Funny? On Zoom? In 2020? You’re having a laugh.

At this year’s (virtual) Christmas party for the European Speechwriter’s Network, a few of us were asked about writing for laughs on zoom. Is it advisable? Is it even possible, especially this year of all years. Writing a talk to give to professional speechwriters is *always* a tough gig, but defending the right to be funny to a wall of silent faces — now that is tough. Here’s my poem/talk for the evening, making my case.

Can you really be funny on Teams or on Zoom?

Can we transmit laughter and light into your room?

And can you be funny at all in this cursed year of our Lord, 2020?

A year filled with bad tidings, death and misery aplenty?

Well, yes you can — speechwriters please listen to me.

It isn’t an option to be funny. It is our duty.

Can you even remember January, or February of this year?

When war with Iran seemed likely and near.

What were people talking about before the outbreak in China?

Gwyneth Paltrow selling candles that smelled of her vagina,

In Australia they had to deal with their own bushfire

Wherever you looked things looked bleak, scary and dire.

The tabloids went after Harry Windsor and Megan Markle,

The golden couple lost all of their sparkle,

At least among the old, white and patriarchal.

But all the while we kept a smile and told a joke

Even when the news of the pandemic broke.

Boris would fix it, he’s a bloody good bloke,

Happy-go-lucky and definitely not woke.

He invoked the blitz spirit but got nowhere near it,

He shook hands with the virus, yet told us to fear it,

He filled a racecourse with punters and plague

And waffled about the war, baffling and vague.

It started badly and got worse from there,

Not even a small comb passed through his hair.

We got locked down in attics, bedrooms and cupboards

Stared at screens, spoke on mute, drank wine and blubbered.

For the dreary presentations — a thumbs up or a mechanical wave

This is where speechwriters must come in, to be funny and brave

To lighten the mood whilst the country gets screwed.

To find truth in humour, humanity and hope,

Write like lions and tigers, not donkeys or dopes.

Recall Shakespeare teaching his leaders how to best rule,

The lessons that count come from Falstaff and Fool,

Use whimsy and fancy to turn dark places sunny

Roll out the japes, jokes, puns — let’s make it funny.

When the President suggests we fill our veins full of bleach

You must open your jokebook and lighten the speech.

Because people need to smile and not be forlorn

In 2020 — yes 2020 — people got married and babies were born

Weinstein went down, Parasite won best movie,

Liverpool won the league — that mattered to me!

Our best writers, Dylan, Dolly and Swift gave us new songs

Whilst statues of slave traders were toppled and gone.

When he knew he was losing “Stop the Count!” Trump tweeted out

Which is a typo away from what we all wanted to shout.

Now we can look forward to Biden and Harris

Who believe in science and will sign up to Paris.

If you look hard enough there is momentum and light

There’s a vaccine now, and an end is in sight.

Give your speakers a chance to break through the gloom

Ask them to practise — yes, even though its on zoom.

Give them your quickest and wittiest while the world really needs it

And watch them mess it all up because the buggers won’t read it.

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Matt Greenough

Former Chief Special Adviser and Speechwriter to the First Minister of Wales. Now run Words Matter, a communications consultancy - https://WordsMatter.uk