Jokes to a business audience? Humbug!

Cromwell — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy reinforced today that there’s a new tradition at the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce’s annual holiday breakfast: Expect a serious speech reviewing the challenges facing Connecticut, not a comedy roast.

“I don’t do poems,” Malloy said. “I don’t do humor well.”

As was the case a year ago in his first turn as governor before the chamber, Malloy took pains to distance himself from his two Republican predecessors, John G. Rowland and M. Jodi Rell, who took a decidedly lighter approach to their annual holiday speeches.

Malloy talked about the fiscal challenges facing the state, taking care to contrast them with the far deeper projected deficit confronting him when he took office in January 2011. Overall, he gave an upbeat take on the state’s new policies on economic development and education reforms.

“People need to understand where we are trying to take the state,” Malloy said after 20-minute speech to a sold-out audience. “So I exercise those opportunities to share a vision and the mission and the progress as well as the areas we’re slow on. You know, this is an opportunity.”

Starting with Gov. William A. O’Neill in 1989, the holiday breakfast has been an annual stop for every Connecticut governor, a place to reflect on the previous year. This was where Rowland, facing a corruption scandal in 2003, stood by as his wife delivered a parody of “The Night Before Christmas” that attacked the press. In her last year as governor, Rell delivered holiday wishes and zingers to friends and rivals.

Malloy is not above cutting up. He acknowledged the introductory praise of Larry McHugh, the Middlesex chamber president who promote the chamber with the same gusto as he does local businesses, by saying he was here to talk about “Larry’s favorite subject: Larry.”

But to spend 20 minutes cracking jokes? Bah.

“You get a chance to communicate with well over 1,000 business leaders in the state, to waste it by devoting a speech to humor or anything else is just that – it’s a wasted opportunity,” Malloy said.

Fear not. His staff is getting Christmas off.