The three modes of politics these days seem to be sanctimony, outrage and sanctimonious outrage — much of it delivered with all the dramatic skill of high school Shakespeareans.

So it was refreshing to see Minnesota politicos turn to humor Friday night at the annual fundraiser for the nonprofit news outlet MinnPost, offering an evening of libations, satire and a bit of song-and-dance.

“I can’t sing or dance. I’m a Republican,” deadpanned U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, who good-naturedly came to the State Theatre in downtown Minneapolis and charmed the crowd — few of whom share his political views.

Humor is one of best tools a politico can use — get a crowd laughing and you’ve got them in your hand. With the release of those feel-good brain chemicals, they’ll be more likely to feel like you’re in it together.

Self-deprecating humor is especially effective. President Ronald Reagan probably finished off Minnesota’s own Vice President Walter Mondale in a 1984 presidential debate when he quipped, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

In the years I covered former Gov. Mark Dayton, I don’t remember him ever doing a political event without a self-deprecating joke. No matter how hostile the crowd, it was always a winner. Nothing annoys the public more than a self-important politician, and Dayton knew it.

Gov. Tim Walz took the same approach Friday night, and while his team may not be on its way to Saturday Night Live, they competently skewered their own foibles in their first months on the job. Their video parodied Walz’s relentless — or tiresome, depending on your perspective — “One Minnesota” messaging, the cool reception to his tax and spending plans and his habit of spitting out words like an “as seen on TV” Salad Shooter.

Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan — who later sang a satirical version of the hit Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper song “Shallow” — mocked their own campaign uniform of buffalo plaid flannel shirts. (As state Sen. Karin Housley joked, “What Democrats wear when they want to look like Republicans.”)

Walz and Flanagan arrived on stage in matching buffalo plaid, he in a suit and she in a dress. The crowd loved it.

But playing to a friendly crowd is easier. Emmer — a hail-fellow-well-met from the deeply red Sixth Congressional District — had a tougher task and performed ably, poking fun at his foes, his party and himself.

On his recent rise to chair of the GOP’s congressional campaign arm: “Our members were looking for some diversity in our leadership group.” (Hint: He’s a white man.) On the challenges of his new job: “Have you ever met Steve King?”

Emmer closed with simple but profound words: “At the end of the day we’re all Minnesotans, and we need to learn to live together and succeed together.”

 

J. Patrick Coolican 651-925-5042 Twitter: @jpcoolican patrick.coolican@startribune.com