Did you know that you can hire the world’s funniest people to help you with your company’s creative work? Meet the founders of a new company that helps you do just that. Peter McGraw chats with guests Stephanie Houng and Ben Willson. Stephanie is the co-founder and CEO of Komedy IO, a new platform that brings together brands and comedians to create creative content. Stephanie founded a media and marketing consultancy in Asia, working with clients such as Toyota, Doritos, and Disney. Ben is an accomplished marketing professional, including having founded a Dental Marketing Agency and Consulting for Fortune 500 companies.
Listen to Episode #97 here:
Creative Help From The Masters Of Comedy
Our first guest is Stephanie Houng. She is the Cofounder and CEO of Komedy IO, a new platform that brings together brands and comedians to create creative content. Stephanie founded a media and marketing consultancy before in Asia and has worked with clients such as Toyota, Doritos and Disney. Welcome, Stephanie. Our second guest is Ben Willson. Ben works with Stephanie at Komedy IO, and he’s an accomplished marketing professional including having founded a dental marketing agency, which I want to talk to you about. He’s consulted for several for Fortune 500 companies. Welcome, Ben. If you two weren’t working as entrepreneurs, what would you be doing with your life?
Probably still entrepreneurship. If I could choose anything, a Marine Biologist because I love sea animals.
I would probably be a public speaker of some sort. It doesn’t matter the topic. I love speaking.
I expect you to shine in this scenario. We’ll see if you’ve made the right choice as an entrepreneur. Being a Marine Biologist is hard, Stephanie. It’s as at least as hard as being an entrepreneur.
I chose the easier one I think, although it’s probably not much easier.
More upside with this one.
Are you still dealing with whales?
Explain why that’s funny to the audience, Ben.
You have these massive challenges that you don’t quite know how it’s going to work out or what it’s going to do next, but you still have to go up against it, look at it right in the eye and be like, “Are you going to eat me or not eat me? I’m going to swim next to you and you might take a massive chomp. That might be the end of this whole thing.” In the end, I might get a nice picture and post it on Instagram and say, “Look at this whale that I’m riding next to or that I was able to face.”
You two are entrepreneurs and you’re both youngish, much younger than me. Did you know this early on in your life? Entrepreneurship is, maybe not suddenly, but when I was your age, no one was talking about being an entrepreneur. First of all, there was no Hinge or Bumble. You couldn’t disguise being unemployed with that term.
That was some people called the writers at the time.
An entrepreneur is a new writer. When did you know this was going to happen? Were you influenced by these new zeitgeists where the entrepreneurs are the new rock stars?
For me, I caught the bug when I was in high school. There was a school fair and every class had to come up with an idea to put up a booth to get customers to come to you. I was in Asia during this time, whether you want us to sell bubble tea or you came up with another idea. My friend and I, we had this idea to do paint-on tattoos for the little girls. It was exciting to see customers coming to want something that you’re selling, a product that you made that you created out of thin air from your imagination. Not coming to you, but getting delighted afterward. That was exciting for me. That’s when I first became interested in creating your path or product and getting customers to come to you.
I would say high school was a definitive time for myself as well. I’m an immigrant from South Africa. When we came to America, we were homeless is the best way to describe it. I slept on a sleeping bag on a floor and it was early on. I was nine at the time. I remember a kid in the neighborhood was mowing lawns. I would start somewhere around there.
I’ve done this job.
I started getting a little smarter when I was probably 10, 11, 12. I started seeing that other kids wanted to mow lawns, but they were afraid to talk to the owners. I came up and I was like, “I could talk to the people and then have my friends mow the yards.” I got lazy. I would say laziness had a big factor in doing with it.
That’s often the story. We tend to think of laziness as this bad thing, but if it leads to creativity. If you’re too lazy to do all this data input and then you write a few lines of code to do it for you and then you screw off while this program is running. You could look at that, on the one hand, is bad. On the other hand, you could look at it as that is great.
Laziness or procrastination it’s probably been the key to my life besides sarcasm. I’d say sarcasm is another reason that I’ve ended up in certain situations where, for example, I wanted to break the world record for most snowmen built in an hour. The idea came from living in an apartment complex and the apartment complex said, “Who could build the biggest snowman gets a pizza party.” I was like, “A pizza party. I’d rather have you install a better TV. I’d rather have a nicer couch. I’d rather have a better bed than what you’ve supplied for us.” I was like, “How about you have me build the biggest snowman so I can get free rent?”Comedians and entrepreneurs are always living on the fringes. Click To Tweet
It started going off of that and eventually ended up with how many snowmen we could build in front of the apartment complex. I was like, “What’s the world record for snowmen built?” It was 1,400 at the time. I was like, “What if we built all these snowmen in front of the apartment complex and then we broke a world record at the same time?” I was like, “What if we did it for charity and we got companies to give us money to build these snowmen in front of our apartment complex?” That idea kept moving forward and it was all these sarcastic comments. Eventually, I found myself on a golf course building snowmen with 100 people that I had wrangled into doing it. We broke a world record.
Was it 1,401?
In 1 hour.
Did you do 1,401 or did you give yourself a little buffer?
At the time, it was 1,398 and we knew it was 1,400 was all we had to do. Someone had seen our Instagram or our posts. They went and got their friends and they did it even faster. We never even made it to the books. It was a good experience. Sarcasm ended up in there.
Did you have this situation where you had everybody ready and you were waiting for the right snowfall?
That’s where God came in. We were like, “Please, God, if you exist, we need snow that’s going to work and we need it on this day.”
Where were you living at the time?
