The Greg Brady Project

Welcome to the official Barry Williams' blog

My friends call me Barry. From time to time I also hear the name Greg. Yeah, as in Greg Brady. The Brady Bunch represents a fun time in my life. But it’s only part of the story. There’s more to say and that’s what The Greg Brady Project is all about – a place to say it. So, I’ve invited some friends to join me and share their perspectives on the Brady’s, the 70′s and just about everything else. Now, I’m inviting you…

07 Sep
Bob Hunt

What’s So Funny?

written by Bob Hunt in Blog | 2 comments


Eric Idle once commented on the elusive nature of defining comedy.  “If you analyze it,” posited the Monty Python alum, “it’s gone.”  That is, once you subject an attempt at humor to academic dissection, you destroy whatever might have been funny about it in the first place.  Like art, we may not know much about comedy, but we know what we like, or rather we know what makes us laugh.  We’re just not certain why.  So it’s no surprise that fans and detractors of Microsoft and Seinfeld having been chewing up a lot of bandwidth in the last week debating whether or not a new Vista ad starring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld is of any comedic value.  If you think it’s a laugh riot, count your blessings and read no further.  However, if you find the spot somewhat lacking in the humor department (as I do), let’s find out why.

Since Idle’s admonition about analysis destroying humor only applies to that which we find funny in the first place, we need not fear any loss due to analyzing the tepid Vista ad.  The crux of the intended comedic effect is twofold:  the classic fish out of water device (gazillionaire entrepreneur and technological icon Gates is shopping at a suburban mall’s discount shoe store!) coupled with Seinfeld’s patented preoccupation with the banal (churros, finding one’s toe when trying on a shoe, the demeaning quality of retailer discount club ID cards).  Toward the end we get the usually satisfying ploy of cheekiness toward authority (Seinfeld’s geeky question about mind-melding and a Groucho Marxian non-sequitur about making computers moist and chewy) as well as the time-honored crowd-pleaser of authority figures acting silly (Gates’ subtle rump shake).  I find the premise itself to be promising, but the delivery unamusing.  Perhaps this is because as I watched it, I succumbed to The Three Things That Destroy Comedy:

1)  Skepticism:  The best example I can think of to illustrate this concept would be for us to envision a man smiling in his recliner as he enjoys a Three Stooges short.  He is in the moment, merely enjoying himself at the most primal level, maybe even emitting a chortle or two as Curly runs clockwise on the floor.  Then his wife walks in, arms akimbo, scowling at the screen and observing with rhetorical acidity, “So this is supposed to be funny?”  And just like that, the man is no longer chortling in his recliner.

2) The Defiant Refusal to be Manipulated:  You’ve been computer literate for some time now, and you have felt the inevitable pain of interfacing with imperfect technology.  At some time or another, your discomfort may have involved the performance of a Microsoft product.  Perhaps a certain operating system.  I speak hypothetically, of course.  Anyway, this experience has led you to regard computers in general with a cynical eye.  So when a man who represents the computer industry is portrayed in a mildly amusing light, you refuse to be amused.  Even mildly.  Sort of like a kid who won’t laugh at the principal’s joke, no matter how funny it might be.

3) The Smell of Formula:  Not the stuff we feed to babies, but the stench of repeating something because it got laughs the first time around.  It’s what made fans of the show about nothing refer condescendingly to the Vista ad as a commercial about nothing.  We can imagine a boardroom of ad executives struggling to capture the magic of Seinfeld.  “We need to have Jerry carrying around some mundane mall product, like a soft pretzel or cinnamon roll.  How about an Orange Julius?  Nothing funnier than an Orange Julius.  What, legal won’t go for it?  Okay – I’ve got it!  A churro!  Yes, Jenkins, churros are funny.”

My apologies if you simply enjoyed the ad and now my analysis has ruined it for you.  But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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    on Sep. 10th, 2008

    I wonder why I don’t see this spot more often…I caught a second of it while channel surfing and missed it while the realization dawned on me that it was Seinfeld (so used to his 90s look that I see daily :) )

    … drug commercials ad nauseum…I hope I can see it again….

    Bob Hunt
    on Sep. 10th, 2008

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