TCC Podcast #109: It takes work to be funny with Eric Cunningham - The Copywriter Club
TCC Podcast #109: It takes work to be funny with Eric Cunningham

Comedy writer Eric Cunningham talks about what it takes to be funny with Kira and Rob for the 109th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. A lot of writers dream of working for comedy shows like Saturday Night Live or one of the late night shows. But there’s a lot of competition and success isn’t guaranteed. What does that have to do with copywriting? It turns out, quite a lot. We talked to Eric about:

•  the career path to become a comedy writer and what it takes to succeed
•  how to deal with the up and down of project work
•  what a day in the life of a comedy writer looks like
•  how to stand out in a competitive space
•  why you can’t wait to be chosen and what to do instead
•  what sets the successful comedy writers apart from those who fail
•  what does it take to be funny (and what we can do to be funnier)
•  why he says “Yes” to lots of things (including condo board meetings)
•  why copywriters should use more humor in their copy
•  the one thing he has done to up-level his career
•  where comedy is headed in the future

We had some technical difficulties half way through the show but it doesn’t affect the excellent advice Eric shares about what it takes to succeed in the world of comedy—and copy. Listen by clicking the play button below. Or subscribe on your favorite podcast app (we like Overcast). Prefer to read? Scroll down for a full transcript.


The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:

Eric’s Twitter
Upright Citizen Brigade Theater
Kira’s website
Rob’s website
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
Intro: Content (for now)
Outro: Gravity

Full Transcript:

Rob:   What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters and other experts ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits, then steal an idea or two to inspire your own work? That’s what Kira and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.

Kira:   You are invited to join our club for Episode 109 as we chat with comedy writer Eric Cunningham about writing for TV outlets like Comedy Central and TruTV. What it takes to stay sharp as a comedy writer, his writing process and what we might borrow from it, and what it all has to do with copywriting.

Welcome Eric.

Rob:   Hey Eric.

Eric:   Hello! Thanks for having me.

Kira:   I’m so excited to have you here. I was just telling Rob, Eric is a good friend. He’s close to home. He’s a fellow New Yorker, and I’ve known him for a while and he’s married to one of my best friends. So, this is a very special interview. I’m really excited that you’re here.

Rob:   Don’t blow it Eric.

Kira:   Yeah. No pressure!

Eric:   What if this ruins a friendship? A long lasting ..

Kira:   Right! Yeah, just to have you here as a comedy writer and someone’s who’s really outside of our space as copywriters and what we’re doing, I feel like there’s a lot we can learn from what you do day to day and just your experience so far.

So, let’s kick this off with your story. How did you end up as a comedy writer?

Eric:   Sure, so I was not a funny child at all. I was like a big nerd and, you know, liked politics and all that stuff. And then, in college, I was kind of like looking for my thing and I couldn’t find it because my whole thing growing up was being smart and then when you go to college, you’re surrounded by all smart people, and then I was like oh, I don’t have a thing anymore. So, I was just desperately looking for something that would differentiate myself a little bit, or just like find a home.

And, they were taking columnists at the school newspaper and I was like, I don’t have the attention span to write a full column, so I’ll just write … essentially this is … I mean this is how old I am. It was basically Twitter before Twitter was there. It was just like short little one liner observational jokes that were not associated with anything else and just like here’s joke, here’s a joke, here’s a joke. And, they published it, and people really liked it and it was different from all the other columns because it didn’t have any kind of through line. It was just assorted thoughts and jokes about like the dining halls and other useless junk. But, it was received well and I was like, oh, I guess this will be my thing.

From that, when I was graduating, I was like, I want to work at Saturday Night Live and decided to try for the NBC Page program which is a nice entry level position in the pipeline. I didn’t end up getting it, but I was like I’m going to move to New York anyway and figure it out and started taking classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and did all their improv and sketch. Got my first job in television, entry level, as a TV watcher for an old show called Best Week Ever, which is so fun. You would essentially do book reports, but about the Tyra Banks Show. It was very fun and from then, you just more and more other television shows and jobs and now I have my own show at the Upright Citizen Brigade Theater. I’m writing different scripts and just doing comedy. That’s kind of my whole thing in a nutshell. Hopefully it wasn’t too long and blathery.

