Ben Middleton
Nov 27, 2023

A fabricated account of how judging the humour category in Cannes could play out

Ben Middleton, chief creative officer at Creature, imagines what it will be like to judge the "Humour in branded communications" category at Cannes next year.

A fabricated account of how judging the humour category in Cannes could play out

What follows is an entirely fictitious account of what I believe it'll be like to judge the "Humour in branded communications" category at Cannes next year.

09:00 CES – 17 June – Palais des Festivals
So here we are at Cannes again, and I've finally had the honour of some judging bestowed upon my South London shoulders. I've always wanted to do this, to smell the political in-fighting of block-voting networks trying to cancel each other out, witness the cut and thrust of debates over what constitutes craft and what's just a decent ad, and most importantly what should and shouldn't be given one of those precious metal lions.
This year I've been asked to judge the newly created "Humour" category, which I'm hugely excited about given the never-ending-bin-fire-that-is-the-whole-world-everywhere-all-at-once-forever-and-ever that we're currently living through.
I just hope my hangover holds up.
09:07 CES – 17 June – Palais des Festivals
My self-inflicted malaise is making its way back to manageable levels courtesy of the complimentary coffee and croissants, and I'm ready to try out some material I developed on the EasyJet over from Gatters. Let's see how this goes:
Knock knock.
Who's there?
A bunch of creatives from all over the world that have totally different cultural influences that inform what they find funny, trying to decide and agree on what is, in fact, funny.
How's that going to work in a dark judging room in Cannes?
I have no idea, but I reckon it should be a right lachen.
09:15 CES – 17 June – Palais des Festivals
The joke was as well-received as ordering in English on the Carlton Terrace.
After a long debate around whether or not this new category is a cynical attempt to capitalise on the industry's shift away from purpose-led lie-vertising, or a genuine passion for the craft of comedy, we've dived straight into the technicalities.
Our jury fore-person (a very nice executive creative director from Denmark) has just reminded us that we're here to award the "best possible examples of humour in branded communication". Most of us in the room can see the irony in the incredibly serious language the festival has used to describe something as silly as gags. They've also got the air con turned up to "Arctic" so I'm keen to get going before I lose the feeling in my funny bones.
09:45 CES – 17 June – Palais des Festivals
I'm in the south of France and shivering, but I don't mind because there's already been a short spat (well, actually it was more of an international incident) over a spot out of Latvia and whether or not it was "funny". We've had a gentle reminder from our Danish overlord that we may refresh our memories at any time with the "cultural context" provided as part of the submission to help with the debate.
Having the cultural context explained to you, essentially telling you why the ad is funny, feels odd. It reminds me of that quote: "Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better, but the frog dies in the process."
Aside from it making my head melt, I'm kinda into the theory of it because it should make room for more subtle, sophisticated humour than the usual (highly crafted) 40-foot tsunami of spots that flood the awards from the other side of the Atlantic. But we'll see, won't we?
10:30 CES – 17 June – Palais des Festivals
It turns out that the jury have mostly just shortlisted comedy spots from the States because they understood English and the jokes were well-crafted. Not sure this cultural background thing actually holds water if everyone is just defaulting to what they know.
10:40 CES – 17 June – Palais des Festivals
I knew this nightmare was coming for us. Dialogue. A film has got through the preliminaries that's in a language no-one speaks, and despite reading and re-reading the cultural background stuff on this film, none of us can make head nor tail of whether two women stood up to their necks in snow is funny for car insurance in that territory. Even when the moose licks her face and then sits on the other lady's head. We've agreed to vote it through for a commendation because we couldn't decide, and everyone wants a quiet life.
10:40 CES – 17 June – Palais des Festivals
Sometimes – well, quite often actually – things/jokes/casting/performances are just "funny", and the more you analyse and try to understand it, the less you can see the original bit of magic that tickled you in the first place. Subsequently, it feels like a lot of films are coming into this room "funny" and leaving hours later "not funny" with their comedy guts torn out and smashed across the walls courtesy of exhausting, analytical, subjective debates about what is and isn't funny.
I'm starting to hate this.
11:30 CES – 17 June – Palais des Festivals
I've got a headache. It can only be one of three things that's brought it on: last night's rosé, the industrial-strength coffee or the over-intellectualisation of comedy that's happening in this jury room.
Everyone is trying to hold the respective cultural frameworks in their heads for each spot we're reviewing, and the pros and cons of them against one another as we try to assess what's funniest.
So, what is funnier? A slapstick spot about electric cars from Germany, or a dialogue performance from Argentina? I guess technically both are "funny" in their respective contexts, but I prefer the German one, while people from other parts of the planet prefer the Argentinian one. It feels like an odd way to be trying to choose what wins.
Ultimately it feels like the stuff that's getting voted through is either stuff we all find funny (which means there's a fair bit of lowest common denominator) or just seeing who shouts loudest for a particular interpretation of a piece of cultural context. Either way, there's funny stuff here, but it's almost impossible to say one piece of comedy and its cultural subtext is funnier than another one. I'm already exhausted, and two jury members have left in a huff.
I need a pint of rosé.
Ben Middleton is chief creative officer at Creature
Campaign UK

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