The Worst Laugh is at The Back of The Room
"An egg is funny, an orange is not." - Fred Allen
One of the most painful things you can ever see is a comic bombing. It is like watching somebody else being kicked in the balls but somehow you feel the pain. This was happening to me about a week ago.
It was late at the comedy club. There is a beautiful, opaque, intoxicating sadness about a comedy club. Comics loudly telling stories about past glories. Human beings trying to withstand it all by making other human beings laugh. A boulevard of broken dreams that occasionally glitters so brightly, you are willing to keep walking as the rain falls.
The comic I was watching had been on for a very long nine minutes. He had another six to go. This was when he got his first laugh. It was from the other comics at the back of the room. It was both brutal and merciful. Sort of like having to shoot your horse after it had stumbled into a ravine only a mile from reaching home. At night. And it's snowing.
An hour earlier, I had watched a great comic in action. Jim Gaffigan. He did an hour. He had the audience in the palm of his hand. He took mundane subjects and made them funny because of his perspective. He has his own voice. He was specific and that's why he connected.
It was hard not to think of the two comics major differences after seeing them straight after each other. Why one worked and one didn't. It was also hard not to think of which one is more like our approach in advertising. Of course, we don't have the luxury of saying whatever we want in our business. However, it struck me that the greatest advertising in the world is normally idiosyncratic and specific. It has a perspective. A point of view. Whether you like Cadbury Gorilla, Fearless Girl, Volvo's Epic Split etc there is a strong point of view that gives the work value. And just as importantly, there is a level of craft in the way it is executed that makes it bold, fresh and brave.
This may seem obvious but the reality is the vast amount of advertising does not follow this path. It is often generic and inoffensive. And forgettable.
The advertising process is often about trying to do something everybody will like. It is often a form of risk management. Great advertising is about doing something people will love. The name of the gap between like and love is risk.
Lately, we have been trying to bridge that gap with personalisation, data and information. Relevance is the word you hear a lot in terms of placement. But hardly ever about execution.
A recent stat that came out of America is that 66% of adults don't want advertising that is tailored to their interests. And when researchers explained how adtech can target ads to them that number hit 80%.
It is a complicated world. On the one hand, if you are generic, you are often forgettable. If you are highly targeted, you are unwelcome and thought of as a little creepy.
However, if you go to a comedy club and watch a great comic, the answer becomes a little clearer.
For a comic to reach an audience and really connect they have to be specific. To be specific, they have to take a risk to get any reward. It can't just be accurate information, or relevance, there has to be a leap made of hard earned skill and perspective. They have to give the audience something of value and the audience will give the comic their most valuable possession. Their time. This is an exchange that will never change.
Otherwise, the only laughs will be from the back of the room.
And they are not real.