Rob:   We like long and blathery, actually. But I’m curious, if somebody was wanting to follow your path … maybe even a little farther along, they’re not in high school or they’re not in college, but hey, I want to get involved in comedy. I think it would be fun to write. Maybe not for Saturday Night Live, but for the local comedy theater or that kind of thing. Could they follow the same path, or are there things that you would recommend they do that maybe you missed out on, or would do differently?

Eric:   Yeah, I mean I think the one sort of question I do get asked a lot by people who are trying to do comedy is sort of like what the path is. It’s so cliché, you’ve heard it a thousand times.

There’s no set path. The one thing I do encourage people to do is to find that thing that you love doing and nobody else is doing. So for example you know, if you … one thing I don’t get at all, Instagram stories. I’m not an Instagram story comedian and I don’t really get it. But, if that’s something that’s attractive to you..and you’re like, oh I really like Instagram story comedians and that kind of thing, then that should be a clue. You should go down that road, you’re going to find a lot of success versus if I tell you, like, you should be tweeting 10 times a day. And, you don’t like Twitter, well, you’re going to be bad at it and it’s not going to work, even if you put in all the effort. You should go after something that you really love and you’re naturally drawn to. Even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense or if you don’t know why or can’t see, like oh, I’ll do this and then I’ll get this, then I’ll get this and I’ll finally be happy. Like, that’ll never happen. Just kind of go for it.

Rob:   So, talk a little about the work ethic. Because I imagine this isn’t the kind of thing where you get a job and you’re just kind of showing up and the next level appears. It feels like this is the kind of thing that… because there’s so many people that would love this kind of a job that you’ve really got to put in effort. So, talk about that. What did it really take to make you succeed in those first couple of jobs.

Eric:   My very first job was working at Best Week Ever. It was very entry-level. I was a PA, so a lot of it was getting props when, you know, if we did a sketch and somebody needed like one of those tiny rings that holds a little bit of poison in it, from like the old Victorian Era. They were like, we need that prop. Can you go find one? It’s like, oh yeah, we’ll have to go find that.

But, work ethic wise, you have to like, just do the one job you’ve been assigned to do and knock it out of the park. I think a lot of times in those very entry level jobs, one thing I’d recommend to people, is don’t try to like, audition for you know a better job right away. Make sure you’re doing your job correctly first and then people will take a shine to your other ambition. Especially in the entertainment industry, if you’ve an assistant, do the assistant job well, and then the person you’re helping will try to help you. Versus, if you’re not doing your assistant job well but you are essentially trying to do stand up comedy all the time in the middle of a meeting, that isn’t going to bode well for you.

But, work ethic wise, you just have to produce a lot of stuff constantly because you’re right. There’s so many people that want these jobs. Every job is hyper competitive. You’ve against 20 other people, 100 other people, sometimes more. And you just have to constantly do it. Also once you get the job, these contracts are so short. You’re like well even if I hit a home run, the show could get canceled at the end of the season or I could get fired at the end of the season. Or, they’re changing the direction of the show and they don’t need writers like me anymore.

So, even once you’ve quote, unquote arrived, you would find yourself right back where you started, so you’ve kind of never feel super satisfied or safe, I don’t think. You’ve always thinking, well, if this doesn’t work, what’s my next thing.

Kira:   Yeah, and I’d love to hear more about that because I think that’s what similar with what you’re doing is kind of jumping from gig to gig and it’s not always a straight path and I imagine there are moments where it’s frustrating because your show is canceled even though you did a great job on it.

In a similar way, with copywriters, so many of us work project to project and we depend on having a system in place with leads, but sometimes we just have a really quiet month. So, how do you stay focused and not give up and kind of carve that path when there really isn’t a path laid out in front of you.

Eric:   I think one thing I’ve found very helpful because on a certain level I’m a control freak and I think exactly what you’re saying, there are somethings that are just out of your … if your, you know, you’re clients sort of dry up a little bit or you have a few weeks or months without work. You’re like, I can’t control who’s offering me money and work, but there are some things you can control.

So when a show gets canceled, if I have any heads up, I will try to schedule something for right after the show ends. If I don’t, I’m like, well let’s think back to the other periods where I’ve been out of work and if I waste that month or two, you know, doing whatever … waiting, I always feel bad about it. So I try to like, okay well, for example, if I’m been out of work for two months, I get another job while I’m at the other job. I wish I’d used those two months to write this pilot script that I’ve been noodling around and I always, I never have any time for it. But then, I had the time, but I was so obsessed with finding another job, I didn’t actually do it.

