My Comedy Hero
From The Far Side's dad jokes to Joan Rivers' liberating loud mouth, who (or what) tickles the funny bones of adland's top talents?
For Park Pictures' Terri Timely, a cat using the peg leg of an old man as a scratching post will forever be comedy gold, while 72andSunny's Justine Armour enjoys the humour of dark-hearted perverts whose names shall not be spoken. Below, six of the industry's top directors and creatives reveal the comedy heroes who get them giggling.
Jeff Low, director, Biscuit Filmworks: Buster Keaton
I'm pretty sure I haven't had one original thought in my life when I consider the whole of human history. This is especially true with comedy. Everything I do is derivative in some way or another. So the trophy for most inspiring comedy person has to go to a person who invented a thing. A person that didn't really have the option to be derivative. There was nothing to derive from.
That person is Buster Keaton. He showed us what close neighbours tragedy and comedy are with his stone cold resting face. He taught us that comedy needs a victim. He taught us that vanity has no place in being funny. He taught us that quite often a funny moment is a moment of defeated expectation rather than a written joke. He understood that wide shots are generally funnier. Fancy camera angles are not that funny. He convinced us with brutal simplicity. He did all that without the aid of dialogue.
Everything we do, especially in advertising comedy can be traced back to him and what he invented. Every time I go to work on something funny I am pulling something off the Buster Keaton shelf. Something he had to conjure out of thin air with far fewer resources than I have.
Justine Armour, ECD, 72andSunny NY: Ricky Gervais
I saw a talk where Jonathan Lynn said all comedy comes from repressed rage and anger. And what makes you laugh is just recognition; he said a thing that you know to be true but are too timid to say yourself. Some of the people who’ve made me laugh hardest over the years are dark-hearted perverts whose names shall not be spoken.
I’ve been thinking about how comedy and comedians are going to survive in outrage culture, and how funny, clever creatives are going to stay interested in our business, because people are increasingly offended by everything that has edges to it. But I love this tweet from a few weeks ago by acceptable hero Ricky Gervais. “Please stop saying "You can't joke about anything anymore.” You can. You can joke about whatever the fuck you like. And some people won't like it and they will tell you they don't like it. And then it's up to you whether you give a fuck or not. And so on. It's a good system.”
But when I really think about the word hero and how I want a hero to make me feel, there’s one true comedy hero for me: Bill Murray. I first saw him on Saturday Night Live in 1976. The characters he played were hilarious, but it was also the attitude and the sardonic irreverence that he brought from his own personality that made me love him.
Whether it’s doing the voice of Badger in The Fantastic Mr. Fox or an appearance on a talk show, or playing any character (or himself in Zombieland) in a movie, it’s every choice he makes: the ideas, the words, the pauses, the mannerisms, it all works for me. At the end of the day, I want to be him, and he makes me laugh more than anyone else. That’s why Bill Murray is my comedy hero.
Quinn Katherman, creative director, Crispin Porter Bogusky, Boulder: Joan Rivers
I want to start by saying that I didn’t want to pick this person as my comic hero. In fact, I tried really hard to pick anyone else. But I couldn’t. Joan Rivers is my comic hero because she made it okay to be unlikable. And as a naturally unlikable woman, I found this liberating.
As I write this, I’m wearing a t-shirt that’s a pattern of repeated illustrations of her flipping the bird. It’s a shirt she would have skewered anyone for wearing – “shapeless, tasteless, and honestly, don’t you have better people to idolize, honey?” The irony of her hating it is why I love it so much.
What she did was bulldoze a world that never made room for women like us – the difficult, opinion-having, shit-talking, angry, flawed women who saw her and realized they didn’t have to pretend anymore. I have a very clear memory of watching a red carpet show where she was landing one joke after another and my dad, out of nowhere, said, “I hate Joan Rivers. What a loud mouth.” At the same time I was thinking, “I love Joan Rivers. What a loud mouth.” She liberated an entire generation of women who, because of her, have been brave enough to build entire careers out of their loud mouth talent. And that makes her a hero.
Joan Rivers’ memory will forever haunt me, demanding that I hustle harder, challenge the status quo, and for god’s sake stop being a grown woman who wears ironic t-shirts to work like some kind of hipster slob who just rolled out of bed.
Terri Timely, directing duo, Park Pictures: Gary Larson
Our most successful work has almost always been very simple and has very few cuts, if any. This approach seems to lend its self to the demand of shorter and shorter commercials. In light of this, probably our biggest comedic influence can be boiled down to two words: Gary Larson.
Not the famous rugby league or NFL star but the creator of the seminal cartoon series The Far Side. Who can forget such gems as the boy practicing the tuba behind the outhouse or the cat using the peg leg of an old man as a scratching post…?
By the late 1980s, the annual Far Side tearaway Calendar was a perennial Christmas gift, each day offering a new bit of droll ridiculousness. Unfortunately, despite having been a bona fide cultural icon, The Far Side has toiled in obscurity during the internet age. Larson retired in 1995 and has remained rather litigious with any postings of comics online. Mr. Larson, if you are listening: fire your lawyer, open your heart and share your gifts with a new generation so that they can see just how brilliant a well-executed dad joke can be.
Dan Wright, ECD, Colenso BBDO: Mike Judge
It’s odd to sit down and think seriously about what makes me laugh. Weirdly, it’s not sitting down and thinking about it. Great comedy is nothing without discomfort. The best laughs are always laced with anxiety, or guilt, or fear. Maybe when it’s triggered as a defence mechanism it feels like a real, primal, physiological thing.
In New Zealand we are lucky to be born into a rich tradition of awkwardness, so life is full of discomfort. Comedians like Brett McKenzie and Jemaine Clement have nailed this exquisite mix of embarrassment and national pride in Flight of the Conchords. But for me, Mike Judge always delivers. He’s done it over and over again, but never better than Silicon Valley. The show is a glorious parade of cringe. A killer mix of hyperbole and reality, excruciating and daft. Plus the most technical dick joke ever (above). An instant classic.