I was at a little town at Rexburg, Idaho. It was known to snow. It hadn’t snowed for 2 or 3 weeks. We were starting to panic because we had people that were starting to drive in from other local cities to come in. It had this massive dump the night before. If there is a sign like, “This is it. He wants us to build snowmen.”
This is my last question about this because I probably care more than anyone else reading. I assume there were some requirements for what constituted a snowman. Is it a height minimum or something like that?
It was three feet and then three balls, a base, middle and a top, at least that.
Eyes, nose, any of those? You think about the classic snowman where you put the coals in the eyes.
At the time, there wasn’t. There probably is because it’s an easy challenge to beat. I’d imagine if you want to get into it, you want to dominate that niche.
That is quite entrepreneurial of you. One of the things I always teach my MBA students is how do you escape the competition? I’m sure there’s lots of competition for the Guinness Book of World Records for things like jumping rope and other things that people do a lot of. You found something that was undervalued, so to speak.
It’s something different at least.
Most of the world can’t even build a snowman. You already eliminate 60% of the competition.
Everything below the equator you’re out of here.
No one in Dallas is going to compete with you.
You got it right out of the way there.
Stephanie, where were you living in Asia?
I was living in Taiwan for twelve years.
Not a lot of snowmen.
Not any snowmen.
You started as a high school kid with this little business that was spurred on by the adults. You went on and founded this media marketing consultancy.
I started as a voice-over artist. I did that for a while and then I started getting more opportunities to do cartoon productions. When I started doing corporate videos or commercials, I started getting corporate clients that needed because I was straddling two cultures. I had a lot of international clients that were trying to market to Taiwan or Taiwanese clients that were trying to market to the US. They would come to me, “By the way, can you advise us on how to market to this other country?” That started getting me interested in marketing. I thought, “Maybe it’s about time I get a formal education in marketing.” That’s when I took the GMAT, applied to MBA and then got into Cornell. I got into Cornell and that’s when I discovered that I don’t have a knack for marketing. It became even more apparent when I graduated and joined a digital marketing agency that I am not good at marketing. The more I realized, “I don’t like marketing. I like the operations.”
I didn’t know that you had done this voice-over work and you have a particular skill within voice-over.
My forte, what I was known for was doing kids’ voices, especially at a younger age was higher pitched than most people. I can modulate my voice so that I sounded convincingly like a kid.
At least you have something to fall back on.
If this doesn’t work out.
I met a guy who is going to read his book. He has a book coming out. He’s going to author read the Audible of the book. I did that with my forthcoming book and I was giving him some tips based upon my limited experience. What I was saying, Stephanie, you will be happy to hear this, is I was surprised by how difficult it was to do. First of all, if you’re a reader and you’re thinking about buying the Audible book, it will be fine. My perfectionistic tendencies make me want to read it again because I don’t have the level of theatrics that I think that I could have with a little bit more practice doing it. Mostly I would be trying to get the words out in the right order and clearly, which I did.
The microphone can make you sound like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh where you’re like, “Do I sound like that all the time?”
I’m lucky because I do the show, I’ve heard my voice a lot. The average person cringes when they hear their recorded voice.
I did when I first heard my voice.
I don’t know the specifics of it, but because your ears are in your head, you hear a different voice when you speak than everyone else in the world. I happen to be lucky because I’ve adapted to my real voice, not the me voice.
I heard it has to do with your cranial structure, the resonance when you emit that voice.
I also have a lot of extra space between my lungs.
There is more density here. When you hear your voice, it sounds lower-pitched versus when you hear it the way it is from.
I sound like James Earl Jones to myself.
That’s a compliment.
The getting out of the voice-over work was because you had this other opportunity or was there something about voice-over work that you didn’t like or didn’t want to do?Comedians are anthropologists because they’re always observing what’s going on around them. Click To Tweet
It also plays into my desire for entrepreneurship because I’ve never worked a corporate job. I never interviewed to get a job. I’ve always been dictating my schedule. I was responsible for getting my clients, my leads. I enjoyed that freedom and that sense of accomplishment to see that you’re growing in whatever aspect that you’re building your career as. I did get to a point where I felt like I’ve hit the peak of where I could go with voice recording and I wanted to experience something new. I wanted to get more education and business to be able to apply those skillsets into entrepreneurship, whatever I decided to do from then on. A part of me also wanted to get out of Taiwan. I love Taiwan, but it’s also homogenous where it’s easy to fall into groupthink, you don’t see other perspectives. I wanted more diversity in my life and New York was perfect for that. I wanted to challenge myself a little bit. Expand my horizons not intellectually, but also see what other people are going through and to give myself perspective on what I’m dealing with is not that difficult.
Is there anything that you miss about that work either the consulting or the voice-over work? Paychecks?
The steady paychecks. It was a lucrative line of work.
I would imagine you missing the paychecks on that one compared to everything else that I know you’ve told me.
I’ve been late to the game on. I met a friend and we were talking about her work. We’re in New York City if that wasn’t obvious. There’s this guy and his name is Naval. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Naval. He goes by the name, The Angel Philosopher. He built Angel’s List. He’s one of these smart tech guys who’s made all his money but still relatively young. He doesn’t want to stop working, but he also doesn’t want to build something new. He reads a lot. He’s active on Twitter. He’s done some podcasting. I’m sure he’s investing in companies and advisers and so on. He’s living a good life. He got mildly famous to the rest of the world from this tweetstorm that he did about how to get rich, it’s about how to get wealthy.
He talks about how you shouldn’t be looking to rent your time. The argument is what’s more precious than money is time for a lot of people, not everyone, and especially people who have a lot of skills. When you’re renting your time, you’re only making money while you work and that crowds out other activities. Moreover, there’s a tendency to adjust your lifestyle to your income. By the way, we’re good at ramping our lifestyle up. I’ve been late to the game in terms of fully embracing this idea. One is, as a professor, I’m essentially a glorified government worker and had been renting my time. Sometimes it’s certainly low rates. For example, when I was a graduate student, I’ve always said, “You could get away with renting your time if your time is highly valuable and you recognize that you don’t need to adjust your lifestyle that much.”
I’ve always been good about not ramping up my lifestyle. For example, when I got my assistant professor’s job, I kept driving the car that I had as a graduate student whereas a lot of people go out and they buy their first luxury car and celebrate and all that stuff. More and more, I think about this stuff and as I think about my side hustles, I’m starting to think more about them from this, making something that makes money while you’re sleeping.
That’s passive income.
To your point, Ben, I’m seriously pursuing my professional speaking. I’ve dabbled in it. That’s renting your time and if you’re good, you rented at a high rate. As I start to think about other endeavors, I start thinking more about what can create wealth? You and I are a little bit similar, at least from the story of cutting lawns in the following way. I had bustling lawn care business but I only worked to make enough money to do the things I wanted to do. My mom was always like, “Why don’t you work more?” We were an impoverished family and it’s because, “I want to play basketball,” that thing. You were smart because you figured out a way to scale.
I’d say it was pure laziness.
The motivations matter less to me. Where we depart was that you immediately went to scaling the business. I didn’t. I was treating it as a government worker. As I approach 50, am I thinking more about emulating the life that you two are pursuing? I have one advantage though, do you know what it is?
You’re a lot smarter than us?
It’s not that. I have an income that allows me to take that risk.
That’s the truth, consistent.
It’s a steady income.
I was fortunate to grow up in an entrepreneurial family. My dad has started his business. He was successful in South Africa. When we moved to America, the exchange rate was low. When we sold the house and the cars, it paid for the plane tickets, that’s all it paid for. That’s how we came here. We also didn’t necessarily have the visas that would enable my parents to work. They had to figure out new ways to earn an income while we were trying to figure out the process of being able to work legally. From an early age, I’m the youngest of four boys. My oldest, second and third brothers are entrepreneurial. I was fortunate enough to be the youngest and see how we work, how we operate. There’s always a loophole to something. You’ve got to find what that loophole looks like. Start looking at it from unique perspectives and saying, “I’m trying to get from A to Z but sometimes the alphabet doesn’t allow to go A, B, C, D, E, F, G.
If you rearrange it and you go, “Maybe I can find a new way to go from A to Z and maybe skip some of these letters, maybe rearrange how these go. Essentially, find my way to that final result.” Along the way with entrepreneurship, I learned you could skip a lot along the way and you don’t have to go through the same processes as everyone else. You can take yourself out of the loop and put yourself in a new situation and ask, “What is it that I ultimately want out of this situation? Let me go through and find how to get there.” That would be one of those people online where they’re saying like, “This is a life hack.” You’re trying to cut yourself out of the everyday grind and figure out how to get what you want and looking at it from a different angle.
That sounds all abstract and theoretical. Do you have a particular example of either you doing that, someone in your family or some entrepreneur more generally getting from A to Z without dealing with the normal?
I’ve also only worked at a corporate job, but I was still under my consultancy. I was still dictating my time. I was working relatively close to an agency that allowed me access to the corporate 500 individuals. The way that I did that, I got hired as an administrative assistant and from the start, I didn’t want to be an administrative assistant. I came in and asked them “What is it that they were struggling with of what they wanted?” They were trying to close a new client. Looking at their presentation, I had a graphic design background and I saw that their PowerPoint was not a good presentation. I offered immediately, “Why don’t I help you design your presentation?” I started showing those skillsets right there. Even though I was hired to be an administrative assistant and simply do calendar work or responding to emails, I was putting myself out there in a different angle.
Within about three months I was going to meetings, helping present the presentation that I helped design. Even though I wasn’t talking during those first meetings, I sat and said, “How about I come and take notes about how your audience is responding?” Within six months I was talking, I was allowed to speak in these meetings. About a year, they started asking, “What would I do in certain situations?” Even though I was hired as an administrative assistant, that was what I was told I was going to do. I looked at what do I want and I want to meet these famous people or meet these corporate clients and put myself in a new position. I offered something different than what they had hired me for. That was a way to shortcut where I wanted to go.
I’m obsessed with these ideas. I have this book coming out where I talk about how comedians are especially good at this. First of all, they tend to see the world differently. When they’re looking at the world, they say, “Why do I need to do these six steps to get to this next level?” When it comes to behaving or misbehaving, they say, “Why not?” Why not show up at the meeting with a pad of paper and say, “I’m here to take notes.” On the one hand, it punishes deviance, but yet it rewards results. People overlook deviance if you’re getting results.
You can find that in school too. I’ve noticed a lot of my friends were bad in school who have turned into being either comedians or entrepreneurs. We’re the same structure. You’re the kid who’s talking too much and you’re the kind that says, “You’re on Adderall or you have ADD. You should be silenced. You should be put in the back of the class or whatnot.” I noticed that the comedians and the entrepreneurs seemed to be close friends because we’re the ones asking, “Why do I have to do that?”
You challenge the status quo.
If you think about it, schools are built on a farming factory model. It’s built on this production model. Entrepreneurship though is built on this disruption model, this high-value model. The thing is you want to create value that no one else is creating so you don’t have to compete on price. In Shtick To Business, I’m focused on what we can learn a lot about how to approach business problems, career challenges, not from other business people because all that advice feels the same.
