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Funny business by Nancy Kolsti
Fall 2005      


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Dumb mistakes

The Comedy Wire

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Nine dumb mistakes people make again and again

Nine Hallmarks book cover

While searching for his big break as a comedy writer, Pat Reeder ('80) worked several years in corporate communications. His wife, Laura Ainsworth, also wrote everything from video training programs to commercial jingles.

After the two went to work for the Morning Punch radio comedy service, and eventually opened their service, the Comedy Wire, "we'd see stories in the news about people doing incredibly stupid things that we had seen firsthand in the corporate world," Reeder says.

In 2002, they gathered many of those stories and published a collection, Nine Hallmarks of Highly Incompetent Losers. The book includes a foreword by Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Comedy Wire fan.

"He had seen a page of Comedy Wire at a radio station while doing an interview and asked to subscribe," Reeder says. "I put him on a list of friends who receive it for fun but aren't using it for commercial purposes."

The hallmarks

The nine hallmarks, illustrated by the outrageous-but-true stories, are:

1. Never plan ahead

2. Lose sight of your goal

3. Don't sweat the details

4. Don't communicate clearly

5. Work while drunk or high

6. Call undue attention to yourself

7. Lose your cool

8. Claim talents you don't have

9. Bend over too far backward

Reeder and Ainsworth claim that while they cannot tell readers the secret to success, they can tell the secrets to failure.

"Once you know exactly how to fail, it is much easier to avoid failure," Reeder says.

Having an off day

The stories in the collection include tidbits about:

  • Washington, D.C., education officials who paid $41,000 to put banner ads on 75 buses reading "Go To Class. It' a Blast" — and not catching the error until the superintendent pointed it out.

  • Two masked robbers in Chicago's Shedd Aquarium who were easily apprehended after one was identified as an employee who had just clocked out for the day — because patrons identified his voice and the clothes he had been wearing at
    work. (He did remember to remove his work name tag.)

  • A man and his three children who entered a room in a Birmingham, England, museum that looked like an office, and ate a pack of mints sitting on a desk. They actually ate part of an exhibit — the office room was "installation artwork."

Reeder gives a humorous presentation based on the book for corporate, charity and civic groups. Profits from copies of Nine Hallmarks that are sold at charity appearances are donated to the hosts' cause, Reeder says.

The book isn't intended to poke fun at more serious self-help books. Nor does Reeder mean to imply that the people in the actual news stories mentioned in the book are "genuinely hopeless losers."

"More likely, these are just ordinary folks who had an off day, or week, or year. They made a simple, all-too-human mistake and some meddling busybody alerted the media. What can one do but laugh? And, of course, learn from it," he says.



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