F*** Likability

“But is he likable?”

I’ve heard “But is he likable?" a hundred times, from both clients and account directors. And it always takes a huge amount of effort for me not to thrust my head through the drywall.

Oh, I get it. In real life, likable is a good thing – pleasant and friendly. And unlikable is a bad thing. I get it!

But let’s understand something…

In real life, we find people unlikable because we have don’t have the luxury of the filter of the screen or stage. They’re right there in our laps pushing our buttons! I have a theory that if you took all the people who drive us nuts in real life and put them on TV, we’d find the enormously funny and likable. Because we don’t have to deal with them! (Conversely, all of those characters we love on TV or films, if you stuck them in your living room, you’d want to throttle them.)

I say any character who is authentically striving is likable. When we make characters “likable”, we’re killing their souls. Comedy thrives on characters acting out their misunderstandings. (Hell, Hannibal Lecter was likable and he ate people.) 

And the only characters we find unlikable are those who are acting inauthentically. And advertising is filled with these mealy-mouthed, “Oh, god please don’t hate me" types. 

Our industry is so creatively meek and hesitant, so afraid of ostracizing its audience. We’re like that agency traffic person I used to work with. Laura would meekly knock on our office door (which was always wide open, by the way) and hover while she waited for us to acknowledge her. Made us nuts. On the other hand, there was Brenda, god bless her, who just barged in and told us to hit our deadlines and called us “lazy assholes”. Loved that. She was doing her job. She wasn’t asking us to like her. She just told us to get our shit together. Then she left. Awesome.

The art of comedy understands that people are doing their best. And when they do, no matter how misguided, we accept them. 

Susie Greene in "Curb Your Enthusiasm"

Zach Galifianakis in “Between Two Ferns”

Danny McBride as “Kenny Powers”

 

These characters are so arrogant and misguided, simply doing their best with what they know. We don't forgive them for it. We love them for it.

People who seem creepy are the ones with an unspoken agenda. And advertising’s unspoken agenda is “Please like me.” Likability? Fuck that. This is comedy, for chrissakes. People act in all kinds of bizarre ways. Let's go with that.