(Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
Sunday will mark Jack Hart's 10th year contending with what he calls "the privilege, and some would say, the burden," of hosting the St. Patrick's Day Breakfast, a responsibility that always falls on the state senator representing South Boston. The event, which started out decades ago as a political roast, but has since branched out to become a variety show broadcast across New England. Your Town caught up with Hart as he got ready for the big show:
Q. When do you start preparing for the breakfast?
A. I might be the only person on earth who wakes up the day after Christmas and starts thinking about it. Because it's a television production as well as an event that takes place at the convention center, where a thousand people may show up, we have to start working on the logistics right away.
The logistics come first, but certainly I'm always on the lookout for humorous material. For one day out of the year, people have an opportunity to see their elected officials in a role they don't ordinarily see them in. And it's a day for all of us to be less serious for a day and poke fun at ourselves as well.
Q. I don't want you to give away your material, but what current events will serve as joke fodder this year?
A. We'll poke fun at ourselves. There's been some difficulty in politics these days. There's a lot of anger out there over, you know, certain people going to jail, who were in elected office. That's something people might take advantage of. The governor going on vacation. … I think he's doing a good job, trying to promote business opportunities abroad, but I'm sure someone will try to poke fun at that. This winter and the extraordinary amount of snow we've had is something I'm sure people will take advantage of as well. ...
The best humor comes from current events. We hope that over the course of the weeks prior to the breakfast, that something will happen that we can poke fun at, or that we can poke fun at ourselves. … Controversy makes good humor. That’s not what we're hoping for, necessarily, but that's what we're trying to take advantage of.
Q. Is it difficult to bridge the gap between generations in the audience?
A. Yes, it is, because it all changed around 1980, when cable television came into the picture and it went from a backroom closed event where people could be a little more racy in their humor, to a television event for the family that came right into people's living rooms with local access on cable. We try to cater to the traditional piece of the breakfast; we're doing a roast. By the same token, I have four daughters, the oldest is 14, and I want to appeal to that segment of the population as well. We've had younger singing groups, like the Dropkick Murphys and Celtic Thunder in past years, so we're always thinking about how to cater to the younger crowd as well.
Q. Has attendance been pretty steady over the years?
A. When it first started, it was at a restaurant called Dorgan's in South Boston, which was relatively small. Then it shifted to the Bayside Club, where they would pack the room, but it only held a couple hundred people, who were packed in like sardines. So, based on fire laws, especially after the Station fire [in Rhode Island] … we moved to the convention center, where we seat about 450 people, and about 400-500 come and stand and watch the breakfast take place.
Q. The step dancers who are performing at the event are related to you.
A. I have four daughters that are step dancers and my sister has triplets. So the seven of them will perform. I brought that in when I first took over, to add a little bit of Irish culture to the event. One of the girls, my niece, Shannon Woods, is going to the world championships in Ireland a few weeks after the breakfast.
I look at it as a political roast, but also a variety show. We have Ronan Tynan, the Irish tenor, coming in to sing. We have the Irish step dancers. We sing maybe 10 Irish songs over the course of the broadcast. So, we add a little bit of flavor to the event, and it seems to work. It's better than having politicians stand up there and try to tell to tell jokes for two and a half hours.
Q. What's the most unusual thing you've seen happen at one of these?
A. My first year hosting it, I was expecting a call from the White House, but I was told President Bush would be unavailable, so I was expecting a call from [Chief of Staff] Andy Card, who had been to the breakfast when he was a legislator in Massachusetts. And he got on the phone—at first I wasn't sure if it was him or one of his handlers—and then he said, "Hold on, someone wants to speak with you," and lo and behold the president was on the line.
And it wasn't that I was unprepared, but I was certainly surprised by it. And two things happened to me. One was, I realized I was speaking by telephone, on television, with the president of the United States. And the second thing I thought to myself for a moment was, "Geez, what am I going to say to the guy?"
He did pretty well. He said he wished he could have been there. I told him that I'd love to march down Broadway with him, and he said, "I don't know if you'd really want to do that, Senator, you might lose a ton of votes." Presidents have called before, but that time was certainly unexpected.
The other good story worth mentioning is from back when it was at the Iron Workers Hall, where they literally had no aisle space. We used to pass plates down to feed people, and you couldn't get up to go to the bathroom, that's how packed it was in there. Once you sat down you really couldn't get up. And one guy had to go to the bathroom so badly—and he was a fairly large fellow—that he got up, stood on the table, and actually walked the length of the hall on the table in the middle of the broadcast. Nobody knew what he was doing at first, but we figured it out what was happening. He walked the length of the hall on top of the tables, trying to dodge all the corned beef and hash, just to go to the bathroom.
Q. Speaking of corned beef: Is the menu always the same every year?
A. We changed it up, because it's a breakfast. The first couple years that we hosted it, we served corned beef and cabbage at 10 o'clock in the morning, and then we realized that not everybody was eating the corned beef and cabbage. So, we switched it to eggs and corned beef hash. So, it's still somewhat Irish.
… It's the culmination of a month's worth of St. Patrick's Day activities that we attend, starting the last Saturday in February. We we not only celebrate St. Patrick's Day, but also the Evacuation Day history that we have here in Boston. So, we've been eating corned beef for over a month now. This is really the culmination, and we hope that people enjoy it as much as they can.
E-mail Cara Bayles at firstname.lastname@example.org.