Can the Government Be Funny?

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This topic contains 19 replies, has 16 voices, and was last updated by  Kevin Lanahan 8 years, 10 months ago.

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  • #94898

    Scott Horvath

    Quick question, with I’m sure many comments. Do you think the Government can do things that are considered humorous without being completely ridiculed for wasting taxpayers dollars? For example, April 1st is coming and you usually see private industry participate heavily in April Fools. We’ve also seen NASA post an April Fools picture every year like the Water on Mars picture from 2005. I’m sure there’s other government examples as well.

    Certainly a picture is easy to do, but what about videos, podcasts, web sites, or other content that’s created? Do you think that’s fine? If the April Fools “piece” is done tastefully, and provides some educational benefit on that organization would it be OK? What about if it was done “after hours” so to speak?

    Personally, I think the government can be humorous…we’re not drones…we’re normal people. But is interjecting humor (even once a year) something that you think the public would see as wasteful? Or would they see it as a welcome change, witty, or in the spirit?

    Sound off!

    Disclaimer: This content is of my own opinion and is not endorsed by any government organization.

  • #94936

    Kevin Lanahan

    It really depends on the topic. I don’t want to see a funny IRS page during tax time. But a quick photoshop of a jackalope, or water on Mars, may be OK.

    Any attempt at humor would have to be on more of an “entertainment” page, as opposed to a “regulation” or “statistics” type page, where people are looking for real information. If your agency has that kind of page, go ahead.

  • #94934

    Chris Perez

    It definitely depends on the topic and your target audience. That said, we do love to do silly videos:

    Sometimes humor helps people pay attention. A lot of people love our gravy video…

  • #94932


    Government sites should be entertaining, funny and “cool” and all of the things that draw people in and keep them coming back for more. Use whatever methods work.

    Regulation and statistic pages are rather dull. We are being challenged to make our own sites and portals more relevant, inclusive, etc. and we are seeing an increasing movement towards external platforms – Facebook, twitter, .coms, etc.

    I say use whatever tools/processes you have at your disposal to make your sites more interesting – innovative youtubes, funny flash demos, etc. Go for it!

    I would take it even one step further…if your content isn’t engaging and current, and if you aren’t leveraging state of the art tools and processes, then your site is already obsolete! 🙂

  • #94930

    Bill Bott

    The thing about being funny is it has to be both humorous and fit the situation. A lot of time we see silly things as waste simply because they did not relay the intended message and focused more on the attempt to get a laugh. Hard to be funny at a welfare office… Easier at maybe a DMV… as long as it’s funny and I’m not waiting in line 4 hours.

  • #94928

    Amanda Blount

    There are tons of examples of Government being funny. But, I agree with everyone else, being funny on the main IRS page when people are having a hard time paying their tax bills is not funny, but at another time of year, they could get away with being funny. Just be careful of how other’s would see it. Funny to us, may not seem so funny to the general audience.

    I will give you one last thought on funny; Old Spice is about as not funny as you can imagine. Come on my father wore Old Spice and all their commercials were always about serious goodlooking men doing serious stuff. Nice to look at, but what woman really wants to be with someone who is serious 100% of the time.

    Now look at their commercials – every women in our building is laughing everytime the commercials come on. They are so incredibly silly, but still great! Oh my gosh, I am laughing just thinking about the new commercials. So, yes, we can change from 100% serious all the time (like our father’s Government), to wearing the new Old Spice! We can be funny and get the job done! 🙂

  • #94926

    Cindy Lou Baker

    Uh…YEAH! Check out the Office Nerf Wars. We do this every Friday! Not really but I wish!

  • #94924

    Scott Horvath

    OK, now that was great! I need to work there! 🙂

  • #94922


    Here’s a great slideshare on how to apply game mechanics to software – “Putting the Fun in Functional”:

  • #94920

    Terrence Hill

    I love it! I think it’s cool to have fun and be funny with each other. However, when we are serving the public, they won’t appreciate our humor. Citizens expect the government to take their jobs seriously. The perception would be that if they have time to have fun, they aren’t doing their jobs. We have enough criticism for our incompetence. We don’t want to encourage our critics. So, humor with each other, professional with the public.