Dan Kennedy called that incest marketing. You’re taking ideas from the same people that you’re using. You’re not venturing out into some other world. The idea seems to float around inside of a silo itself.
It’s an echo chamber.
You’re not pulling in from an outside world. I noticed comedy, you’re trying to comment on a situation that you might have experience with or you’re not experienced in that situation. There’s a comedian, I noticed he’s from Malaysia. He came to America and he comments about all the weird things we do as Americans, because of it, he’s able to see a situation or a system and then comment on it from an outsider’s perspective.
Even good American comics are good at this. They tend to be naturally outsiders. I like to say they live in this liminal space.
I was going to say that because the similarities between comedians and entrepreneurs are that we’re always living on the fringes. We approach things on a meta-level. We don’t do things, we think about why are we doing the stuff or what could be better? You also pointed out that comedians are anthropologists because they’re always observing what’s going on around them. I’ve observed a lot of successful entrepreneurs going to these panels, they always get the question, “How did you come up with this idea?” These entrepreneurs are always saying, “I first experienced this on my own and this was a pain point that I had.” I started questioning why is it the way it is and what could be done better? It’s similar to comedians how they approach things and observe things and always questioning, “Why are things done this particular way? Who sets the rules?”
One thing to build on that, Stephanie, is with our idea for Komedy.io.
Let’s step back before you get into that. I want to introduce this idea because people are probably like, “Why is this guy talking to these two?” Before we do that, I want to say, and Seinfeld uses this term, he says, “Comedians are humanoids.” They’re not humans. They’re not aliens. They’re part human. They understand the world enough, but they don’t fit in enough that they see those things.
It’s like the class clown, they’re straddling the cool kids and then the nerdy kids, but not belonging to either. They’re sitting on the sidelines observing and always questioning. That’s why they’re funny people. They want to pay attention to them.
One of the lessons that I have in the book every chapter is a big idea. I have what I call Act Outs. These are mini-lessons in between the chapters. One of them is called an Audience of One. The parallels between the entrepreneurs that you were talking about on these panels were like, “I had this problem. I sought out a solution for it.” A lot of comedy comes from a joke that a comedian that himself or herself thinks is funny, and then they start trying it out on others. Sometimes they can’t make anybody else laugh except their fellow comedians. Sometimes because they found it funny, it’s unusual or it’s a unique idea. I make the argument that an Audience of One strategy is a high risk, high reward strategy. The high reward is if you come up with something perfect for you and your problem, if there are other people like you, then you can build a business. If there’s no one like you, then it’s good for you and then on to the next.
That reminds me of Steve Jobs and how he approached the iPad. He created it for an audience of one himself, but it ended up being a lot of people liked that idea.
I always pull from a guy by the name of Russell Brunson. He’s a good inspiration for me. He’s got a company called ClickFunnels and he talks about entrepreneurship is that entrepreneurs are people who see a problem in the world and they take claim to go and solve that problem. That’s looking around, you look at entrepreneurs out there and comedians, they are looking at a problem and they’re trying to find a unique angle for that solution.
The word unique is important. Unique means one of a kind. People say, “That’s unique.” Unique is not a phrase. If somebody is unique, it’s one of a kind. That’s the way good jokes are. They’re one of a kind. There’s no other joke like it. Comedy in some ways is even more challenging than entrepreneurship, which is once you have a solution, you can sell it over again. A comic can only sell their solution for so long, then they have to seek out another unique solution.
There does seem to be a shelf life too.
There are only many people where you can’t tell the same joke again and have the same response. The people who have heard it the first time, they’re looking at their friends and they’re like, “This is it. This is the joke that I was telling you about.” They might have ruined it but their friends are ready.
We organized a comedy show and they announced a comedian was coming up and I pointed to Ben, I said, “She’s funny.” The first time I saw her, she made me crack up hard, but then the second time seeing her, she wasn’t as funny.You can’t tell the same joke again and have the same response. Click To Tweet
The shelf life of her joke didn’t quite transition like a business. You can’t scale it. You can’t automate it. You can’t have someone else do that part for you, but that’d be great if you could hire a comedian. You’re like, “This is my joke, but someone else is going to tell it and they’re going to go on the road with it and I’m going to make money off of that joke the whole time.”
Let’s talk about Komedy IO. You two are partnering with this new venture. This is a comedy with a K.
Comedy with a K was available. That’s how we came up with the name.
I was wondering about that. What is Komedy IO for the readers? This is the supreme test. I want to hear your elevator pitch.
I’ll start with the story. Do you remember the Dollar Shave Club video? The one from 2012 that went viral, 26 million views?
I have a story about that. I reached out to that guy to see if he wanted to write a blurb for my first book, The Humor Code, and he said, “No.”
Maybe he’ll come back after this story.
I didn’t reach out to him for the second book. I’m aware of it. It’s a big win.
He did eight years studying improv before he launched Dollar Shave Club. He saw a problem in the world that he wanted to solve and knew that the industry itself was a challenge. You have Gillettes, you’ve got these corporations that have been around for quite some time. To break through the noise, which those larger corporations are holding, he knew that humor has a way to break through that noise. If people want to hear something that relates to them. You can also get away with a lot more with humor. He can go and make fun of his competitors and use humor at the same time. No one’s going to take offense to it and he’s punching up.
He can create these us versus them statements and use a joke to tell that statement and everyone knows the elephant in the room that he’s talking about. It also becomes captivating for the audience. They want to be entertained. In a world of social media and the amount of entertainment out there, an ad is going to be easily moved on. You can skip ads on YouTube. On TikTok, you can swipe up the second an ad starts. On Facebook, you can simply scroll past it. It’s hard to captivate an audience’s attention. What Mike Dubin did was when he created that video cheaply for $4,500. He used himself as the example or as the spokesperson and simply talked about the pain points of what it’s like using another company’s products.
