The world is going to hell in a handbasket, so I’ve been spending my down time watching comedy. This week, I’ve watched Dying Laughing, a documentary on Amazon Prime Video, and Jerry Seinfeld’s new standup special on Netflix, Jerry Before Seinfeld.
Both shows stress how difficult it is to be a comedian.
“Pffft,” I replied to the screen. “Try a career in marketing.”
And then I realized, marketing and comedy are exactly alike. Consider the following.
1. The talented ones make it look easy.
Seinfeld is an excellent example of this. After all, he became a household name writing a show about nothing. He doesn’t have a funny voice or created personality, he’s just a seemingly average guy making jokes about average people. But he’s not average; he’s a genius. Writing a show about nothing may sound easy, but it’s an incredibly challenging creative undertaking.
In marketing, Apple achieves a similar feat. Apple’s marketing is so simple: oftentimes, just a black Apple logo on a white screen. There might be a photo of a new product and a few words. That’s it. To the untrained eye, it looks so simple anyone could do it. Many have tried to do the same but failed. Which brings me to the second reason marketing is just like comedy.
2. If you’re bad, you’re really, really bad.
There are few situations more uncomfortable than sitting through a terrible standup act. It’s possible to fake a smile and applaud a bad singing performance, but it’s physically impossible to convincingly fake laughter. What’s more, people who want to laugh but don’t get angry. They start to heckle. It’s a bad scene, man.
Here’s another uncomfortable situation: being exposed to bad marketing. Most bad marketing is just stale, like the ineffective “now, more than ever …” line. Cringe worthy, but not uncomfortable. But sometimes, marketing falls as flat as a bad standup routine. I’m not a big fan of political correctness, but two campaigns this year from Sony and Nivea with blatantly racist messages and images were downright uncomfortable. Sony’s “white is coming” PlayStation Portable ads featured a white model menacingly grabbing a black model by the face. Nivea bungled a deodorant campaign by greenlighting a “white is purity” message. Both were heckled on social media and deservedly so.
3. It’s sorcery.
In Dying Laughing, Seinfeld describes comedy as magic, a real magic trick. Successful comedians have the power to change people’s emotions, and produce the physiological response of laughter.
Successful marketing performs an even more remarkable feat. It sets the stage for, or even prompts people to, purchase something. Parting with a laugh is much easier than parting with hard earned dollars.
4. Failure chips away at your soul.
Comedians, like other performing artists, share big parts of themselves on stage. When a comedian bombs, the audience didn’t just reject some jokes, they are also rejecting a big part of the person. Now, marketing campaigns only have an element of artistry to them. Marketing is a means to an end, and that end is sales, not pure creative expression. That said, marketers don’t just build a campaign. They create it. That creativity does come from the soul, which is why it’s painful to see the mortgage brochure you lovingly created discarded in the gutter in front of your credit union. You don’t go home and curl up into a fetal position on your bed, like comedian Dave Attell did after his first stand up performance bombed, but it doesn’t feel good, either.
Finally, a quote from Steve Harvey that describes comedy, but applies to the skill set required for marketing, and also sales.
“You can take lessons to become almost anything: flying lessons, piano lessons, skydiving lessons, acting lessons, race car driving lessons, singing lessons. But there's no class for comedy. You have to be born with it.”