What Are You Laughing At?

Monday, 1:42pm
Reno, NV
I’m not panicked — I’m just expelling stress…


Okay, I’m a little panicked. But not in a bad way.

What you’ve got here is a dude (me) who has found his groove while in his home office — relaxed, productive, having fun… who is preparing to be jettisoned out into the cruel world of airline travel and travel.

And I’m trying to get about a week’s worth of work done in two days here. While packing and futzing with my PowerPoint presentation.

I’m sweating.

See, I’m off to Orlando for two seminars — first, a private workshop over the weekend, where I’ll be personally coaching people on copy… and then, right after that, Rich Schefren’s big event, where I’ll be delivering an interactive presentation.

Working without a net the entire time.

I enjoy these big damn events, once I get to the hotel and get settled. It’s the travel that gets to me — I’ve got a six a.m. flight, one plane change (in Atlanta, no less — a truly abysmal airport), and I’m forced to check luggage this time (which means I may never see a lot of my favorite clothes again).

I’ll be gone for a week, so don’t burn the place down while I’m gone.

I’ll try to blog from the road. (I’ll be fully armed with computers and high-speed web, but short on time and energy.)

In the meantime, I’ve pulled a post from the Radio Rant Coaching Club, and pasted it below for your edification and enjoyment. As much as I share in this blog, you know, I do even more for the guys in the coaching club. (That’s a small pitch — if you haven’t checked out the opportunities of the coaching club yet, you’re being foolish. Go to www.carltoncoaching.com right now, and get your free trial month. Just do it.)

This post below was my answer to a Forum query about the role of a sense of humor in creating advertising. Not in the copy — but behind the copy, in the head of the writer.

This is an important topic, cuz people screw it up so often. I have lots more to say about this, and if you want, we’ll do a deeper discussion later. Please post your comments on this, and let me know what you think.

Here’s the post from the Radio Rant Coaching Club:


The subject of developing, or finding, a sense of humor always comes up when pro’s gather in a smoky back room to discuss advertising.

None of us know if it’s a self-selection process, or just an accident… but I can’t think of a top copywriter who doesn’t laugh easily and heartily (and at a wide range of funny subjects, from the profane to the juvenile).

My theory is that the top end of any creative gig is over-represented by naturally funny people. Practical intelligence (the kind that gets stuff done, not the kind that stares at its own navel) comes already equipped with a cutting sense of humor — it’s part of the default software of our minds, I think.

I mean, even the really depressed and suicidal guys who are highly creative (and I’ve known some) are achingly funny when you get to know them.

However, you should not despair if you feel you don’t have a “top end” sense of humor. I’m talking about only the top 1% of the best. There are plenty of very, very good writers who roll their eyes at the hot-shots in the corner, howling with laughter.

You can be dead-ass boring, and still do a great job. Most people are somewhere between the two extremes, and once you find your own groove, you’re fine.

I have nothing but anecdotal proof behind this, but my suspicion is that without a killer sense of humor, you aren’t equipped for the rare air at the tippy- top. It’s a stress releaser, a bonding tool, and a way to look at the world when things aren’t going so well.

Kind of like having nice, razor-sharp teeth as a predator. It’s one of the main tools, and trumps all kinds of other handicaps.

I don’t think you can “find” a sense of humor, though. You got what you got.

It’s not a big loss if you’re not a belly-grabber. There isn’t room at the top of any profession for everyone, anyway.

Gosh, that sounds arrogant, doesn’t it.

And maybe I’m wrong. But them’s my thoughts, anyway…

Side note: Halbert and I spent most of our years together laughing, even when things weren’t so rosy. At seminars, good-hearted and well-meaning folks would try to sneak up next to us to share in the fun… but were almost always horrified at WHAT we were laughing at. It was often juvenile stuff, or else so obscure and “inside” that no outsider could possibly fathom what was cracking us up so much.

