Tuesday, March 3, 2020

It’s funny. And that’s ok.

The other day I heard a joke, a bad one, but it made me laugh.

A joke isn’t a novel or a canvas or a 17-hour mini-series. It’s a joke. Most jokes take less than a minute to tell, they get a snort or a chuck, occasionally a guffaw, and then, for the most part, they’re forgotten.

With the joke I heard the other day, that’s a good thing.

You won’t find it in the Shecky Weinstock Comedy Hall of Fame.

You won’t find it on a bronze plaque and up on a pedestal.

It's more Catskills 1954 than Bushwick 2020. It is resolutely uncool.

But like I said, it made me laugh.

And with the world burning up, blowing up, fascisting up, or virusing itself nearer to death seemingly every minute, a laugh, even a dumb, ephemeral and inconsequential laugh is a good thing.

Of all the changes I’ve seen in my 36 years of advertising and my 62 on this not-so-green orb, the biggest is that gravity seems to have increased five or ten fold.

In meetings today, even internal meetings, we’re told and trained to be serious. We’re told that what we do is so expensive and so damned important and so consequentially consequential that we dare not bring the slightest bit of levity into the room.

We're pompous. Ponderous. Bombastic. And oh so self-important.

This tightness and brow-furrowing intensity has cost our business and our work its creativity. My two cents says we think too much, we worry too much, we question and critique too much. 

And we laugh too little.

If you’re playing the violin or piano, you have to be loose. Same if you’re swatting a baseball or a tennis ball. Same if you’re painting a canvas.

But in advertising, we grip our sphincters like a holding company grabs a dividend check. We puff our chests out and act like the 194-page deck we’re creating on new oat-oat-oatier Cheerios is the Sistine Chapel of breakfast cerals. Or the :30-seconds of film we’re hoping to shoot on new more streak-free dishwashing detergent is Citizen Kane.


You just hope someone will notice something.

Feel good about what you’re selling.

And maybe remember your name.

If you think advertising can do much more than that, you’re tilting at windmills. Which won’t work out any better for you than it did for Don Quixote. And he died from a fever, forever spurned.

I’m not suggesting that people should spend their days goofing around.

But I am suggesting that with all the aches and pains in the world and at work, maybe a joke now and again, even in front of a client, even a big serious one, couldn’t hurt.

I make this assertion with some confidence.

Every time I watch TV, the ads I see are so devoid of real humanity or anything that passes for real emotion, whether it’s laughter or tears, that it seems everything that’s produced has been produced by machines for machines, as opposed to by humans for humans.

Two of my favorite movie directors directed comedies: Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder. Each of them wrote a set of rules for making a good movie. I’m not going to print them all here. Just one rule from each of them.

First from Sturges, his 11th of 11 rules:

“A pratfall is better than anything.”

And then from Wilder, rule seven of his 10:

“A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They'll love you forever.”

So, don’t be afraid to be silly. People like to laugh.

And don’t forget that your audience is smart. They like to think.

And that brings me to this:

In Jamaica, an apple pie costs $22.
In Anguilla, a blueberry pie costs $17.
In Barbados, a pecan pie costs $14.

And those, dear readers, are the pie rates of the Caribbean.

No comments: