How to Abuse Words to Make Them Infinitely Funnier
Why Comedy Is the Most Effective Way to Advertise
Storm clouds were forming over the set. Actual storm clouds; this is not a metaphor. Two months before, I’d been tapped to direct a commercial for a national phone company. At the time we hatched the concept for shooting everything outside, it was the rainy season in Seattle. You know – every day between October and May. So I explained to the agency that we needed to shoot someplace with guaranteed sunshine. Without a tussle, the client agreed to the added expense and off we went to shoot in the consistent sunshine of San Diego.
I was wielding a small army. We had streets blocked off, police, simulated traffic, actors and about 50 extras, not to mention the equipment and crew to capture all of it. It was lunchtime on the last day of the shoot when a ferocious thunderstorm rumbled toward shore. My client pointed to the dark clouds on the horizon and looked at me like, “Shooting in San Diego was your idea.”
Sometimes you just can’t picture it until it’s right in front of you – hurling lightning bolts and spitting rain, for example. And some great scripts are the same way. Imagine emailing your client the script for the Bud Light commercial: “Dude.”
Most people wouldn’t see the humor in the word “dude” by simply reading it over and over down the page. They need to see it come to life. There’re so many examples that come to mind. For instance, the controversial Kmart classic, “Ship My Pants.” On the page, not so funny. Acted out: hilarious.
Be it a malapropism, pun or whatever manner of wordplay you audible to, if you’re daring enough to mangle the English language, it’s gonna take sum ’splainin. Anyone remember the Saturday Night Live sketch “Schweddy Balls?”
A more recent example would be T-Mobile’s “Daughter’s Itchy Head.”
I could just imagine someone reviewing the script and asking if that’s a typo, because “fleas” would make more sense. Being clear is important. But being funny is clearly differentiating. And in the derivative world of advertising, being different is better than being better – to borrow a phrase. Is this type of humor a heavier lift? Sure. But what in this world worth having, isn’t?
Later that night at the wrap party in San Diego, the client was clearly happy while most of the crew were wringing wet. We finished shooting mere minutes before the downpour arrived. Sometimes you get lucky. Unless of course you were the crew that day, who had to wrap in a driving rain. At least they had a sense of humor about it. Someone found Albert Hammond on the jukebox, and the entire bar shouted out the chorus to his hit, “It Never Rains in Southern California.” Hammond was right. It pours. Man, it pours.
Mike Johnston is a production executive and advertising creative in Seattle. He is available for freelance consulting, writing and directing. Contact Mike.
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