A little self-mockery in the workplace can go a long way

  • Article by: KIM ODE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 11, 2014 - 3:00 PM

Those willing to make fun of themselves find that inspiring laughter breaks down barriers.

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This image from video released by Funny Or Die shows President Obama, left, with actor-comedian Zach Galifianakis during an appearance on "Between Two Ferns."

When people rush to say they’re not laughing at you, but laughing with you, it’s a good bet they’re laughing at you.

Reason enough to beat them to the punch line by first poking fun at yourself, and in so doing, join the growing self-mockery movement.

The strategy actually is more self-deprecating in tone, motivated by people in authority wanting to appear more relatable, more “in on the joke,” more — dare we say? — human.

“I call them leaders who lighten up,” said Colin Sokolowski, a Shoreview man who makes videos for local people in positions of authority, from school superintendents to priests.

The notion has appealed even to President Obama, who recently appeared on “Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis,” a web talk-show spoof featuring the “Hangover” star. Galifianakis conducts awkward interviews with his guests, the best of whom come off as good sports at the mercy of a rather insolent host.

A recent Time magazine cover story explored “the case for mockery,” with comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele suggesting that the true purpose of humor is to help people “cope with the fears and horrors of the world.”

Sokolowski found a common chord in this quote from their essay: “When a humorist makes the conscious decision to exclude a group from derision, isn’t he or she implying that the members of that group are not capable of self-reflection? A group that’s excluded never gets the opportunity to join in the greater human conversation.”

Keeping pessimism at bay

The video opens with a priest at his desk, forlornly wrapping up a day’s work. Sarah McLachlan’s poignant hit “Angel” plays over the scene. Words appear on the screen: “Every night, countless priests agonize as the dinner hour approaches. They’re waiting for the call. An invitation to dinner … that rarely comes.”

The action follows the priest, the Rev. Phil Rask of St. Odilia Catholic Church in Shoreview, as he knocks on a parishioner’s door to no avail, only to see through a window a rollicking nun dining with the family. Once again, he steers his car into a fast-food drive-through.

When a narrator hugging a dog appears on screen, the significance of McLachlan’s song, used in ads to fight pet abandonment, becomes clear.

“Will you be an angel for a neglected pastor, or associate pastor?” she pleads. “For just a few dollars a dinner. … ” Well, you get the idea. (View the video at http://colinsokolowski.com/humor/)

Sokolowski, a member of St. Odilia’s, made the video for the church’s annual music and talent show. He acknowledges the fine line between being laughed with and laughed at.

“I want people to do this knowing they can get out of this with their dignity intact, but still showing that they have a sense of humor,” he said. “And in the end, we’ve shared this light moment.”

Rask said he didn’t take much convincing.

“It’s been said that one of the crowning works of the devil is a crabby old priest,” he said, chuckling. “I didn’t want to have that kind of reputation.”

Coincidentally, he’d been reading “Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life,” a book by a Jesuit priest, James Martin. “For me, the goal is to have people leave church feeling really good,” he said. “The purpose of humor and laughter is to produce a little optimism when it’s all too easy to be pessimistic.”

Leadership with a rimshot

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