Everyone loves a funny video. We laugh out loud. We talk about them. We post them on our wall or tweet out a link. A funny video gets shared, something that motivates every video producer.
So why aren’t the majority of web videos funny?
Frankly, being funny is hard. It’s difficult to do well because creating a humorous video requires understanding a story’s context and culture. Um, what? What I am trying to say is that as a producer you have to have an intimate understanding of your audience. You need to know what bothers them, their pain points and frustrations; you need to have a clear understanding of the vernacular; you have to project their culture of expectations; and you have to appreciate the dynamics of their social interactions.
What got me started thinking about how difficult it is to leverage humor in video was being interviewed for this article. It forced me to think critically about the process of being funny.
We make our choices in life through our emotions. More than data or logic or analysis. We make choices in life based on how something makes us feel. From what we eat to what we wear to what car we drive to our social connections, at the core we make those choices based on emotional connections. A genuinely funny video causes a viewer to associate feeling good with the message. And that feeling is memorable.
The great thing about successful humor is it creates a powerful connection between the content sender and receiver. This instant rapport disarms a viewer and opens them to a brand message or call to action. Humor is a potent and effective communication tool.
How does this effect advertising and marketing? The positive feelings about a product, brand or service creates alignment between the sender and receiver. You have a shared experience, and you all feel part of the story. The viewer feels a part of the message.
But there is genuine peril to creating a “funny video”. First of all, it is hard. There is a reason why most things purported as “funny” turn out instead to be cringe-worthy. Because humor is cultural what is funny to one group is decidedly unfunny to another. Humor often revolves around shared pain-points. Observations and situations an audience member can relate to from firsthand experience. As a video producer you can miss the mark because your audience has never experienced the situation you think is funny, has never felt the same way as the characters in your story.
Humor also usually revolves around exaggerations. We find it funny when a situation is amplified, yet still plausible, where the producer emphasizes a specific situation or personality.
The bottom line is you need to understand the sophistication of your audience. If you are a boomer or from the GenX era be warned that Digital Natives—the generation born between 1980 and 1995—have a very different view of humor. They are, in short, comedy connoisseurs, raised on SNL, stand-ups and dry, self-knowing comedy. They eschew corny, comparatively unsophisticated humor. Silliness and pratfalls are not likely to engage.
All too often, though, producers go for the easy mark, an archetype. These archetypal characters are a symbol or person we immediately recognize in a video. We don’t need to explain who they are or what the situation is. Producers think of it as shorthand for funny. Stereotypes.
No matter if it’s because creating “funny” is hard, or producers are too pressed for time to craft something insightful, the result is a point of humor about the weak, the vulnerable, or those who are powerless. Too many videos are more like culling the weakest antelope from the heard as they eviscerate a stereotype. Bullying the powerless is easy, but decidedly unfunny to the majority of your audience.
Even if the video is only intended for an internal corporate audience producers have to assume it will somehow land in a public space (“I thought it was so funny I posted it on YouTube so my brother could see it.”) What is funny to your small group of coworkers is probably not funny to your global clients. No company wants to be considered racist, misogynistic, classist or xenophobic. Unfortunately most of the “funny” corporate videos I have seen in the past two decades fall in this category. When your chosen character is weak because of culture (gender, race, faith, economics, age) you have not created a funny video. All too often what you have created is a headstone for your career.
As a producer tasked with creating a funny video I would probably run the other way. If that were not an option then I would hire a professional with a track record of good comedy. I had the good fortune to produce for shows on Comedy Central and shows like “Bill Nye the Science Guy” and “BizKid$” for PBS. One of the first things I learned is I am not very funny. I thought I was, I had always been a wiseacre growing up. My friends thought I was a riot. I was not. Comedy is hard.
If someone was holding me hostage and I was told I had to create a humor video the first thing I would do is listen to this podcast. Hacking Media has a great interview Jamie Wright, a comedian and Creative Director. He believes, and I agree, that to succeed at comedy you have to get a clear understanding of the intended audience. I would want to know them inside and out. And I would start small… small industry, small office, a safe place. I would ask questions about what the culture is like, I would observe how they behave, and I would search out the irrational in a rational situation. I would be extremely careful to ensure I was not making fun of a someone who is powerless in the situation, those unable to defend themselves from being the butt of the joke.
I would be certain the circle of script and final video approvers is either small or populated with those who can write. Art by a committee of dilettantes will guarantee a video devoid of laughs. Your product is only as strong as the weakest contributor in the chain. If your boss is humorless, do you really want her in the approval chain?
Finally, take your time casting the parts. The odds are your receptionist really can’t deliver your punch line. And your manager may fancy himself as the next Jim Carey, but I would wager no one else does.
Being funny is hard. Creating a funny video is even harder. That is why we celebrate when someone gets it right.
@drewkeller #video #onlinevideo
© 2013 StoryGuide | Drew Keller