If you hear someone who doesn’t buy shavers, there are two big pain points. One is the price. It seems ridiculous that these things are priced the way they are. Secondly, the distribution model. You’ve got to go to Target, you’ve got to go to Walgreens. Because they’re expensive, they’re locked up in cases sometimes and you have to find an associate who’s going to unlock it to get you.
That is ridiculous.
The target audience is men. We forget to buy razors regularly. You might go through the first razor in a pack in a week and then the second razor might take you two weeks. The third Razor is going to take you a month and then that last razor in the pack, you’re holding onto it for six months. It’s rusty by the time and you’re like, “Maybe I should get it the next time I go to the store.” That’s a big pain point and he uses that inside of his 90-second ad. What did that ad do for them? They use it as part of their launch model. They already had an investorship. When they launched, they ended up with $65 million. It’s what they do on a reoccurring basis. It was a way to get a brand out there into the public being shared and people were excited to share the ad itself. The reason why people share any content is that they can reflect on that pain point themselves or the desire themselves. There’s behavioral psychology inside of it alone. Shareable content is a way to help other people share what they are feeling. Humor is a great way to add that to your branding. People want to share, “I found something funny and therefore I’m funny by sharing what’s funny.”
You get social credits.
There’s some research on how people share positive things especially humor. There’s this saying that sex sells, people don’t share sexy ads.
When was the last time you saw some porn ad? You’re like, “Let me share this.”
Even any sexy ad and people don’t do that.
That’s why our former motto was, “Sex sells, but funny sells better.”
With that, we saw an opportunity to help companies break through the noise. There’s a statistic that an average person is advertised to 7,000 times a day. I don’t know that I see 7,000 ads, but you do know that you see a lot whether it’s a logo on a product that you’re using, maybe even an advertisement, or a tag on someone’s clothing. There’s real estate that’s happening on clothes. How do you break through the noise and get something where you’ve got an audience’s attention? Either people are listening to something for 5 seconds or 3 hours. It’s almost like there’s nothing in between. You either have a TikTok or a Joe Rogan podcast.
How do you as a brand show what you can do for the customer and also compete against all the content out there? There are companies like Harmon Brothers who cost $500,000 through help write an ad Poo-Pourri or Squatty Potty. Those ads went viral. They’ve done hundreds of millions of dollars in sales, but to work with them, you’re starting at $500,000. We saw their model of what they’re doing. They have comedians inside of their marketing agency that is helping do the punch ups, the write-ups for this, and they’re working with marketers. That’s what we do. Instead of having to go to the Harmon Brothers, we’re finding comedians from all different walks who have different experiences.
A good example is a product we worked with who was trying to target mothers. We went and found comedians who are moms to write the pitch because they can relate to the problems a mother has. Working with a marketing team can piece the two together and create an effective humorous ad. We are a platform that connects comedians or puts teams of comedians and marketers together and works with any direct to consumer brand out there. To help them whether it could be a premise for their next ad or simply adding punch ups to their already existing contents.
The idea is that you don’t need comedians all the time, but you have certain projects that you do and so then you can. Stephanie, what would you add to this long elevator ride pitch?
Ben did a great job. I would like to add it’s especially effective for D2C brands because they tend to be younger challenger direct-to-consumer brands. Shopify has made it easy for these niche boutique direct-to-consumer brands to start building a presence for themselves. Humor is especially effective. Research has shown that humor or comedy is especially effective. First of all, I’m going to backtrack a little bit. Studies by Harvard and Nielsen show that humor is the most effective ad message type.
When applied the right way. Many other variables go into that. There has been researching that breaks down the different industries and products in which humor is especially effective. It’s been shown that commodity items benefit especially well with humor. The reason is that you don’t have to educate the consumer what it is so you can devote the air time to something humorous and entertaining to grab people’s attention. The other reason is that there is already a saturated market with commodity items. For a direct to consumer brand or what I would like to call is a challenger brand in an entrenched industry. In this case, Dollar Shave Club, they were selling a regular product that everyone knows about. You don’t need to educate people what a razor does, but it’s an entrenched industry already with Unilever, all these huge players. Humor is a good, effective way for a challenger, a commodity brand to start making some waves, rocking the boat, and getting people to start noticing them without having to spend the amount of marketing budget that these big giants have to spend.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money on product development because razors are good. You’re on the flat part of the curve in terms of improving.
If you’ve ever read the book Blue Ocean Strategy?
I signed that in my MBA class.
They took a red ocean and pulled in a certain market that was upset about the red ocean. It’s what’s called problem aware and solution aware. There are three different types of markets. There’s a problem aware and solution aware and what’s called a hot market, they know the problems that already exist and they’ve already tried these solutions. People who buy razors, they know the problem. They’ve got to shave their face. The solution is going to the store, buy razors. That’s a hot market. They don’t need much explanation as to what the problem is or the solution, but they’re frustrated by the process behind it. Having a razor delivered to your door is that last little frustration. Dollar Shave Club could easily come in without a better product and simply say, “What’s the problem? Price and delivery.” They don’t have to talk about anything else besides the two pain points in that market. They don’t have to educate about people shaving or that five razors aren’t going to do anything for your face besides the single razor. Shave your face.
You need at least three.