Watch the movie M*A*S*H (not the dreary tv show). It’s centered on this very subject — the funny, irreverent dudes against the humorless bastards. It’s a partian movie — the funny guys are the heroes — but there are many people who watch it and think “How come those assholes are depicted as heroes, when they’re clearly savages… imagine, laughing at serious stuff…”

Go figure.

Last note: Truly advanced humor has little place in the final results of advertising. I’ve hung out with Frank Kern a few times, and he’s an evil-funny bastard… but he reins it in when he writes. Hard to believe, since his copy is so edgy, but it’s true. We both vow never to reveal what we really talk about in private, you know…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

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  • RS Mallory says:

    John, I love this article. On my desk I have a Statement that I read each day. Well, I actually BREATH and Live it, and it is there are a reminder 🙂

    “I am able to Live my Passion and help others attain THEIR goals and drams and find blessings along the way. FUN is the largest word in my vocabulary.

    I practice Laughing every single day and NO day is complete without a gafaw loud and long enough to make my kitty come looking to see wha the heck is happening!”

    Your statement, “laughter……It’s a stress releaser, a bonding tool” is the FINITE difference between sanity and success and those that just muddle through. I teach relationship building and personal development through my http://www.CompassionateMarketing.com blog and bonding is a critical skill. You have put it so aptly, so go laugh a little and bond allot!

    Thanks as always for your insights.

    Practicing Abundance, Prosperity & Kindness EVERY DAY,

    RandiSusan Mallory
    Compassionate Marketing
    512.472.2604 Country Code 001
    SKYPE: rsmallory

    BE a Mentor with A Servant’s Heart

  • Billy Kirkley says:

    Frank has savant like qualities
    I was in stitches through-out his last masterpiece

    Advanced humor does have its place in the final results
    anything that comes our of New Zealand is a tribute to this
    if you get a chance take some time and have a look, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

    (That’s a big call coming from an Aussi)

  • Marc says:


    Just a thought… I learned somewhere that laughter is an reaction or expression of embarrassment. What makes us laugh are things that embarrass us.

    So two people laughing together are sharing a mutual embarrassment. Fine. They are establishing joint social codes – “I find this funny (embarrassing) and so do you. Look what we have in common. I like you.”

    Sometimes people find something funny but hold back their laughter (I’ve certainly done this!) because they are not sure if it is an appropriate response in the situation e.g. formal occasion, a new movie, etc. They do not want to set themselves apart from the other people who do not share their laughter/embarrassment.

    Why do top copywriters laugh more easily and heartily (and at a wide range of funny subjects, from the profane to the juvenile) ? Perhaps it’s because they are more in tune (and comfortable) with themselves and also with society at large. They are more secure in themselves and so do not have the worry, or fear, of seeming out of place or “wrong”.

    Perhaps this general empathy with the world is what makes them top copywriters. They instinctively know what other people (in general) are thinking and how they will react. They are confident. Everyone prefers to buy from a confident person. Confident in themselves and in what they are selling.

    As I say, just a thought… and thanks for the blog! Stumbled on it one day and keep coming back….

  • […] John Carlton, a great copywriter who I very loosely refer to as ‘my copywriting mentor’, has written another excellent article on his Big Damn Blog. […]

  • Rezbi says:

    I know this may seem pretty cheesy, but I hope no-one missed that shameless plug John made about his radiorant.

    I would personally recommend it very highly and, if you’re serious about copywriting, you should definitely give it a go.

    Heck, it’ not like you risk anything, especially in the first month.

    I like it so much, I even recommend it on my blog here:

    Honestly, I have no shame. (Slap, slap, ouch!)

  • David Craft says:

    Thanks John!

    I get awful and disgusted looks, accused of being a kid who’ll never grow up. All I do is put ice down ladies shirts, blow up little brown bags so I can sneak up behind someone being way too serious and pop them next to their ears, etc. I could care less if I’m 55 going on 10. What is life if you can’t enjoy it? And yes, I’ve been accused many times of making light of serious situations even though many of the people doing so could hardly contain themselves after a few choice comments as well. I believe God has a great sense of humor and your test, boys and girls, is life.


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