Hey, advertising! Look at this! Something is happening!
I know, I’m always yammering on about how nothing happens in commercials.
Something happening doesn’t happen. Comedy depends on something happening. If something is not happening, all we have to look forward to is a slogan and a logo. And how entertaining is that? It’s not fucking entertaining.
Comedy depends on what comics call the second story. The first story – Peter Griffin complaining about a new kind of spit ball – fills us with assumptions. A really big spitball? A spitball with a homing device. With a face?
The Family Guy writers know we’re in Peter Griffin’s world and we expect something un-spitball-like to happen, know they have to take it to the next level. Not a spitball -- rather an angry, insane, bucking, full-sized bull.
When the story we make up is blown up beyond our assumptions, laughter happens. (I snorted the first time I saw this.)
I blame Judd Apatow and the ten-year wave of improvisational dialogue comedy. Nothing happens because the absurdity of arguing over nothing can be pretty damn delightful. (Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd in the “You’re so gay…” argument while playing Halo.) We’re caught in a world of mild absurdity. Something not happening is the joke.
But advertising has taken this ironic absurdity way, way too far - into the world of safety. Where no one will be offended if nothing happens.
No one’s laughing either.