The most notable person at this year’s Academy Awards was not super suave Best Supporing Actor winner George Clooney – this generation’s Cary Grant. Neither was it lovely Keira Knightley – stunning in her burgundy Vera Wang gown. It wasn’t even Best Actress winner Reese Witherspoon’s “I just want to matter” acceptance speech.
It was self-deprecating, first-time Emcee Jon Stewart, he of TV’s Daily Show fame.
Stewart anticipated the “Prove yourself to me” attitude of the in-house and at-home audience and mocked his supposed last-choice status with an amusing opening montage with former hosts bowing out of Master of Ceremonies duties, e.g., Billy Crystal and Chris Rock in a pup tent (shades of Brokeback Mountain) saying they were “busy right now.”
He then cemented his “just glad to be here” approach by skewering himself with, “Tonight is the night we celebrate excellence in film, with me, the fourth male lead from Death to Smoochy.”
This was a classic “poke fun at yourself before other people do” gambit that accomplished its purpose of winning over the audience.
What’s that got to do with you?
Will you be speaking to a group that is questioning your credentials? Are you hosting an event in which the audience is likely to have their mental arms crossed?
Instead of taking umbrage at their lack of respect, it can be smarter to show humility and a lack of hubris.
Spoofing yourself is a time-honored way to neutralize objections. It has worked for everyone from Ronald Reagan (“I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I will not exploit for political purposes my opponent’s relative youth and inexperience”) to Ben Affleck (anticipating the ribbing he’d receive for his recent “Bennifer” breakup with Jennifer Lopez, he started his Saturday Night Live appearance by holding up t-shirts with possible new love matches including BOprah and Benyonce’.)
Art Buchwald said, “I learned early in life that when I made people laugh, they liked me. This is a lesson I will never forget.”
Wise man. Next time you face a resistant group, show you have a sense of humor about yourself, and audience members will be more likely to laugh with you rather than at you.
Want specific Fun Fu! responses you can use to defuse tense situations? Visit wwww.SamHorn.com and check out Chapter 2 of Sam’s Tongue Fu! book (St. Martins Press) to discover how you can handle hassles with humor rather than harsh words.