So, I kind of like, what’s in my control, I can write that script now. I can’t make a client appear, but I can do this. I can read this book about comedy writing. I can try this exercise. I can start this UCB show. That are the things I can do and hope the other stuff falls into place.

Rob:   Eric, I’m really curious what a day for a comedy writer looks like. How do you start? How do you end? How much of it is spent writing? Or brainstorming? Walk us through that?

Kira:   What are you eating? What are you drinking?

Rob:   Drinking? Yeah …

Eric:   Well, this isn’t going to be universal, this is kind of what my day is like. And one thing that I’ve found is, again, because I do consider myself to be some kind of robot that you have to kind of program to get any work done. If I don’t get any work done at the start of the day, then the rest of the day is kind of shot. It’s one thing I’ve found about my dumb human body and attention span. So, what I do is I have this app that I love and it’s called Streaks. And, basically you put in things that you want to do every day and so you check them off as you do them and it gives you like little marimba noise when you complete it and like little gold stars when you do it and you try and keep it up every day and it keeps track for you.

But when I wake up, immediately, I go and I have five tasks that I have to do and they are time limited tasks. So, I if don’t finish it, as long as I did it for 10 minutes, then it’s fine. But, for example, I get up and I read the previous night’s monologue jokes online. I don’t watch them, which I wish I could, but it takes so much time. I read them, the transcripts, then after 10 minutes, I try to brainstorm just refillable late night segments and once 10 minutes are up, I move on to writing monologue jokes and once 10 minutes are up for that, I move onto outlining one of those kind of Samantha B headlines and once 10 minutes are up on that, I spend 10 minutes thinking of a couple tweets that I can tweet out.

A lot of times, I don’t actually write the monologue jokes, I get stuck or something, but as long as I do it … as long as I try and sit down and do it, then I consider it a victory and that is a great way to start the day. I’ve spent, what is that 50 minutes in the morning and I’ve already accomplished so much and I haven’t even taken a shower yet and that’s such a great way to start the day. You take the shower, you get to work and you’re like, I already did a bunch of stuff this morning and now it’s going to be a productive day. A lot of times if I stayed up too late the night before and I skip that part, then the whole day is kind of shot. So, I’m definitely like a momentum kind of person. Just start your date …That’s why I start with the easiest one, reading monologue jokes. What could be easier than just reading a website? And then you get to the harder stuff.

Kira:   And, so this is really, it’s just your warm up, right? You’re not necessarily trying to create these deliverables to hand over to one of your clients. It’s just purely like, let me just get the creative juices going.

Eric:   And kind of skill building, so those are all things that I’m like, oh, these are things I wish I could be better at and also something I don’t get to practice at work. Like writing monologue jokes is not really a universal skill that applies to many other things. But, it’s like, I would like to get better at it and I have noticed that even this practice does help you do that. So it’s kind of that deliberate, focused practice on the skill you want to develop. But no, I’m not handing these to anybody and I would be terrified if anybody saw the doc that I do these in because they’re so bad. But every once in a while, you’re like, oh this is less bad than before.

Kira:   Right, and you get a couple tweets out of it, right, every day? Some content.

Eric:   I mean you get attempts at tweets and then sometimes you’re like that’s too bad to tweet out, even for free. Don’t put that out for anybody.

Kira:   So you mentioned earlier that it’s competitive, right? I mean, we all get that, even if we’re not in your space. So, can you talk to that competition and what it takes to really stand out and get these jobs and continue to move forward towards your big goal. How do you did that?

Eric:   One of the things I try to tell people going into comedy is how competitive it is and so one example that people talk about a lot is submitting to a late night talk show. So, let’s just use Steven Colbert as an example. People are like I really want to write Steven Colbert’s show and when there’s rumors that they’re taking packets, you sort of spread throughout the grapevine. You get the packet and you finish it and you turn it in and then you kind of like, your fingers are crossed and you’re like, oh I hope this is it.

And I think one thing people don’t understand is to think of it from the other side, of the people reading the packets, sometimes at least you have 20 packets to read, but typically you have one hundred, two hundred, three hundred, SNL is looking through hundreds of sketch packets and if you’re that person reading the packet, yes you want to build a great team but you’re also a human being that’s tired of reading the sketches and the same jokes over and over again. So, I really advocate people finding what makes them different or special that in that stack of a hundred or two hundred packets, yours stands out for some reason. So kind of take a little bit of a risk and do something cool that no one else is doing.

