From the March 2011 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

March 1, 2011

Are You Serious?

America has lost her sense of humor. I finally realized it. Granted, these past years have been pretty serious but, as one of our country’s most beloved prophets (Jon Stewart) recently said, “We live now in hard times, not end times.”

Many of you may not even remember the Washington D.C. rally last October, hosted by Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. It was called The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. About 150,000 citizens gathered in our nation’s capital to hear a serious message from two people who, quite frankly, a few hundred years ago would have been referred to as the village idiots.

In a nutshell, Stewart was warning us that, from where he stood, society appeared to be getting a little out of control. To me, when a comedian of Stewart’s stature departs from potty humor to try and get across a serious message… he has my attention.

Specifically, he was referring to what he saw as an increased level of malice and hatred being exhibited by not only our political leaders, but also society as a whole. In my eyes, Stewart was telling us to relax and remember that we’re all in this together. We can have differences of opinions without hating those with whom we differ.
Ever since man started living together, there have been people like Mr. Stewart. They were called village idiots, court jesters, class clowns and comedians. Their job in society was to observe and entertain. The great ones found ways to poke fun at the obvious and make sure we didn’t take ourselves too seriously. The bad ones got their heads chopped off.

Every culture and community has one of these people. I am mentioning this because up until recently, I kind of fancied myself as the village idiot of the financial advisory world. Not that I think I’m funny, I’m just funnier than financial advisors (not a very high bar, I know).

At one conference a few years ago, I made the mistake of mentioning to the CEO of a broker-dealer that I used to do stand-up comedy. The CEO, not to be outdone, felt obligated to tell me a joke. After about a half-hour later and seconds before the much anticipated punch line, he says, “Damn, I forgot. I need a deck of cards.”
With that kind of competition, I knew my place in the industry was secure. Until last month, that is. A new reader to this column sent in a complaint e-mail to my editor and cancelled her subscription because of something I wrote. Me, the village idiot.

My shame here lies not in being the idiot, but in the reader not knowing I am the idiot. She read my column and thought I was being serious. Ouch. It’s kind of like the tree falling in the woods analogy… If I have to tell you I am funny, am I really funny?

Has America really lost her sense of humor? I don’t think so. I think she just forgot about it for a little while. Once Stewart gets back to the potty humor, we should all be fine.

In the meantime, I pledge to keep doing my part for financial advisors everywhere. I will continue to poke fun at the financial industry, even if I’m the only one that knows it. I promise to continue being occasionally amusing until my compliance department figures out where I’m hiding. Seriously.

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