  • #94918

    Scott Horvath

    I agree that professional with the public is the way government should typically act. However, there is room for “business casual” as well. If it’s done within the context of what the organization already does…like poking fun at itself…but yet still contains some serious information, I don’t believe the public would mind that.

    And to clarify, we’re not talking about changing something like the IRS homepage, or with a completely “joke” page. You definitely don’t want to mess with what people are trying to accomplish by coming to your site for serious work/business.

  • #94916

    David J. Alexander

    I have tremendous respect for GSA’s Schedule Contract Program. The contracts that GSA issues under the program span many different professional disciplines (for services) and types of products. To keep things organized, each of the different Schedules has a Statement of Work; and each SOW is broken down into sub-parts. In the formative days of the Schedule program, I think that someone with a good sense of humor decided what to call the sub-parts: “Special Item Numbers” (yes, “SINs”). Do you want to obtain a GSA Schedule Contract? Well, which SINs do you want to cover in your proposal. If you are in the government, do you want to obtain services from a contractor that has a GSA Schedule Contract? Well, you guessed it: in which SINs are you interested? I always like telling clients that when pursuing a GSA Schedule Contract they should cover as many SINs as possible.

  • #94914

    Pam Broviak

    Perhaps it is ok depending on the situation as most of the other posts pointed out. But after years of experiencing the public’s criticism of government, I have become somewhat reserved when it comes to being too funny in public. So even though the people I have worked with have always been very creative and funny, we have been careful how we express this in a public setting. Drawing a fish in the water on a set of plans was probably as crazy as we ever got in public.

  • #94912

    Scott Horvath

    Yes, the people are what is funny…100% agreed. And yes, I AM funny 😉 thanks

  • #94910

    Paul Laustsen

    I really enjoyed this discussion, thanks Scott. I am a goofball at heart, but agree with many others here that it is all about public perception. The general public does not come to their government for humor, they come for answers. If they want humor, they go to Comedy Central or watch an episode of Tosh.0.

    We can be funny amongst ourselves, by enjoying the day to day things that bring levity to our lives, like the government acronym soup (I was once on CRAC – civil rights advisory committee) but when we put our public face on, especially where it is documented, I believe we should have the upmost respect for the positions we hold and people we serve by delivering service/information in an unbiased, direct way.

  • #94908

    john klossner

    I would take Bill’s thoughts one step further – maybe humor would be useful in helping people get through a long wait. (That said, nothing is funny enough to make it worth being in line for 4 hours.)

    Also, it is important to remember that a lot of “funny” is based on mannerisms, inflections, timing – all elements that don’t come across well – if at all – in a written or non-personal format. If you’re going to include humor in a gov presentation, you’d better test it out on a few hundred – or thousand – people first. ( Which may end up sucking the humor out of it, anyway.)

  • #94906

    Diana L. Boxey

    I agree, it’s the people behind the government that are funny, not the government itself. Publicly it should be about the work getting done, but one of the greatest benefits of social media for me has been the ability to see the personalities behind government work. It allows you to connect with decision makers in a much more transparent way. Seeing that these perceived ominous government workers are actually very real with a sense of humor makes the ‘government’ as a whole seem less threatening and makes me feel like I too can be involved and can take a more active role in influencing these decisions.

  • #94904


    Absolutely! I have done a newsletter for 12 years. It’s entertaining, it’s enjoyable for me (and my readers) and it helps keep us all sane.

  • #94902

    Jaime Vogt

    There’s a difference between being funny and pulling a prank. I’m all for being funny… but I guess the biggest issue with Government pulling a “prank” would have to be funny to the “Public” which is *er* everyone. And it’s hard to have a prank without getting someone mad. The Water on Mars thing was perfect though….I’m sure there were some people disappointed and angry…
    Wish I could think of something similar for transit…. accepting any ideas you might have. 🙂

  • #94900

    Carol Davison

    People change their behavior when they are impacted emotionally. That is why people can quit smoking or overeating after a heart attack. Otherwise they need many repitations of the same message. This is why I build pathos and humor into my training.

    and I am as serious as a heart attacking at helping my customers succeed.

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