So, for example, you know if everybody is doing the same Trump tweet joke, then maybe don’t put that in your packet because it’s sort of wasted text if everybody else is doing it. But, if you have some sort of weird take that makes you laugh, like that’s the most important thing that you’re actually laughing at it. And you’re like now this is …. no one’s going to get this, or this is too niche, or this isn’t what they’re looking for, put that it. If you think it’s really funny and it’s cool to you and you think it’s a little risky, then I think that might be the thing that gets you in.

When I was reading packets for, there was a head writer awhile back. One of the packets, it wasn’t even the joke of the sketch, but I was a pop culture show and the writer was talking about Jay Z and Beyoncé. But, every time he wrote Jay Z, he made sure to note that was had to pronounce it as Jayze and .. just J-A-Y-Z-E … and it made me laugh and I was like, that is so dumb, but it made me remember that packet and pull it out as opposed to any other packet where it was just like Jay Z and Beyoncé, you know, they’re the best in the world and all that stuff. Just something to make yourself different and find what that is. And honestly, that’s super hard.

Rob:   Yeah, really hard and something I think that we see in our industry with the copywriters you know, trying to stand out, especially if you don’t have a niche among this huge group of other copywriters. So, another thing that sort of occurs to me as you’re talking about this is that a lot of comedy writers, much like a lot of copywriters are sort of out these just waiting to be chosen. You send in the packets, you’re kind of waiting for somebody to say oh yeah, you’re funny, here’s a job. But, I get the feeling that you’re not waiting to be chosen. Even though the goal is Saturday Night Live or having your own comedy special or something like that, there are other things in the meantime, before that goal happens.

Rob:   Maybe tell us a little about that process and like, why you’re doing what you’re doing in order to baby step towards that goal.

Eric:   I think that absolutely is. A lot of people are waiting.. one common refrain I hear a lot of people … there’s a lot more industry in Los Angeles and so people in New York and like, oh, I would move to LA if somebody offered me a job and you’re kind of like, that is more of that waiting mindset and, maybe it’s just me being like, oh I can’t wait for that. I don’t have faith that that will happen. But, I also don’t think it’s true that will happen, that just waiting and sitting around and that kind of thing will result in anything good.

A lot of it, and honestly this is not from me being some kind of like particular like … I just have to create, it’s my art … it’s literally just from looking around and being like, what did successful people do? Oh, they did their own thing. Every single one of them is essentially creating their own little mini empire and none of them, none of my favorite comedians sat around and waited to get staffed on a show, or to write to something. They all had their own stuff.

Let’s take Mindy Kalen for example. Her first writing job, I believe, was on The Office as a staff writer. But, before that shew rote her own 2 person show and it was like, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but obviously most people don’t know that but she was doing her own shows. And, Tina Fey is another example doing her own shows in Second City. You have stand-up comedians putting on their own hours and half hours. It’s not waiting around to get staffed. You have to like build your own thing. Then, in the meantime, you’ll also probably pick up these other jobs too. And, that’s why they want you because you can create and build stuff yourself and hopefully you’ve identified a voice for yourself and that’s also something people will want.

Kira:   So what else is the difference between the comedy writers that make it, like Mindy, and then the ones who struggle? So, it sounds like definitely, they’re not waiting. They’re working on their own stuff. They’re actively learning and improving. But, what else have you seen?

Eric:   I think it is, just this like … not to make it robotic again. Robotics is not the right word, but like, this sort of un-killable force of just continuing to trudge on through all this stuff. Just do the work, even if you’re not seeing the success. It is that gradual buildup of experience and the work. I think that doesn’t work, is the kind of like, I’m a special flower and I’m going to do one show every year or something, And that will make it happen. Just continuing to do the work and just always trudging through and it is that like, it’s sort of like a robot, it’s sort of like a zombie where it like, this will not stop coming at it. And honestly, as long as you keep doing that and finding new ways to do that, you’re going to be great.