They don’t have to talk about everything else and they’re 90 seconds. They can talk about the two major pain points, do the punch ups, write the jokes, and then simply captivate that audience who’s problem aware and solution aware. Spend the ad dollars on only those people. They’re not like, “My wife didn’t see the ad before.” There’s no need for her to do that. A lot of marketing companies or brands are talking to the wrong people and they’re talking in the wrong way. This is where they do not see progress in their marketing efforts.
I buy all of this. It sounds like you’re making a case that more companies are in this category of product, especially challenger brands should be leaning in and being more entertaining.
Particularly because a lot of direct-to-consumer brands and other brands too are specifically targeting Millennials and Gen Z. Millennials and Gen Z grew up with the digital age. The VP of Marketing for Comedy Central said, “Comedy or humor is the currency of Millennials and Gen Z.” If they see something that they think is funny, that makes them laugh, they’re much more likely to share it with their friends online. It’s something that automatically is an action for them to share it with their friends.
I’m going to give you a chance to make a wishlist. Tell me some of the brands that need Komedy.io.
A few of them would be BarkBox. They’re an excellent company for it. They send dog food or pet food to people’s homes.
It’s Dollar Shave Club but for food for pets.
It’s the same model. Another company that we love is a bidet company called TUSHY.
I have a Japanese toilet. I have a TOTO Washlet.
I want one.
I’ve never been more envious of someone’s washing of it.Sometimes, less is more when it comes to comedy. Click To Tweet
That’s the high-end one.
It is. I have a buddy who bought a TUSHY and it’s an entry model, let’s say.
TOTO is like the Ferrari. I am saving up for one.
That was the first thing she said. I was like, “We should write an ad for a bidet company.” She’s like, “Have you heard about this bidet called TOTO?” She went on to explain it to me and I was like, “That’s a $1,200 bidet.”
Mine wasn’t $1,200. It was expensive, but the cost per use, it comes down quickly. TUSHY, they seem like a good one.
They already use humor, which is great. There are a few of them. There’s one called Spanx and would be a good one. Spanx is by Sara Blakely.
Spanx doesn’t need you.
They don’t need us at all. Do you want to break out our list?
Did you have it with you? That would be great.
I liked that you have a list because it’s nice. There’s a tendency for regular everyday people, but even MBA students to be focused on tactics. The hard work and the beneficial work is on the strategy level. I always talk about doing a 3 C’s analysis: analyzing the company, analyzing competitors and analyzing customers. If you don’t have identifiable customers, if your customer base isn’t big enough, a great idea, even one that doesn’t have many competitors might not be worth doing.
We’ve gone through and called these the direct-to-consumer companies that they’re not different.
That’s who you’re targeting.
Because they’re already inside of a red ocean and they’re trying to pull their market into their blue ocean. Some of these companies are already there. There’s a lot of competition out there. For them to break through that noise, it would pair up well by using humor.
The way I was to think about these things, you need a good product, and you need to sell it well. You’re focused on people who already have a good product and then how do you sell it better?
They’ve already got a model that they’ve been selling. They’ve proven that people want it, but how do you put the rocket fuel behind it?
They might not be big enough that they have their in-house team or they don’t have the budgets for one of these hotshot agencies that have the super creative.
A lot of these direct-to-consumer brands with MarTech and AdTech Solutions, a lot of companies are finding that they can, it’s democratized marketing. They’re finding that they don’t need to go to a traditional agency to help them with their traffic generation. The number one thing that they still rely on an external resource for is creative development.
For the reader who doesn’t know MarTech, AdTech, these are software service companies that you can essentially buy an online solution that will help guide a lot of your marketing decisions, collect data, and so on.
As well as there is the freelancer market. The freelancer market is going to change drastically, especially those against the W‑2 markets, the people who are being paid by employers to come in. Those companies are going to get smaller with their W‑2’s and the freelancer market is going to continue to rise. Companies will be leaner than ever. The companies like us, we can survive on a small team because we can reach out to other freelancers.
You have no overhead.
That’s the cost-saving that we’re trying to help pass on to our clients to reduce their payroll, but still allow them to tap into this huge network of pre-qualified talents.
I like this idea or I wouldn’t be talking to you. What I also like is that again, it allows the company to be more agile. The thing is they don’t have to have this group of creatives who have offices and have health care plans. Also then might be mismatched when you have a particular idea or a campaign.
Ben puts it well. He says comedians are audience-first thinkers. There is a trend away from these huge, massive influencers more towards micro-influencers or even nano influencers because you want to find that influencer that understands your pain point. To the fact they represent your audience. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re matching the brands with comedians that represent their audience and can speak authentically to the pain points that their audience faces.
The comedians are great at the audience-first thinking. They are constantly looking at how an audience is going to respond to what I’m saying versus a marketer might come in with a strategy or a tactic and they’re going at it headfirst. A comedian is going to be creative. They’re going to think about this differently, looking at it from different perspectives. To get a joke, you have to look at it from multiple angles and see what makes this topic funny. You’re constantly thinking about who’s influenced by this problem. By pairing up someone who has the strategy and the tactics with the creative or audience first thinker, you can surround yourself with that team looking at what’s the problem and how do we get this message to that audience and who is impacted by it? A good example, one of my favorite ads is the Poo-Pourri ad by the Harmon Brothers. Who’s going to watch the ad? It might be women who might be embarrassed by this subject.
They have a woman as the spokesperson, this person with a nice British accent who’s posh and you would never expect this person to talk about a subject like this. Because of it, it enables a new audience to pay attention to the subject and get a problem out there or show that there is a solution to that problem out there. This audience can feel comfortable listening to it. That’s the combination of good marketing and good comedy piecing together. I don’t remember exactly what those guys did in sales, but they crushed it. I know Poo-Pourri is the brand that they are. Even here at WeWork, if you notice in the bathroom, there are little spray bottles.
