Everything You Know is Wrong
The members of Firesign Theater said it all when they named their 1974 album “Everything You Know is Wrong.” That's the attitude you have to take. You need to question everything around you. You can't just accept things as they are; you need to consistently challenge the status quo. That doesn't mean you have to be an outcast from society; it just means you need to look at things differently.
You need to become that three-year-old in the backseat of her mother's car who won't stop asking questions: Why is the sky blue? Can I have a cookie? When can I have a cookie? Why can't I have a cookie now? Are we there yet? When will we be there? Can I have a cookie now? Why can't I have a cookie now?
That's basically what comedians do. They ask, “Who said it should be this way?” Look at any TV commercial that show a group of “regular” people talking to each other with, of course, the product that's for sale. Millions of people see that commercial multiple times and do nothing. In most cases, the ad barely even registers; it just becomes background noise.
Turning Questions into Comedy
Comedians don't accept anything at face value. Look at that commercial and start questioning it. Have I ever had a conversation with anyone who spoke like the people in this ad? How stupid do they think we are? If you actually stop and think about what they are saying, you'll be amazed at how stupid the creators of the ad think people are. But most people are used to it so they accept it. They accept things as they are.
A comedian will look at that same ad and say, “That is the dumbest thing I have ever seen. I must tell the world. How can I make fun of that?” and they might mention it in a stand-up routine or write a commercial parody sketch about it. But what else could you do with that premise?
How about a sketch that shows a group therapy session for commercial actors who can't stop speaking that way? Or you could show a woman in her living room who says to herself, “How am I going to get that juice stain off the carpet?” Then suddenly, a booming announcer voice starts talking to her about a new cleaning product. Instead of her acting like someone in a commercial who finds that normal, what if she freaks out and thinks she's going crazy? As she's trying to make the voices stop, you could compound her troubles by having the product appear in her hand or have a talking cartoon character walk into the living room.
The brilliant Steven Wright is the stand-up king of perception. His weird, funny, and quirky observations are truly original. Check out his CDs I Have a Pony and I Still Have a Pony, and just try to guess how his mind works — he's incredible.
What if there were a drug to help people who talk like people in drug commercials? You know, people who only talk about warnings or side effects. You could also write a satire of these ads that illustrates the very real problem of people asking for drugs that they don't need because a commercial convinced them they did. Ask yourself how a doctor would respond if she were confronted with a perfectly healthy patient convinced he needed the medications he saw advertised on TV.
Twist things around and ask yourself what an advertising agency meeting would be like with executives trying to make a boring item, like a garbage bag or paper towels, sexy and exciting. By asking questions, you can take the ordinary and make people notice that there's more to it than they thought.