Commercial Comedy is Serious Business

Commercial Comedy
No joking. Commercial comedy and having a laugh is serious business.

As our plane readied for take off to Cape Town, the stewardess commenced the well rehearsed health and safety briefing. Little did we know that the airline’s approach to commercial comedy meant the ordinary was about to become extraordinary.

“In the event of the cabin losing air pressure, oxygen masks will drop down from above your heads.” Her words were calm. She paused and looked to see who was paying attention…

“And when you’ve stopped screaming,” she continued without so much as a smirk, “put on your masks. And if you are travelling with a child, put on your own mask first. If you have children, pick a favourite!” 

We all looked at each other. Strangers, once remote and silent, shared smiles and laughed. Several started to chat. But the hostess hadn’t finished with her commercial comedy.

“And this is a non smoking flight. All toilets are fitted with smoke detectors as well as cameras for the captain’s personal pleasure. If we catch you smoking we’ll assume you’re on fire and extinguish you…”

Whilst passenger bellies pushed belts to their limits, the crew remained dead-pan, which only added to the hilarity. Meanwhile the plane left the ground and we were on our way.

Why Humour Connects

It’s an accepted fact that humour is good for us. “When laughter is shared it binds people together and increases happiness and intimacy” says the on-line health resource ‘Helpguide’. So to keep your interest, there’s more on the ‘Flying Circus’ story later. But before landing there, let’s consider the serious business of having a laugh in more detail and why humour is such an effective means of communication.

All research shows that emotions drive behaviour. Critically, ‘happiness’ and ‘surprise’ are two of the six primary emotions. In other words, used well, humour reaches right through to the core of our mind and typically receives an immediate and positive reaction. Books about emotional intelligence first appeared on shelves in the nineties (most notably the work from Daniel Goleman).

And Goleman’s thinking was undoubtedly a catalyst for scientists and researchers to investigate more fully how the brain manages feelings. Stanford University psychology expert, Dr Phillipe Goldin, specialises in the complex issue of emotional neuroscience. In this presentation he demonstrates the various functions emotions perform and how and why they help bring richness to our experience of life (and thus explains the theory underpinning the value of the humour used on the plane).

Goldin’s detailed presentation also explains why unlike rational thought, we are not in charge of our emotions (if you want a succinct explanation, watch Sandy Newbigging’s short film which uses an iceberg analogy to explain the principle). Conscious behaviour, Newbigging says, is what we think about, know and control. But a much larger element (unconscious) sits beneath the surface. This part is very powerful and drives emotional behaviour and responses such as laughter.

People and situations that trigger laughter link with our emotional unconscious mind and thus make deeper connections.

Stand Up means Stand Out

Using this knowledge, it’s easier to appreciate how good stand up comedians have mastered the serious business of having a laugh and are able to connect with people. Like hitchhikers and entrepreneurs, they’re part of a high-wire society that’s prepared to go it alone and risk getting it wrong publicly. But by doing their own thing they also stand out, learn quickly and allow themselves the opportunity to achieve more.

Great comedians like Eddie Izzard and Stewart Francis (“I’ll tell you who gives kids a bad name – Posh & Becks”) can also teach entrepreneurs much about innovation, lateral thinking and great presentation skills. On this note, I highly recommend the article “What Comedians can Teach About Public Speaking” by the famous ‘Toilet Paper Entrepreneur’ Mike Michalowicz.

How commercial comedy works

If you’re looking to make better connections in business, there is a strong argument for the use of commercial comedy. However, be aware that humour is much more than just the delivery of a punchline as the UK’s Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Liberal Democrat MP, Danny Alexander, proved at a party conference.

Unlike London Mayor Boris Johnson, who had delegates at the Conservative Conference laughing uncontrollably about chocolate Hobnobs & more, the eternal straight man Danny got little more than a mild ‘titter’ when trying to tell a joke.

Commercial comedy has to be thought through. Humour must be delivered appropriately so it cuts right through to the audience’s unconscious mind. Planning, preparation as well as talent is required and this brilliant short promotional film aimed at budding entrepreneurs, shows how an original idea mixed with great scripting, powerful imagery and timing hits the spot.

The Power of being Different As this film demonstrates so well, crafted humour creates difference and allows a distinctive and well positioned message to be remembered. It stands to reason that effective viral marketing campaigns such as Trunk Monkey are often driven by humour.

Commercial Comedy
Kulula gets Commercial Comedy brilliantly and it’s central to their brand

The South African airline that flew me to Cape Town used humour consistently so that their brand stood out. For example, unlike all their competitors their planes didn’t carry the airline name on the fuselage. Instead, one had two big green arrows pointing upwards alongside the words ‘This Way Up’.

Another had varied words all over the fuselage (see image) including the phrase ‘The Go Go Juice’ with an arrow pointing towards the fuel cap. Long before the plane landed at Cape Town I had made my mind up to fly with the airline again.

I’ve since reviewed the company’s website and watched a stack of amateur films produced by fellow passengers keen to capture the unique health and safety briefing and more. This flood of free promotion is good business and if you want to support the entrepreneurial aviation spirit and have some fun flying too, I recommend you try Kulula.

Key Learning Points: Humour connects people in a powerful & lasting way. By understanding commercial comedy we also create and provide opportunities to present ourselves or messages differently. However, careful thought & consistent execution is required for humour to really resonate with audiences.

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