I didn’t use it but I saw that. The timing of when I’m releasing this episode nearly coincides with the launch of my book. In part because the way you’re thinking about things and using comedians to create content was essentially closely related to Shtick To Business. What you’re talking about this audience focus is elite-level comedian behavior. While the kernel for a joke may come from what the comedian finds funny, they’re honed in, he or she is honed in on adjusting it quickly or dropping it. Adjusting it so it’s maximally funny for the audience, even if it makes it less fun for the comedian and being willing to drop it if they can’t find the right hook.
That’s something that I read about the creative process that Mike Dubin of Dollar Shave Club and his team went through. They had a lot of material, but in the end, they realized that sometimes less is more when it comes to comedy. You want to throw in the punches at the right time and you don’t want to overload your audience with too much comedy because you want to be strategic about it. A lot of their material ended up on the cutting floor.
I’ve got two stories related to these ideas. Back to the idea of gearing towards the audience. I talked to Janae Burris. She’s a Denver based comedian who’s appeared on this show. She was my fifth guest or something like that. When she’s doing a show at a comedy club, a lot of comedians will hang out in the green room and eat chicken fingers and drink beer until they’re up on stage, but not Janae. She ventures out and will sit in the back of the club. She’s going to watch what the other comedians are doing, what reactions they’re getting. She scans the crowd. Who’s there? Are they drinking beer? Are they drinking martinis? Are they dressed up for the night? Is it a bunch of birthdays? She’s already planning what she’s going to do and adjusting it based upon her observations of the audience.
I also spoke to Wil Anderson on this show and Wil is a famous Aussie comedian and he’s a professional. Wil used to use a setlist. A setlist in comedies is the same as a setlist in music. We’re going to play these twenty songs in this order. We already have our encore planned, that kind of thing. Wil used to use a setlist and then he gave up the setlist because what he realized was, “I’ve got a bunch of jokes planned about going to the gym and then I get into the club and there’s a bunch of people who love going to the gym.” Going to the gym, he’s got four minutes on how much he hates going to the gym as he says, “I’ve never pushed this hard in the gym as I am on that stage telling these gym jokes.” He has a rough idea of what he’s going to do, but he tunes in to what the audience is responding to on the fly to do this.
I used the Marx Brothers as a case study in this book. I use them in a chapter called Taking a Bigger Stage and about how the Marx Brothers went from vaudeville to the theater to movies where they leveraged their brand and experience to reach more people via a different platform. They are renowned for having created some of the funniest comedy films ever. They have some obscene number of their films on the AFI comedy lists. It’s 5 of their 13 films are in the top 100 comedy films ever. If you think about that, that’s wild. It wasn’t always rosy for them. Their first five films, they had to find a film contract, didn’t do well. One of the problems why they didn’t do well was their jokes were coming fast.
When they did vaudeville or when they did the theater, Broadway, and so on, they would pause. The audience would be laughing. They were getting real-time feedback. When they were performing their jokes on a soundstage, there were no pauses because there was no feedback. They were thinking about going back to Broadway where the audience was appreciating them more. Chico, one of the Marx Brothers, was playing cards with the head of, I believe it’s Paramount. The guy says offhandedly, “I can make a movie with you guys that has half the number of jokes and makes twice the amount of money.” It’s along those lines that they cut. They cut the stuff that didn’t work, but then they also cut it so that it was paced in a way that worked for the audience.
It forces you, Mike Dubin said it forced them to be extra, have a high standard for what they did allow into their final cut. What you end up with is your cream of the crop humor.
I would relate comedy equally to storytelling. You’re telling some perspective, which in essence is a story. If you were to go, let’s say watch the Bourne Identity, this is an example from Donald Miller and his book Building a StoryBrand. He says, “You’ve got to make sure your storyline only hits the points that it should. You shouldn’t have these extra points in your story.” He uses the example of Bourne Identity. He says, “You’re watching a story about a guy who was trying to figure out why his memories are erased and who’s out to kill him and whatnot.” It’d be an awful story if suddenly he had a girlfriend and a cat and the cat needed to go to the vet and the cat broke his leg. He’s also trying to figure out who he is. That would be regular life if you had amnesia or whatnot. You’ve got these other problems. A story stays aligned with the most vital parts because you’ve only got much attention. Comedy is the same way. Ads are the same way too. You’ve got to only talk about the thing that is at hand, not the extra points that are coming out.
Let’s get back to your list and then I’m going wrap up with my final question for you two.
Here are a few of them on our list. We’ve got Sleepy Jones, which is a sleepwear company. There are dozens, if not hundreds of sleepwear companies. If not, you’ve always got your birthday suit they can resort back to because of competition’s high. Bonobos, they’re a direct-to-consumer company, men’s clothing. We’ve got Winc, which is a wine club. Think about the number of wine stores there are out there. Chubbies is an underwear/swimwear company. The competition is out there, but they also send it to you.
Give me one more.
The last one we will put out.
This is free advertising for you two. Pick a good one.
Let’s see who might be reading.You’ve got to think funny to think outside the box. Click To Tweet
Who might have a Google Ad alert set up?
Let’s say Brooklinen, beds, beddings, sheets. Are you thinking about how much competition there is for sheets out there? These guys are trying to send sheets to your home.
