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Adrian Walker

Meal of ham, side of heart

By Adrian Walker
Globe Columnist / March 21, 2011

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Scott Brown was in his element yesterday at the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast in South Boston, making fun of his fellow politicians, many of whom are still slack-jawed at his instant celebrity.

Few targets were spared — not fellow members of Congress, nor the governor, nor House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who was ribbed over his supposed plans to ride a car in the parade down Broadway later in the day.

“This is the only parade in the country that the speaker gets to ride in a car for which the previous speaker actually made the license plates,’’ Brown said.

That might have been the highlight of the supposed yukfest that is the much beloved annual breakfast.

The venue has changed over the years but the take-no-prisoners spirit was intact, along with a healthy dose of local flavor.

Predictably, the punching bag-in-chief was Governor Deval Patrick, who came in for bipartisan ribbing about his recent trade mission — some called it “spring break’’ — to Israel and England.

“He’s relaxed and rested and even sporting a new tan,’’ said state Senator Jack Hart, who hosted the event.

For his part, Brown pulled a cellphone out of a bag and presented it to Patrick as a gag gift. He said the number for Fidelity Investments had been programmed into it — complete with country code — so the governor would not have to be in the dark the next time jobs were leaving the state.

Ba dum!

Mayor Thomas M. Menino kicked off his presentation with a video portraying him as a surgically repaired Bionic Man, and made a few quips about his longevity in office. (This would turn out to be a recurring theme of the political comics.) The video was funnier than the speech — he seemed to miss the setup to a couple of his punch lines — but no matter.

“The key is to get up and do two or three [jokes] and get out because you’re not that funny,’’ said Menino, a veteran of many breakfasts. “There’s very few funny guys in this business anymore.’’

The senator from South Boston hosts the breakfast, and Hart, who struggled in his first years in the role, was fine. But DeLeo bombed. Suzanne Bump bombed. Steve Grossman semi-bombed. Even Steve Lynch, who gracefully hosted the breakfast during his days as a state senator, seemed like he couldn’t wait to wrap up his monologue. It’s hard to blame any of them. Who else does stand-up comedy once a year?

It’s easy to mock the breakfast as a tired idea ready to be put out of its misery. Which, in fact, I have. But actually, there’s something bracing about seeing powerful politicians expose themselves to ridicule. It’s humanizing, if not always hilarious.

Hart seemed determined to pump up the local color this year. There was a heartfelt speech about the 30th anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in the neighborhood, coming up later this year.

There were multiple tributes to Tom Butler, the recently departed neighborhood legend who served for years as the voice of aggrieved residents as a manager at Massport. Hart’s daughters and nieces even performed an Irish stepdance. In a break from the uneven humor, the renowned Irish tenor Ronan Tynan performed three songs, including “God Bless America.’’

Patrick quipped that he has to appear at the breakfast only three more times, sounding relieved. But — after apologizing for adapting a Scottish song for a St. Patrick’s Day event — he surprised the crowd by belting out a song to the tune of “Danny Boy.’’

His ditty featured numerous barbs lobbed in the direction of DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray. He was a little hoarse, but let the record show that he hit the high notes.

A good time was had by all.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at awalker@globe.com.