By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – Is the annual South Boston St. Patrick’s Day breakfast a tradition that has worn out its welcome?

It’s been around in one form or another for close to a century. And once upon a time, the breakfast featured edgy needling and something resembling wit.

But in recent years, groans have outnumbered guffaws. (Just one example: then-candidate Elizabeth Warren’s 2012 swipe at then-Sen. Scott Brown that “one day, he’s a centerfold for Cosmo. The next, he’s the poster boy for Goldman Sachs.”) And calls for re-thinking – or even discarding – the event have become more frequent.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker at St. Patrick’s Day breakfast (WBZ-TV)

We asked South Boston Sen. Nick Collins, the new host of the breakfast, if that was fair criticism. “No,” he said, “but it’s all in the eye of the beholder.”

Jokes that once brought down the house (like Sen. William Bulger’s 1992 reference to then-Gov. Bill Weld’s law enforcement background as including “a citizen’s arrest. He pinched a handicapped person for parking in a regular parking spot”) now run afoul of modern-day sensitivities.

“I think it’s harder to be funny, not be mean, be witty and sharp without being crass,” says Collins. And he acknowledges the partisan elbowing that’s been a staple of breakfast banter for years may not be quite so amusing in this era of harsh party discord.

South Boston Sen. Nick Collins (WBZ-TV)

“For there to be partisanship, particularly in Washington with a federal shutdown that ensues, that’s not something people are looking for,” says Collins.

For many years the breakfast had value as a rare forum where – under the pretext of humor – local politicians told the truth about what they thought of each other. But like the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, it increasingly seems the breakfast has run afoul of cultural changes that make it more of an embarrassment than a traditional pleasure.

Jon Keller

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