My first mentor died last week.
Not that he ever knew he was my mentor. Okay, he didn’t actually know I existed. But that didn’t stop him from, basically, making me the person I am today.
Because Stan Freberg taught me that there’s nothing better than making people laugh. Primarily in 30-second intervals.
Freberg was 88 when he died – old enough where a lot of you probably don’t recognize his name. Or you might…he was a humorist, and he did a lot of cartoon voices, as well as a lot of other entertainment industry-type things. But to kids like me, who grew up in front of the TV in the ‘70s, Stan Freberg is the guy who transformed the lowly, 30-second commercial from that thing that interrupted whatever crazy-ass hijinks were going on during The Beverly Hillbillies into the highest form of comedic art.
Or at least, more comedic and more artful than The Beverly Hillbillies.
Unlike most so-called “creatives” at the time, Freberg took the term seriously. He thought there might be a better way to get you to buy a product than to endlessly repeat an annoying slogan like “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin” until you wanted to channel Elvis, grab a gun and blow a hole through your TV screen.
Instead, he thought commercials should actually be — you know — entertaining. He went for the big laugh instead of the hard sell. He was over the top, in your face wacky. He even got celebrities to help out, convincing the most unlikely personalities, from sci-fi author Ray Bradbury to TV’s Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore, to appear as themselves in spots that had basically nothing to do with the products they were hawking. When they were over, you didn’t know you were being sold anything. Because you were too busy laughing.
Which is probably why Ad Age dubbed Freberg “The Father of the Funny Commercial.”
And also why I grew up with a serious obsession with advertising – especially TV ads. And they didn’t even have to be funny! I was that kid who would recite a Preparation H commercial, verbatim, to anyone who would listen (whether they wanted to or not). I had favorite jingles as opposed to favorite songs. And after the glorious Christmas when Santa managed to squeeze a Panasonic portable cassette recorder into my stocking, I spent hours holed up in my bedroom, recording dozens of spots for my own, made-up products.
I guess no one was surprised when I ended up a copywriter.
But even today, more than twenty-five years into a writing career that has taken me on a long, twisty path from advertising to marketing to ghostwriting to coaching and even a little screenwriting, there’s still that little piece of Stan in me. I still love nothing more than making people – and, okay, myself too — laugh. I know it’s not rocket science, or curing cancer, or even writing the Great American Novel. But it’s still pretty cool.
Check out this little piece of Stan Freberg greatness – possibly my all-time favorite – and maybe you’ll agree with me.
RIP Stan. And thanks.