Kira:   And, it’s funny I feel like, as a friend of yours, I’ve seen you over the years, and I have no doubt in my mind that, you were already successful, but like, you will hit your goals just because of the way that you operate and you stick with it and you don’t give up. I feel like it’s the same for copywriters. You kind of meet the copywriters who you know, even if they’re not there yet, they’re just going to make a name for themselves and grow this amazing business because they just have that force and they feel unstoppable. I wonder if that’s just something that’s within certain people or if that’s something that you can manufacture and really learn. If you have a moment where you don’t feel unstoppable or you don’t have momentum or maybe you feel like you took 5 steps backwards. What would you recommend to people who aren’t feeling that momentum in the moment?

Eric:   I mean it’s so great, Kira, to hear you say that you think I’m a hard worker because I’m the one that lives with me all the time and I’m like fighting this internal person that’s like you don’t want to do any work today. You just want to read all day. And I know that is the true me to just be lazy and not do any work. And that’s why the morning routine helps me out so much because there’s no will power at all. It’s all preset. I don’t have to force myself to do it and also starting small is great. When I first started it, all I had to do was read the monologue jokes in the morning. And I’d wake up and I’d read the monologue jokes and then I’d be done and I’d be like, I started the day off with something productive! And then, overtime you can grow it. But, I was actually just talking to a friend about this yesterday, it’s about building small victories as opposed to big wins. Just like the small thing. I made the bed this morning.

Kira:   Hey, that’s a huge win in my book!

Eric:   Yeah, it’s like, way to not be depressed and lonely and lazy all the time. But yeah, make the bed, or make yourself breakfast, or some days if you’re super lazy, like literally take a shower today. And you’re like, I did it. I did something and now I don’t have to do it anymore. And over time, you’re little somethings will grow into something bigger and you’re just making a lot more stuff and eventually you’re like, you know what? I think I can start this big project. I’m excited about it, and then you do it.

Rob:   Awesome. So, I want to ask a question that I’m sure you hear, if not every day, a lot, Eric. And that is, what does it take to be funny?

Kira:   I was going to ask that question!

Rob:   For those of us who maybe are a little bit funny, or aren’t funny at all, like, what can we do to be funnier?

Eric:   I do think everybody is funny. I think a lot of times, people get in their own way of being funny. When people are trying to be funny, when people are not being real, then it feels very forced and not funny. But, I think the example I always refer back to, when you’re hanging out with your friends, you guys are funny. Every time I ask people to think about the time they’ve laughed the hardest, it’s always been with a family member or close friend, about something stupid. But, you’re all laughing and you’re all laughing very hard and I think the difference is being able to recreate that energy when you want to. When you’re doing a presentation or trying to tell a joke. A lot of times it’s people getting in their own way. When you’re with family and friends, you’re your true self and you’re funny and you’re natural and everything just kind of clicks. I think when people aren’t funny it’s when they’re trying too hard or doing something artificial that they think other people will think is funny but isn’t actually funny. They don’t believe in, or if it rings false, I think being funny is finding out who you really are and letting that person free.

So yes, this turned out really hippy-dippy, but yeah, I think it’s just being yourself and trusting it.

Rob:   So, there are some exercises we can do to make ourselves funnier? Like, you have your morning routine that gets you going. But, if we want to get better at this, what are things that we should be practicing? You know, are we supposed to be looking at things that make other people laugh? Or should we be writing jokes? What can we do?

Eric:   Yeah, I mean, I think as a writer, I do think Twitter is … while a dying medium … a great exercise. It helps you write things clearly and succinctly. I think especially for copywriting, you get to practice those short, quippy, funny thoughts. And again, I think if you’re on Twitter, your favorite people on Twitter are people who have their own voice and speak the way that they speak as opposed to sometimes the way a corporation may want you to speak, or corporate America likes.

But, I think a good exercises is to write some tweets in the morning or just something to write jokes, standup in the morning. As long as you’re making yourself laugh, I think that should always be the goal versus trying to make somebody else laugh. You will become funnier and funnier. And I don’t think sometimes people get an ego about it, but you should be trying to make yourself laugh. If you laugh out loud at yourself, it feels kind of gross, but then after a while, you’re like, no but that’s what it’s supposed to do, you’re trying to get a laugh, and if you’re not laughing, why should somebody else?

Kira:   So Eric, you know I know a lot of comedy and just copywriting is about studying people. Observing people and really understanding what they’re all about and even how strange people can be at times and how wonderful they can be at times, as well.

So, what do you do, what are some of your practices that help you really observe people and then engage with them and ultimately, probably gather some material for your comedy. If you want to share any examples, we’d love some of your examples.

