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Family - A Seattle Advertising Agency

This Is What Happens When Laughter Can't Save You

Comedy Writing

The No Refunds Comedy Festival Commercial is Worth Full Price...

I was cornered by a couple duffers straight outta the movie Caddyshack. One was actually called The Judge, and the other looked like trouble. I was executive producing a golf tournament at a members-only country club, but I was far from in control of anything that weekend.

In their opinion, I was a walking dress-code violation, and should be put out. They were blocking my path – one sporting plaid trousers and a shirt that were mismatched, and the other wearing a kilt. It was hard for me to take them seriously, so I brushed by the pair. They threatened to report me, as if that were my biggest worry.

Secretly, I wanted to be thrown out. I don’t remember exactly how I was even tapped for that assignment, but I was clearly in the deep end of the water hazard. You see, I had never played a round of golf in my life, and didn’t understand the game that well. The next day my hopes almost came true.

Again at the clubhouse, I was in clear violation of the dress code. I had little time to sleep, let alone shop for a blazer and khakis. After working 12 hours in the hot sun trying to stay one step ahead of the cameras and crew, I was exhausted. Within moments, there they were: my two new friends. The Judge and his sidekick were waiting for me with a club official. She had a clipboard and everything.

I assured the official I’d show up with proper attire the next day (the last day of the tournament). As the crew swarmed me with urgent questions, my answer appeased the official, which sent The Judge into a tizzy.

The final day, I snuck onto the course in one of our production trucks. And, clearly in violation of the dress code again, I skipped to a waiting golf cart and set up the crew over my cellphone. All day I had one eye peeled for The Judge and his cronies. Sure enough, he found me on the 18th green – the last hole of the tournament.

And he was smashed! After he drank mint juleps all day, I was suddenly his best friend. He introduced me to everyone in the crowd, all of whom were also staggering drunk. One of them told me I was in violation of the dress code. This started everyone laughing so loud that a tournament official had to hold up play until they calmed down.

A lot of whiskey and a little laugher; that combo will heal many wounds. But in this spot, laughter isn’t the best medicine.

The commercial, “Emergency Hospital,” from the agency Cossette, is filled with every television-emergency-room cliché in the book. There is the driving music, frantic handheld camera work and caregivers barking orders. Lay that against a parallel universe where humor is used as an actual medical treatment and you have one of the funniest commercials of the year.

It’s Better than Funny

A clever promo for the No Refunds Comedy Festival, this spot is a home run. It touches all the bases: script, execution and delivery. You need to watch it a few times to appreciate just how good it is.

It’s riddled with great exchanges, like the nurse, “…five minutes on airline food, unresponsive.” The doctor, “Jesus.” Or the paramedic, “What about improv?” The nurse delivering the line deadpan, “Improv’s not funny.”

Raising the Stakes

The execution and acting are solid. The talent plays the absurd premise as straight as a prime-time medical drama. But it’s the writing… it’s excellent. This could have been nothing more than cycling through a string of chucklers, but instead, the writer decided to weave escalating tension into the storyline.

Lines like the nurse interjecting, “We don’t have time for a setup. We’re losing him” are not only funny; they also ratchet up the stakes. Their growing desperation forces the medical team to use humor that’s more and more remedial. The second time the doctor says, “Knock-knock,” I was on the floor. By the fourth time, I almost died myself.

Sticking the Dismount

In the end, the string of comedic tropes could have brought the patient back to life. But then we wouldn’t have the great line from the nurse, “Tough crowd.” I couldn’t imagine how to make this promo any better.

Making the absurd serious or the serious absurd is a classic comedic tool. But the details, smart choices and wonderful attention to craft make this spot special.

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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