We open on a vast empty stadium, then cut to an abandoned street, followed by an open field with a lone man gazing into the middle distance. The soundtrack, an overwrought piano solo, swells and a solemn-sounding narrator says: "In these challenging times, we’re here for you."
That pretty much describes every other commercial on air since the lockdown began. I know that brands need to be highly sensitive to what is going on at the moment and that the impact of Covid-19 must inform communications, but at this stage in the pandemic do we really need any more reminding that there is a crisis going on?
As I’ve been holed up in my apartment trying not to sink into a catatonic depression over the world’s impending demise, I have turned to comedy to keep me sane. And I know I’m not the only one. Recent data from Inscape, which tracks viewing on over 14 million smart TVs, shows that people are turning to comfort TV to de-stress, watching shows they are familiar with, that cheer them up and, crucially, don’t require them to think too much. Among the most watched shows right now are lots of long-running sitcoms, like The Office and The Big Bang Theory. As well as getting to escape to a simpler time when you could hug someone without contracting a potentially lethal virus, people need a laugh right now.
Commercials aren’t helping. No-contact delivery! We’ll bring your new car to you! We’re making sure your food is prepared safely! While the intentions are good, it doesn’t do anything but remind me that the world isn’t safe right now. As well as telling people that we’re all in it together, brands should also be encouraged to take more lighthearted approach that offers comfort, entertainment and amusement.
For sure, it also depends on the brand. Some definitely need to address the current issue more head-on than others. And there’s no magic formula. At Something Different I’ve been faced with doing some of everything. But for me, I feel more comfortable staying in the realm of comedy and trying to keep things lighthearted.
The comedy that’s been inspiring me most as a creative right now is a mixture of stand-up, kids’ TV, absurdist memes and off-the-wall quarantine-related content on Instagram Live. Here are some of my top comedy picks:
John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch: Comedian Mulaney hosts this Netflix comedy special which models itself on classic 1970s kids’ TV shows, like Sesame Street. Mulaney pulls off an amazing balancing act by creating a show packed with dark, grown up humor that kids can also laugh along with.
The Endless Honeymoon Podcast: Married comedians Natasha Leggero and Moshe Kasher offer relationship advice whilst putting their own marriage under the microscope for comedy purposes.
Chelsea Peretti: Comedian Peretti’s brilliantly funny quarantine-inspired content on Instagram ranges from from really terrible ‘makeup tutorials’ to music videos about coffee and oat milk.
100 Humans: This Netflix series, starring stand-up comedians Zainab Johnson, Sammy Obeid and Alie Ward, takes a not-so-scientific approach to analysing human behavior.
BoJack Horseman: This now iconic cartoon is not only extremely funny, it is incredibly profound, with beautifully written lines that make you weep.
Chowder: This beautifully art directed and brilliantly written kids’ cartoon from 2007 bent the rules on what animation could be.
For the ultimate in absurdist meme humor, I follow @wurfelhouse on Instagram. I also love the unique, charming illustrations from developer and illustrator @paperbeatsscissors; tattoo art from @mr_heggie; and comic strips by @goodbearcomics, @dami_lee and @ketnipz.
Today’s comedy masters on TV, online and social media have a lot to teach us about how to keep people entertained through tough times. Messages of all kinds can be made much more powerful when delivered with levity and wit. Comedy, if used wisely and sensitively, can make your brand seem much more human and connected. This is no time to bury your sense of humor.
Joel Chua has spent six of the first eight weeks of his new job at Something Different locked in an apartment.