“Laughing Matters” as less is more

by | Jan 3, 2012 | Blog | 0 comments

“Less is more. You’ve got to lose the razzle dazzle to send the clearest message from your heart.”

“Cut the details out; it’s all about subtraction.”

“Don’t hide the family skeleton; teach it how to dance.”

Sage advice for leaders or anyone who wants to communicate more clearly and credibly while presenting one’s “authentic self.”

I remembered these words of wisdom while pulling together my upcoming webinar Communicating with Tact, Credibility and Influence, sponsored by the Center for Competitive Management. (You’re welcome to join me by registering here for either the live session on Friday, Jan. 13 at 8 am PT, 11 am ET or the recording.)

These pithy sentences are song lyrics from Howard Crabtree’s Whoop-Dee-Doo!, the award-winning 1993 Off-Broadway musical review.

This almost 20-year old camp show featured extravagant costumes, silly situations and exceptional songs with great life and leadership lessons. (For example, the operatic diva Vivian McVanish leads invisible dancers from the Claude Rains Memorial Dance Troupe in her big number, “Teach It How to Dance.”  The “It” is the family skeleton. “Don’t hide from your faults; say ‘I hear a waltz’,” she sings.)

The songwriter (both lyrics and music) for Teach It How to Dance was the late Dick Gallagher, a close friend from our college days at Northwestern University. Dick and I lived in the same dorm, and later nestled in adjacent neighborhoods in New York City. (By the way, authors Ori Brafman and Rom Brofman write about how physical proximity can help people connect in their book Click: The Forces Behind How We Fully Engage with People, Work, and Everything We Do. That certainly explains the start of our friendship. I was always in total awe of Dick’s talent.)

Seven years after his death this month, I wonder how Dick, also the composer of “Torch Song #1 (Newt),” “Torch Song #2 (Strom),” and “Torch Song #3 (Rush)” would be reacting to Newt Gingrich’s presidential candidacy.

This trio of songs with lyrics by Mark Waldrop is the running gag in their 1996 award-winning show, Howard Crabtree’s When Pigs Fly. The actor Jay Rogers, dressed in a white dinner jacket, sang of his unrequited love for Newt Gingrich, the late Strom Thurmond and Rush Limbaugh. (My favorite line of the trilogy is about Strom. “To me you’re classic/When I’m asked your age/I say Jurassic.”

Back in ’96, Newt was the Speaker of the House (or “that speaker of that house of ill repute” as Jay crooned.) Yet, the rest of the lyrics are remarkably contemporary. (For example, “You look so Newtonian in your statesman drag—like 10 pounds of bologna in a 6-pound bag,” which you can listen to on this YouTube video.)

Although Dick was a classically trained pianist specializing in Chopin’s works, he was an astute observer of and contributor to popular culture, which shows the value of working across different domains. And I certainly learned leadership communication lessons from him.

Thank you, Dick. I miss you so, and I still try to follow your other advice, “Keep your humor please,” as you and Mark poignantly wrote in your song, “Laughing Matters.”

How will you keep your humor in 2012?


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