During a GOP presidential debate on Wednesday, Nov. 9, Rick Perry claimed that, if elected, he will eliminate three federal agencies—but then struggled to name all three. "Commerce, Education and the—what's the third one there?" he fumbled. Perry's response to the mockery that followed: a newly scheduled appearance on CBS' Late Show with David Letterman. Perry will read the Top 10 list on the Nov. 10 episode, and you can be sure he's going to be the butt of his own jokes.
He's also tried to make light of his blunder by asking his supporters to go to his campaign Web site and select the part of the federal government they would like to forget about the most.
Perry is employing a tactic that has been used before to great effect by politicians who have been fodder for humorists, comics and the press: becoming part of the joke and thus humanizing themselves. During the 1968 presidential election, Richard Nixon appeared on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In and asked, "Sock it, to me?" More recently, during the 2008 presidential election, Sarah Palin appeared on Saturday Night Live and provided a mirror image to Tina Fey's brutal Palin impression.
If Perry can do a decent job reading the Top 10 list on the Late Show, he could give himself a serious boost in the polls. Self-deprecating humor is an underused tool by leaders of all stripes, and CEOs should not fear it. It's about as authentic as communication can get.