“This looks great. Let’s just add humor wherever possible.” I had just delivered an explainer video script and that was the feedback I got.
Just add humor. Okay.
My first reaction was to cry into my keyboard and scream, unintelligibly, “I’m not funny!” But after overcoming my inadequacy by sipping bourbon and cuddling with my miniature schnauzer on my office chaise, I opened the script again and thought through the story more critically.
They were right. The script was not funny. At all. The problem was, it wasn’t written to be funny. Because not all explainer videos need to be funny to be compelling. Some even shouldn’t be. This video, in particular, was about how big data is improving the speed and accuracy of cancer research. Yeah. Cancer is hilarious.
Humor, as a tool, should be used responsibly. If you want your video to make people laugh, don’t “just add humor” as an afterthought. Make sure that goal is captured before story pitches begin–and well before the scriptwriter starts a draft.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love me some humor. But it’s important to choose the hilarity that best serves your story. So let’s talk about some popular types of humor, and how each can be employed to create compelling, and funny, stories.
Taco Bell’s Live Más Super Bowl 2013
Farce uses absurdity, buffoonery and horseplay, and usually includes crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations.
As you can see from the Super Bowl 2013 Live Más spot, this type of humor can be a lot of fun. But you better really know your audience before you go down this road. The Spanish cover of Fun.’s pop song adds a perfectly playful touch.
DirecTV Don’t have a grandson with a dog collar 2012
DirecTV’s “Death by Cable” advertising campaign is the epitome of hyperbole in video storytelling. Hyperbole is exaggeration that is not meant to be taken literally. But in explainer videos, be sure not to accidentally create a fake problem.
Hyperbole needs to be based in reality. It needs to ring true. The exaggerated and hypothetical effect needs to fit with the cause. Random hyperbole for the sake of being random is lazy storytelling.
Metaphors compare two unlike things that have something in common (e.g. Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.”). Similar to metaphors are similes.
A simile compares two things using the words “as” or “like” (e.g. “dumb as a rock” and “sleep like a baby”). These literary devices can also be used to get some laughs. Although it blends other humor methods, including wordplay, I counted at least 10 metaphors in the PooPourri explainer video.
Pun & Wordplay
GEICO Hump Day
A pun exploits words that sound alike but have different meanings. In Hump Day, a camel is especially happy about Wednesdays. One pun-divergent is a literary portmanteau–combining two words into one. This wordplay has been around for, like, the existence of language, but it is especially popular right now.
Portmanteaus have been employed with animals (liger, wallaroo), food (hangry, spork, spam), other stuff (infotainment, dramedy) and even celebrity couple names (Brangelina, Bennifer). But just like you can write bad puns, you can write bad portmanteaus. Don’t force it.
Hyundai Dad’s Sixth Sense
Timing in video storytelling is paramount, and it is a common method for visual humor in video. Just as improvisational jazz virtuosos use syncopation, video editors can surprise viewers with unexpected visual beats. In Dad’s Sixth Sense, sons are saved by impending danger at the last possible moment. It’s delightful.
Dollar Shave Club
Dead pan humor is the candid delivery of the truth without expression. I know, this Dollar Shave Club video makes a lot of blog lists. But it is deserving. When truth is communicated in the simplest way, it’s clever. And enjoyable.
SNL Starbucks Verismo
Parody is a spoof or imitation of popular subjects. This Verismo parody video is poking fun at Starbucks culture that millions of people are familiar with.
This type of humor is commonly used in explainer videos to avoid naming competitors (FaceTube) or to make a complicated tech product more engaging (the business enterprise as a spaceship).
Booking.com Booking Epic
No one likes pretension. Or false humility. Self-deprecating humor is used by people who are self-aware of their real shortcomings, and willing to confess them publicly. No one is perfect, and when people admit to failure, they become very human through vulnerability. And because of that, we trust them more. This Booking.com spot combines literal humor, self-deprecation, a little slapstick, sarcasm and more.
I had fun searching my memory banks for videos that I found funny. If you can think of a video that fits well within one of these humor categories, please share in the comment thread.
In sum, if you want a funny explainer video, make sure you choose the type of humor that best serves the story and your audience. Make it known at the start of the project. Commit to it. Don’t rush. Be prepared to kill story pitches. And have fun!