I’m going to reference back to Shtick To Business. Forgive me for shamelessly selling this book, but I’m super proud of it. Chapter three’s title is called Create a Chasm. Comedians create a chasm. They’re good at their audience laughing and they don’t care when the non-audience is not laughing and they don’t even care if the non-audience is offended. One of the things that brands can learn from comedians and this is supporting why they should call you, is they should take more chances, not fewer chances. It’s not in the book, but I teach it in my class. The Cybertruck comes out. It gets announced. Tesla announces its Cybertruck. What I love about that is some people love the Cybertruck and some people hate the Cybertruck for the same reasons. Having a brand that’s willing to push some limits and so on and risk some people isn’t going to like it. Oftentimes, it’s giving people a reason to like it, especially in the case where every single pickup truck in the world looks the same. You’re giving a person a reason to choose you for the same reason they’re giving you a reason not to choose them.
Even when your final output isn’t funny. Still thinking creatively from the start. Starting it with a joke as David Ogilvy had said, “You should start your ideas as a joke.” You’ve got to think funny to think outside the box and then your final products might end up being the Cybertruck, divisive. That right there is where a lot of brands are missing. You’ve got Doritos who hasn’t come out with a funny ad in years. They’ve tried but they don’t want to push any limits. They don’t want to be the company that is getting mocked or brought up in the media.
They’re too broad.
GEICO is the same way. It’s not that funny. Let’s see where you guys are going for it. Progressive has done the same thing, Allstate Insurance. None of them want to get on the blacklist and be divisive.
That’s why it’s not the big brands that should be doing this.
The challenger brands have more room to take more risks. The big brands are afraid to take risks because they feel like they have a lot riding. They have a lot at stake.
Even if it is divisive in a negative way, the press loves talking about it. They love talking about something that everyone else is talking about and making it more known. Because of that, you can get your name out there and it might come out negatively, but you’ve at least got traction. You can always turn that around positively.
The issue is this is not whether people are talking about you negatively. It’s the recognition that if you want to delight people, you might have to risk your non-target audience to be not delighted, but angry.
You’re not going to please everyone. It’s important to please the people that are giving money. The people that are complaining, who cares. Let them complain.
I’m on board with the ideas that you folks were working on. The last question, this is a little bit more for Stephanie because, Ben, you already have given me a couple of these. What are you reading, watching or listening to that’s good? Ben, you had Donald Miller, his book. That’s a good book and you said Dan Kennedy.
Dan Kennedy, the godfather of direct response copywriting.
This incest marketing thing, was that a book or was this in an article or a talk he gave?
I learned about it in a book called The Ultimate Sales Letter.
Stephanie, do you have anything that stands out to you?
I’m not sucking up but I’m reading Shtick To Business.
You’re one of the small number of people who have received an advance copy of it.
I’m happy that I get to have the opportunity to read it.
I swear I did not know she was going to say that.
What I’m watching is I tend to go back and forth. I’m in the middle of watching Narcos: Mexico. It’s not funny at all. What I’m listening to is a myriad of podcasts. I’m trying to listen to more recommendations from Ben. He bought me a high-performance productivity journal and it’s called The High Performance Planner and it’s written by Brendon Burchard who’s published a book on the High Performance Habits, he also has a podcast I subscribed to.
He’s going to like chapter four called Write It or Regret It.
She’ll love that when it gets to, I’m sure.
I have a friend she was an advanced reader and she’s like, “I’ve read 100 maybe 200 business books and I’ve never read a business book that talks about writing.” I have a chapter dedicated to writing.
It’s key. Minions are perfect at that. It’s how you end up with your craft, all your bad ideas out.
Part of it is that one of the best predictors of a good idea is the number of ideas you come up with. I’m working on it as a regular practice. Are you journaling?
Now was my first day. I heard it’s life-changing, I’m excited.
I will tell you this. I have been journaling. I started journaling because I was writing Shtick to Business and I was telling people to journal or at least to have a writing practice.
I could agree with that. I’ve been doing it and it’s great because at the end of the day, you also go through and you rate yourself, like how well you did. I love seeing the transformation of a day that I put myself as a 1 out of 5 and ask why did I perform at a one in this certain category? I went back through and I noticed I put myself as a six. I became a subconscious movement of I should be better in this category because the subconscious loves talking to the conscious while you’re awake, I focus heavily on that topic. You can align yourself like a pilot. You don’t go too many variants, off too many degrees off to get to your destination. Keep correcting yourself daily is the life habit for that one.
The saying, I don’t know who came up with it, probably Peter Drucker but, “What gets measured gets maximized.”
I would probably attribute that statement to him too.
I’m guessing but I could be wrong.
It sounds like it, Peter.
Someone else said something along the lines like, “Never do something unless you have collected the analytics on it.” It’s pointless to do something.
That person is a huge nerd.
I can see the reasoning behind it. It makes sense.
That person is not open to new experiences. This has been great fun. I appreciate you guys doing this. The timing of this is a good fit. I’m glad that you were able to welcome me into your low overhead workspace.
I’m excited to see Komedy IO grow.
We appreciate your time and having us on. It’s been fun.
Thank you much. Cheers.
- Komedy IO
- Russell Brunson
- Dollar Shave Club on YouTube
- The Humor Code
- Blue Ocean Strategy
- Poo-Pourri ad on YouTube
- Janae Burris – previous episode
- Wil Anderson – previous episode
- Building a StoryBrand
- The Ultimate Sales Letter
- The High Performance Planner
- High Performance Habits
About Stephanie Huong
Stephanie Houng. Stephanie is the co-founder and CEO of Komedy IO, a new platform that brings together brands and comedians to create creative content. Stephanie founded a media and marketing consultancy in Asia, working with clients such as Toyota, Doritos, and Disney.
About Ben Willson
Ben Willson is an accomplished marketing professional, including founding a Dental Marketing Agency and Consulting for Fortune 500 companies.
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