Why bother begging the media to pay attention to you, when you can trick them into doing so?
Recently, there’s been a boom in stunts by comedians that are designed specifically to manipulate the media to their own advantage and it’s becoming almost an art form in its own right.
Here’s a breakdown of some recent high profile examples and an explanation of how you can learn from what these comedians have done and create your own media stunt to gain attention for yourself, even if it’s just within your own local community.
1. Work With A “Celebrity”
The most recent example of media manipulation is the stunt Funny or Die pulled off with Dennis Quaid. In case you haven’t seen it, Funny or Die shot a video with Quaid throwing a temper tantrum on the set, but “leaked” a snippet of the video online at first without any apparent connection to Funny or Die.
Predictably, the media jumped on it, creating a wave of stories about Quaid’s tirade. Then, a few days later when Funny or Die released their actual video, they incorporated all the media coverage and revealed that it was all an elaborate prank. Those same media outlets then had to follow up with another wave of stories explaining that the now-infamous Quaid video was actually an FOD stunt.
You can see what happened here:
Essentially, Funny or Die figured out a way to get a wave of media coverage (two waves, actually) around a comedy video that otherwise would have probably just been like any other celebrity video they released.
But you don’t need access to a celebrity like Dennis Quaid to apply this strategy to your own creation. The underlying principle can work for you as well.
For example, on a local level you can reach out to a person or organization who is known within your own community and do something similar with them. For example, maybe a local politician, restaurant owner, or college athlete would be willing to participate in a clever video concept you develop.
You could then bake into your concept the idea of anonymously “leaking” a portion of the video online before releasing the full version and a reveal of the stunt later.
Obviously, you have to be smart about how you do it and it requires good concept and execution, but that’s always true of anything that works. The point is, this is a model that can be adapted and scaled down to incorporate any person or place that is known within the community of people you’re trying to reach.
2. Do Your Research
It’s amazing how quickly John Oliver’s HBO series has become must-see viewing. His extended takes on particular subjects each week wind up featured all across the Internet, despite rarely incorporating any celebrities and consisting mostly of him just sitting behind a desk and dissecting a particular topic.
But some of his best segments have been his takedowns of organizations like this one about the Miss America pageant:
While the bit is fueled by smart writing, it’s also built on a foundation of research that anybody could have done – including things as simple as noticing typos on the organization’s website.
This is something that’s easy for comedians at all levels to replicate if they’re willing to put in the time to research a particular topic. Nothing’s stopping you from choosing a target – either on a national or local level – and digging in to find some interesting tidbits about it that you can exploit in your comedy.
If you think about it, there’s no shortage of potential targets you could research and likely find out some interesting facts about – and most importantly, all of these would likely be of interest to people in your area that you want to know you exist.
For example, you could explore what actually goes on at your local DMV, or you could research the social media activities of a local school’s faculty, or you could look into the backgrounds of your local TV news anchors.
The possibilities are endless and so are the opportunities because if you dig up some interesting stuff, that’s going to be compelling to not only a local audience but likely your local media as well. If you do the work most of them aren’t willing to do, you can also reap the benefits.
3. Do The Unexpected
In addition to messing with the media as an outsider, there’s a whole other batch of opportunities at your disposal if you’re invited to appear on a media outlet.
If you get interviewed by a publication or get to appear on a radio or TV show, you’ll get more out of the experience by doing something unexpected. Something that will get you noticed and remembered. You don’t want to appear as just another comedian on these shows, you want to stand out.
A perfect example of somebody that does this is TJ Miller. His outrageous morning TV show appearances have become semi-legendary, and each one not only gets him noticed in whatever town he’s visiting, but also spreads throughout the Internet getting him even more attention.
They’ve become so notable that even Conan O’Brien talked to him about them here:
While you don’t necessarily have to do what Miller does, you should look for ways that you can do media-worthy things the next time you appear in a media outlet.
4. Pull A Prank
There’s no shortage of prank videos on YouTube and we’re increasingly seeing them work their way into TV comedy as well. Certainly, the Jackass guys built an empire on the back of pranks (at least in part), but Jimmy Kimmel has recently cornered the market on prank videos.
But in addition to the prank videos he’s done that he’s involved with or appears in on camera, he’s also pulled some stunts where it wasn’t obvious that he was involved at first.
Here’s an article detailing some of those anonymous stunts that Kimmel has pulled over the past few years. Each time, he wound up getting more attention from the media after revealing he was behind the prank than he would have if he had just been open about it in the first place.
While Kimmel has a nightly national audience that he can use to make those reveals, that doesn’t mean you can’t do something similar. If you can manage to pull off the illusion of a video that catches on, you then have the opportunity to follow up and reveal that you were the mastermind behind the stunt.
Again, any media that picks up on the initial viral video thinking it’s real is likely to share it with their audience again when it’s revealed it was a stunt – and in the process you’ll get credit and attention for it. Another potential benefit of masterminding pranks like this is that it might also create new opportunities for you – like writing for a show like Kimmel’s perhaps.
It shows that you’re capable of creating compelling content even if you’re not necessarily the one performing it.
5. Team Up
Did you see the recent story about how Will Ferrell and Kristin Wiig were secretly developing a parody of a Lifetime movie with a plan to just air the movie on Lifetime at some point without ever promoting it?
The idea was to create a surreal (and kind of brilliant) stunt that certainly would have surprised people and attracted a lot of attention in the media, but unfortunately news about the project leaked and they decided to scrap it.
While it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to partner with a TV network to pull something off on that scale, you can look for companies or media outlets you can team up with to do something similar on a smaller level. Remember, just about every company has marketing needs and is looking for creative ways to get people’s attention. Use that to your advantage and see if you can find an interesting partner to team up with to create something that will give both of you attention.
Another example of this is what happened with Nathan Fielder’s Dumb Starbucks stunt on his show Nathan For You. You can see him talk about it here:
But there’s lots of ways you can scale this down and try similar media-attracting stunts in simple ways.
For example, if you write roast jokes you could approach a bar and offer to work as a bartender who roasts patrons while serving them drinks on a particular night. It could become a gimmick that gets them (and you) some attention and could make for an interesting story for local media to cover.
Or you could approach an Uber driver and offer to go along with him on all of his rides and perform free comedy for the passengers. Again, it’s a silly stunt, but the kind of thing that you could easily see local (or national) journalists writing about and getting attention for you and the driver.
The point isn’t that you necessarily try any of the specific examples in this article, but rather to make you aware that there’s a lot of interesting stunts you can probably create that will get you a lot more media attention than just sending a reporter your press kit.
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