Ben Sasse, Senator from Nebraska, delivered a shockingly terrible and exceptionally offensive commencement address to the students of Fremont Public School last week.
In the span of just seven minutes, he managed to disparage teachers, attack the entire mental health profession, imply that graduating students are fat and lazy, and criticize China’s management of the coronavirus.
While it might be true that China has mismanaged this crisis, Sasse’s comments were not only inappropriate in a high school graduation speech, but Sasse is a Republican who has supported Donald Trump’s catastrophic management the coronavirus in this country as well. Sasse said nothing as Trump referred to the coronavirus as a hoax, assured Americans repeatedly that COVID-19 cases would be down to zero by mid-March, insisted repeatedly that the virus would “magically go away” with the April heat, and proposed the use of dangerous, untested drugs, household cleaners, and UV light to cure infected Americans.
He has continued to remain silent as the United States has taken the lead in coronavirus cases despite our test-per-capita numbers remaining abysmally low in comparison to other nations around the world. Nationwide testing and tracing remains nonexistent and the United States, and Trump is now violating his own guidelines for states to reopen, ignoring the 10th Amendment and insisting that houses of worship open this weekend even though tens of thousands of cases of COVID-19 and hundreds of deaths have been traced to religious gatherings in March.
Still, Ben Sasse says nothing.
A serious glass house and stone situation.
Sasse was so bad that a school board member for Fremont Public Schools demanded that Sen. Ben Sasse apologize for his “despicable” speech.
The reason that Sasse failed so spectacularly is simple:
He isn’t funny.
Sasse built a speech almost entirely on jokes (a mistake), then he assumed that his jokes were landing with his audience. Unfortunately, he was speaking on a video-conferencing platform, so he had no way of knowing that his jokes were humorless, off-putting, and inappropriate for the occasion.
It was a combination of Sasse’s inability to be funny and the lack of audience feedback that doomed him.
Plus the fact that he stupidly politicized a high school commencement address with repeated attacks on China.
Had I been advising Sasse on his speech, my advice would have been simple:
You can try to be funny, but every joke must also drive your narrative forward, so that when a joke doesn’t land, the words still serve the speech.
I’m crafting a story right now for a performance tomorrow night. I’m hoping to inject a great deal of humor into the story, but since the story is being recorded in my living room for airing on television at a later date, I have no idea how the humor will be well received by my future audience.
The lack of audience feedback prevents me from adjusting in the moment.
Therefore, my humor must serve the story. When a sentence that I intend to be funny doesn’t land, it must also drive the story forward in some way, so the failed humor does not feel stupid or pointless.
No humor for humor sake.
Sasse would have been wise to follow this rule.
In the end, I think Sasse probably failed because he didn’t consider the needs of others and probably didn’t take the time to solicit feedback on his speech.
Either that or he’s surrounded by sycophants.
Ben Sasse tried to be a comedian instead of a United States Senator. He cracked jokes instead of delivering a memorable, moving, and possibly amusing speech to a class of high school graduates who have just suffered through three of the worst months of their lives.
He was, in short, a jerk.
Those graduates deserved a lot better.