really pushing the envelope: Open with F-bomb; Flying bread roll bit; Bad hips - “Squeak Squeak”; Boo-hoo Justin’s hair; Sesame Street set-up: “One of these things is not like the other”; Boys and Freud /Debate envy; “That’s that on that”; Blackberry curtain call: “Welcome back Khadr”; F-bomb closer.
It’s safe to say a complete and total lack of preparation for an event that was probably on her calendar for months was Liz’s biggest problem. Writing and rehearsal are the staples of preparedness for a good speech and stand-up comedy. The question is how come Liz May and her staff felt she was above having to do any of that?
May’s bomb was epic, but is it the worst you’ve seen? Can you sympathize?
It is not the worst bomb I’ve ever seen, no. And I’m usually a big fan of sympathy but it’s stretched pretty thin in this case.
Elizabeth May is a seasoned politician in her early 60s—what author Annie Lamott calls “extreme middle age” (way to put a positive spin on it Annie!)—which is widely rumoured to be the calmer, more enlightened side of life. One would think she’d be long past colossal blunders by now.
Being tired is an allowable excuse for mispronouncing tricky, consonant-rich words such as “territory” and “jettison” but improvising at a major event smacks of arrogance and over-confidence.
Liz should also know by now that a writer-downer can have just as much comedy as an off-the-cuffer. In fact it can have substantially more funny since all the nonsense and putrefaction inherent in first drafts can be edited out. At some point, though, you’ve got to think your audience and your reputation are worth, at the very least, a first draft.
Secondly, putting other people’s livelihood in jeopardy, when you’re the leader of a party struggling for legitimacy is pretty irresponsible. Taking personal risks is one thing, but being the face of an organization comes with a different level of responsibility, one which Elizabeth May knows well since she’s led The Green Party for nearly a decade.
If you visit the party’s website, in addition to the leader’s smiling face in the banner there are a lot of other smiling faces, too, mostly local candidates: regular folks, slogging it out, running for a party that is still struggling from the fringe.
If I’d just remortgaged my house to fund a political campaign, only to watch my leader buffoonize herself and embarrass me by association, I would be less than a smiling, happy face right now.
Lastly, dropping multiple F-bombs when you know cameras are rolling and twitterers are twittering is a sign of poor judgment—be it nascent or a long-time coming. Anyone who is significantly entangled with the Green Party of Canada right now might do well to dust off their resume.
If you could go back in time and prevent May’s speech from going off the rails, what would you tell her?
As I watched the slow-motion replay of Liz’s speech I found myself wondering, “Who’s got this woman’s back?” Maybe the Green Party can’t afford a team of handlers for their leader but even a friendly Barista who speaks a little bit of English would have said, “This is not your best material.”
If I could I would go back to the moment in the ladies room, just before Liz went onstage when she was, apparently, still crafting her remarks. I’d go back as her daughter, too, or someone who loved her—not just a random staffer with the fires of my own ambition to dull my sixth sense for another person’s impending doom.
I would have pulled her aside and said: “A decade of swimming upstream has made you bitter and angry. You’re not ready, and none of this is even remotely funny.”
And then I would have flushed the pages down the toilet and said “We’re going home. I will not let you phone this one in.”