Eric:   Sure, yeah. I mean, this comes from the teachings that you see. But, it’s just like saying ‘yes’ to things has been very useful to get new experiences and to meet new people and a lot of times if you’re like on the fence about something, and it’s not a bad thing, just go ahead and do it. So, one example that happened probably about a month ago, my wife and I, Emily and I moved to a new building and it’s the first time we’ve lived in a building with like condo board and co-op board and I always head these nightmare stories about it and there was sign saying there was an open board meeting on a Tuesday night and I was like, okay, maybe I’ll go to that. Why not?

So, Emily was like, absolutely not, I’m not going to that. But I went, and I was also like you know, to see what was the deal, because there had been a little flood in the building and kind of catch up and get informed. So, I had a practical reason to, but I also just kind of wanted to see it. And, it was so amazing because it was exactly as you always hear with all the manoosha and internal politics and you’re like, you guys are neighbors. You’re accusing each other of like, doing all this backstabbing and manipulation.

It was my first meeting, but it was clear that the previous president has just been ousted and there was a new president installed and they were still having to run the meeting and kind of lock in the minutes from the previous meeting and then somebody stopped the minutes from being logged and they’re like, why are you stopping it? Because I believe the minutes have been doctored and I have evidence. And like, you know, you have 50 days to log the minutes then on day 49 I noticed all these changes to the minutes and I think you’re trying to cover something up.

All this drama and stuff and it was so exciting to see it happen in the flesh and I’m 5 feet away, kind of not hiding my big old smile at all this drama. It was so fun and I’m like I’m so glad I went down there because now I know what this experience is like. I know what these other neighbors are like and who hates who and what kind of people are sitting on this board and spending their time doing it. It was so fun and just from saying yes to that experience, I think helps so much.

Rob:   So is that kind of an experience sort of thing that you can take and turn that into a comedy sketch for the show that you’re doing currently? Or do you look at that and say that’s just experience and I’m going to draw on that later. How do you make something like that work for you right now?

Eric:   Sure, I think one thing that we had talked about earlier is never wanting to force something to be funny. So, while I was there if something made me laugh a lot an idea comes, then my strategy is to always try to write down that idea as fast as I can, write down the script or whatever it is as fully flushed out as I can because it’s funny to me at that moment. But a lot of times, is it just kind of background information or experiences and a lot of times I’ll take along time for your mind to digest the experience and mine it for comedy or find some purpose for it, and that’s okay too. If it calls to you … and this is where we get hippy dippy again …but if it calls to you in the moment of like, this is hilarious, write a script for this now. Then great, if it doesn’t that’s great, too, maybe it’ll come up later, maybe you’ll remember it.

One example was reading an article about a man … this doesn’t sound funny …but a man who had been killed in his own home and the home was engulfed with thousands of bees and then at the very bottom of the article, the police, the kind of police chief was like we can’t determine a cause of death. And you’re like….

Rob:   What are you kidding me?

Eric:   Yeah, like. You know that he died. Until the medical examiner we can’t declare a cause of death. But you’re like, clearly this guy died from like thousands of bees. And to me that was funny enough to kind of write a sketch about a police officer having to do a press conference where he can’t determine a cause of death even though very clearly a man was stung by thousands and thousands of bees. And so for me at the time, I was like, this is very funny, I have to write it out now.

I think when you find those moments, and you’re laughing out loud. Yeah, write it up. That’s the special thing that’s so hard to bottle. So, take advantage.

Rob:   I like it. So, and we can note for everyone that’s listening, we’ve lost Kira’s sound. So, I’m going to ask questions for Kira just so that everybody knows that she’s actually here but it’s going to sounds this horrible Rob voice instead of Kira’s awesome voice.

But, Kira’s asking why should copywriters be using humor in their copy. Does it trigger emotion or does it improve the copy in some way? Is there a reason we should be using humor more?

Eric:   Sure. I think humor also gives authenticity because it’s the way people really talk. So, I think a lot of times in copywriting, I think the biggest problem is when things come off as fake. A lot of times you’ll see ads, and you’re just like, I don’t want to mention one particular ad, but there’s a certain car company who says they use real people and not actors and I personally, I don’t have any information on this, but I personally don’t believe it.

