ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — It's the kind of seminar that ambitious civil servant Leslie Knope of NBC's "Parks and Recreation" would have circled on her calendar months in advance.
At the annual New Jersey State League of Municipal Governments convention there are seminars on the wonky aspects of government — strategic planning, new traffic safety tools and best practices in infrastructure. But elected officials also presented an event on humor.
And that's no joke.
Panelists said a good one-liner or self-deprecating comment can ease tensions during heated meetings, neutralize political opponents and make officials appear more approachable.
The seminar packed a meeting room at the Atlantic City Convention Center — and even got a few belly laughs out of the attendees. In the bit that got the loudest laugh, Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick looked over the crowd and said he saw the head of the Hoboken Parking Authority.
"I can't imagine what he does," Bramnick said. "Because there's no parking in Hoboken."
Bramnick, who was joined on the panel by Flemington council member and standup comic Joey Novick and Democratic strategist Joshua Henne, said humor can help bridge partisan divides and ease negotiations.
The session, titled "The Power of LOL: Using Humor to Solve Municipal Issues," also focused on the dos and don'ts of using humor in government.
Novick advised local officials to listen twice as hard as they speak, a lesson he learned from his father. Henne, citing Gov. Chris Christie's appearance on the Dave Letterman show in 2013 when he pulled a doughnut from his pocket, said government officials should take a page from his playbook and be self-deprecating.
"The first person you should be making fun of in your humor is yourself," he said. "If you can make fun of yourself you can control the room."
But, Bramnick, who has been involved in comedy since the 1990s when his wife entered him in the "Funniest Lawyer in New York" contest, warned that humor doesn't work in every situation.
Early in his career as a trial lawyer, he said he made a joke he thought was funny but the jury didn't. The lesson is: Know your audience well, he said.
"If you're not funny, don't try to be," he said.