Two years into my ad career i found myself working on Bud Light.
Bud Light was one of the biggest TV advertisers in America. And their advertising was really good. The brand grew at a breakneck speed for years, so the brand guys were pretty chilled out about the advertising.
And there was a constant need for new funny ads.
It was ideal from a career point of view.
I loved beer and i loved TV and i was young.
I had never done any TV before.
But I have always been able to wring laughs out of people.
I grew up working in a bar in Ireland. I think that helped.
But more importantly i had a good handle on what makes America laugh.
I had studied the culture intensely. Thank you Nick at Night in the 90s!
Americans love slapstick. So i figured that might work. And it did.
My first beer ad was voted best beer spot of the year by Ad Age magazine.
If you’re not a naturally funny person, you’re going to have difficulty writing funny ads.
Just as I’m not suddenly going to run the 100 meters in less than 10 seconds just because i’d really like to.
Really comedy is mechanical. It’s about beats and timings and tone. It’s musical.
It sometimes helps me is to pretend that my idea is not funny and is actually really serious. And treat the execution of it really seriously.
This has the effect of giving it a unique executional tone. It also distracts me from worrying.
Most funny ads just try to look and feel funny. And thus can be texture-free. Texture is what makes your ad stick in the mind.
Simply giving your comedy a nice cool look can really help.
What works best for me is comedy where the viewer has to work just a little bit to make sense of what’s going on. This way they get more involved in your story and laugh harder when they get it.
The biggest compliment anyone ever paid my work came from !!!NAMEDROP ALERT!!! Sir John Hegarty.
He told me that I instinctively understood the screenwriting maxim of enter late/leave early.
I had never heard of this maxim but it sure sounds good. Speed matters.
And if the viewer has to struggle just a little bit to make sense of your ad, they will be that much more involved from the outset.
So, for example, if your ad is set in a bar you don’t need an establishing shot of the exterior of the bar. It’s a bar, we get it! Get on with your story.
But the biggest secret to having funny ideas is this.
Get your funny ideas down to their simplest form. And then ask people what they think of them.
Pitch your friends, your spouse etc. Are they laughing?
The reason this is important is that it establishes you as Mr Funny Guy. Your ideas are on the line. Your ego is at stake. It takes courage to be funny.
And this is a real audience with useful feedback, so use it. You’ll find that you sharpen your ideas up a lot when you care about the reaction of your audience.
And the ideas that everyone likes and instantly laughs involuntarily at (watch their eyes!) are the funny ones. Keep those! And only those.
It really is that simple.