What Business can learn from Funny Business

If I am to believe my friends, “Date Night” is a bomb. Not “The Bomb,” but a bomb. An article makes all the difference. And it’s all because the some people in the Funny Business don’t understand the Business of Funny.

The movie stars Steve Carell and Tina Fey, and how could you miss with the stars of back-to-back Awesome NBC Thursday Sitcoms?

And how can you, as a communicator, learn from their mistakes?

My brother and I were talking about this the other day at lunch, and without having seen the movie, we outlined some serious problems that project would have to overcome. Maybe too many. It has to do with the type of humor involved in each show, and how they are not complimentary at all.

1) Clashing expectations

When you watch Steve Carell on “The Office,” you see a bumbling idiot in Michael Scott who is oblivious to everything around him. Common cues and courtesies fly right past him. He is utterly clueless.

With Fey’s Liz Lemon, you have a character who misses nothing. Like the Aaron Altman character from “Broadcast News,” she really does have the burden of always being the smartest person in the room. She is the bastion of sanity around which the absurd orbits. Michael Scott is the ethereal presence that infects all, yet is impervious to effect.

If the movie plays off the expectations from both actors, then you have Liz Lemon-flavor as the smart tart who is the harpy to Carell’s hapless ship. Who wants to see that?

At least when Carell did “Dan In Real Life” is wasn’t sold as a comedy, so he could break type.

2) Organization vs. Organic

The sort of comedy you get from 30 Rock is very different at its core than you get from “The Office.” With the typical episode of 30 Rock, you have something that plays the role of the Initial Engine – an event that triggers a chain reaction of comedic responses that culminate in a resolution. The script must be tight, because everything hinges upon tying those loose ends, and in this regard the writers for the show do a great job of weaving subplots and the like.

At Dunder-Mifflin, much of what takes place could indeed take place on any given day. You might have a couple of subplots that cross paths with the main one, but the chaos in Scranton is very organic compared to 30 Rock.

Plotting the differences in the typical episode, 30 Rock will be vertical – a Downhill catalyst that tumbles over everything in its wake. The Office is all about what happens in the periphery.

3) Style and Pace

The shows are very different. While 30 Rock does a fantastic job of breathing new life into the sitcom genre, it is still a sitcom. The viewer is treated to everything as just a viewer. Nothing more.

The Office has a mock-documentary format that provides a lot of insight through simple asides – character responses and observations that are intended solely for the audience. It’s a format that allows for the bending of the fourth wall without actually breaking it. In that respect, the shooting is highly improvisational, and each episode of The Office is put to bed with several minutes of usuable footage that just didn’t make it for time. 30 Rock does not have that luxury.

Mission Improbable

Add those up, and you’ll find it would be very hard to draft a script that plays off both their strengths. And it is not to say that as actors they couldn’t rise to a challenge and show us something new.

But their personae are very well-cocooned within expectations that have made them millions of dollars. Neither has done well playing against type, and they would have to be three times as good to overcome the audience expectation.

So tell me.

Why are so many communications professionals trying their damnedest to get their CEO to blog, or to Tweet? Why the headlong rush to put your corporate star in a vehicle that does not meet expectations? Maybe they can excel in a new role – or maybe they’ve succeeded for so long because of great casting.

If you’re going to stretch out into new forms of communication, test the waters before committing your cast to the next Waterworld.

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  1. I actually liked the movie. The problem maybe people are having is that it dealt with the mundanenes of marriage and daily routines. Maybe that’s where social media becomes unsexy. Not everyone is tackling the world’s issues, or customers or Ice T, but rather talk about their business. And sometimes that’s not funny or sexy…but it’s life.


  1. Ike Pigott says:

    What Business can learn from Funny Business (and why did "Date Night" suck?) | http://ike4.me/o63

  2. Danjal Es says:

    On Twitter: What Business can learn from Funny Business (and why did "Date Night" suck?) | http://ike4.me/o63 http://bit.ly/c1gBa4

  3. Ike Pigott says:

    Some social media efforts are doomed to fail for the same reason some movies are: bad casting | http://ike4.me/o63