And to me, I hate those commercials so much and it drives me crazy. And I’m like, I don’t buy this. I’m sure you make great cars, but now I don’t trust you and you’re not being authentic and I don’t believe you. Whereas if you were just a regular commercial and you were honest with me, I would like you more. But now I have this visceral mistrust because you’re not talking the way I think you are. You’re not being honest with me and I think comedy comes from truth and authenticity. So, that’s why I think comedy is sort of a shortcut. It’s fun, but it’s also true. If you are laughing at it, it means you agree, you agree with the basic truth of what you’re laughing at, even if it’s an exaggeration. But, you’re being honest and you’re being true and I think it’s a great shortcut and it’s a fun shortcut.

Rob:   Eric, I’m really curious. Is there one thing that you’ve done in your career that’s really helped you up-level to where you want to be?

Eric:   Yes, so one thing that I used to be … so I started off in sketch comedy and when you’re starting off with anything you’re very nervous and you think like, this has to be the sketch that gets me on Saturday Night Live, and this is the sketch that takes down Trump, like yeah, this is the one. And, you get in your head so much and one thing that they have at UCB is a show called Sketch Cram. The principle there is a bunch of writers get together at 9 in the morning … there’s a lot of morning writing in my world, I guess. But, you get there at 9 in the morning and you have no idea what the show will be. But, you know your show is at midnight that night, so you have to pitch each other ideas, write up the scripts, rewrite the scripts, bring in actors, get them to memorize the scripts, and then put on the show at midnight when you start with nothing in the morning.

And, that teaches you to just not be precious. You’re just going with, this is kind of funny, let’s just do that. How about this? Oh, I don’t know. Don’t like this, that’s okay, I only worked on it for 20 minutes, it’s trash. And you stop getting precious about it. And to me, that experience was such an eye opening thing because the sketches that you write at Sketch Cram are almost always your best stuff and it makes no sense because you spend the least amount of time on them. But, it’s because you’re not being pressured, you don’t have all this pressure on it. So, gradually, and I think it’s the same principle as me working in the mornings and it’s all the skills. I’m not being precious. I’m not showing this to anybody. I’m just doing it for 10 minutes and creating a lot of content and then you look at it and you’re like oh, this wasn’t that bad. This is actually pretty good. Because I wasn’t so nervous and pressured about it.

Rob:   Where do you see comedy going in the future? And what’s next for you?

Eric:   Oh man, if I knew what comedy was doing in the future, I would be doing it! I honestly have no idea. Well, I think my gut instinct would be a lot more based on individual personalities. I think with … this is such a dorky corporate way of speaking, but like, with the internet connecting everybody, now you get to hear voices that you never heard before. And, voices that maybe didn’t have a big enough audience to sustain their own television show. Now you have new audiences because technically everybody is global now, you can find an audience in another country, even if you don’t live there.

I think it’s going to be largely based on people’s individual’s personalities as opposed to like, I think the format of late night comedy or I like sitcoms, that’s what I like. I think you’re going to find more and more, I like this person, I like this performer, and I like this twitter account. And, you’re just going to resonate with them more. It’s sort of going to replace your friends a little bit of like, these are the people I hang out with because I see them talk to me for 15 minutes a day, which is more than I talk to my best friend, maybe.

Rob:   Yeah, I think that personalization of comedy maybe relates really closely to what we do in copywriting as well. The more personal we get with a customer that we’re trying to speak to directly, the more easy it is to sell. So yeah, this isn’t very typical of the kinds of interviews we do in the past, but there’s so many crossover lessons from what you’ve been talking about and how we can apply it to copywriting. We so appreciate you coming onto the show and just sharing your experiences and your expertise. Eric, if people want to connect with you or learn more about you or watch one of your shows, where should they go?

Eric:   Yeah, I’m on twitter @ericcunningham. And, anytime I’m working on something, I end up plugging it, but I also write jokes, as we talked about at the very start of this, and that’s probably the best place to find me. My Instagram is just full of pictures of me and my wife doing stuff. So, just twitter.

Rob:   It’s all good! So, thank you so much for coming on, we really appreciate, again, your advice, your expertise, and for making us laugh a little bit. We appreciate it. Thanks.

Eric:   No, thanks for having me. This has been great.

Rob:   You’ve been listening to The Copywriter Club Podcast of Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music from this show is a clip from Gravity by Whitest Boy Alive available on iTunes. If you like what you’ve heard, you can help us spread the word by subscribing in iTunes and by leaving a review. For show notes, a full transcript and links to our free Facebook community, visit the We’ll see you next episode.




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