Flapjacks And Flops: Why The Jokes At The St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast Were Beside The Point

To read some reviews of Boston’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast, the event was a flop, primarily because of the jokes.

This was the first year I attended, so maybe I’m a little naive, but I thought it was a great, uplifting and fun affair.

As a comedian, I am a little biased toward people who have the courage to take the stage and attempt to be funny. It is not an easy thing to do. It takes time and effort and lots of practice to get a routine down so you know it by heart and can deliver it with confidence.

I’ve been performing for more than 30 years, and I get nervous just about every time I go on stage, especially when I’m doing material for the first time — it’s torture. The words rarely come out right at the outset. It usually takes dozens of sets — working the same premise, adjusting a little or a lot — to get the bit working tight and strong so it delivers predictable laughs. There is both an art and a science to stand-up comedy.

The elected officials performing at the breakfast are not professional comics or joke writers, so of course not all of their material worked. By the same token, if 20 comedians tried to run the state of Massachusetts, that probably wouldn’t work, either.

But to judge the breakfast by the quality of the jokes is to miss the larger spirit of the occasion: It is about fun, community spirit, political friends and rivals sharing the stage and sharing the laughs.

True, some of the jokes bombed. So what! After a year of ISIS, Ebola, Ferguson and eight feet of snow, it was inspiring just to see blacks, whites, gays, straights, veterans and police officers without guns, riot gear, down jackets or germ-proof space suits on.

Who cares if the level of comedy was not that of Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert? It’s “open mic,” not “The Tonight Show.”

In what other city in the country can you see a governor, a mayor, two U.S. senators, a congressman and the vice president of the United States (albeit by phone) sharing the stage while delivering jokes, telling stories, bestowing blessings and hitting “play” on videos?

It was beautiful!

How often do elected officials, working in the fishbowl of public life, get to publicly enjoy themselves in the company of their peers and constituents? How often are they free to fail publicly?

To listen to Gov. Charlie Baker’s moving tribute to the people and veterans of South Boston, who created the first Vietnam Memorial in America, then later see him laughing hysterically at Senate President Stan Rosenberg’s story and poem about the missing fisherman was beyond hilarious, it was redemptive.

Speaker Bob DeLeo/Steve Sweeney St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast, Boston 2015

Speaker Robert DeLeo’s self-deprecating video of being coached on “how to be Irish” by Steve Sweeney was as original and as funny as anything on Comedy Central or “Saturday Night Live.”

Maura Healy, the first openly gay attorney general, was heartfelt in discussing what the freedom to march in the St Patrick’s Day Parade meant to her and her community. Hers was an important, moving and long overdue moment after some 20 years of controversy.

To see Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins, who grew up in a single-parent home on public assistance in Harlem, singing the praises of Haitian-American state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry, the breakfast host and star of the event, as the tenacious fighter for the underdog that she is, says volumes about the greater significance and spirit of the St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast and the city of Boston.

Jamaica Plain state Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, whose parents hail from the Dominican Republic, got the biggest and loudest reception of the day with a Spanish rendition of “Danny Boy.” The place went crazy for his Pavarotti-like voice and spellbinding interpretation.

Both Sanchez’s performance and the thunderous ovation it received made for a perfect milestone to a very long story of racial prejudice that taints Boston’s history. This is a city that was cursed with the poison, fear, animosity and tension — not unlike what afflicts Ferguson today — from the 1970s through the 1980s. That curse, like the curse of the Bambino, has been lifted.

In the end, the jokes don’t matter  .

The Saint Patrick’s Day Breakfast, like the city of Boston and the United States of America, is about progress, not perfection.

Long live the breakfast.