Caught in the middle of Winter Storm Ion and still have power? Instead of wasting amps on yet another weather report, tune into “Funniest Commercials of the Year,” truTv’s homage to the most memorable ads of 2013. Without a doubt, some commercials might just make you “ship your pants.”
When reached by phone for an interview, host John Henson offered insights into the creative process behind the special.
How many commercials did you and your team have to watch to determine the top 20?
That’s a good question. I’ll be honest with you: I don’t have a lot to do with the production on this [special], so I don’t know what the entire pool was. Just the commercials I went through seemed endless; I can only imagine what the poor production staff had to wade through. I’m sure it was many times what I had to see.
What kind of criteria is used to determine which one is the funniest?
I think they are looking for a combination of funny, a combination of unusual. As you noticed, we group things by themes. It’s a delicate balance: you want to span the entire spectrum from mainstream funny to really outlandish to the downright absurd.
Some of the ads, such as Geico’s “Hump Day” spot, generated some controversy. Are the people producing these commercials trying to generate controversy in order to get people to look for their ads?
I think there is something to that. People do want [the ads] to be eye-catching and make a lasting impression in 30-60 seconds. They are looking to push the envelope more and more.
I also think when you start talking about European commercials or commercials from Asia, they have a different set of social mores and standards. And broadcast television differs from country to country. Some of the things we see coming out of some of the other countries are pretty shocking by our standards.
Do the producers present you with the list of top commercials so you can write up the interstitials and the segues?
We have a phenomenal team, and they make life very easy for me. There is not a lot of heavy lifting creatively for me. I get to work on the script and do a lot of punch-up.
CeCe Pleasants, a woman who has been a head writer over at “Wipeout” for many years, was good enough to write this special. She does an absolutely fantastic job; she’s a real star. She and I have worked intimately for years, so she has a real strong grasp of my comedic sensibilities: what works for me, what is sort of in my wheelhouse performance-wise.
There’s a great hand-in-glove relationship between the writing and the performing. I get to contribute to the script as well, do a little punch-up. Oftentimes, when we get to the actual studio, there’s a lot of improvisation from there.
To make the process easier, was there any filtering? You mentioned some commercials from Europe that were a little risqué by American standards.
I have not seen the final edit, so I am not even sure what commercials that we taped in the studio might not have made the final cut yet. But I can tell you that comedically, if you are familiar with my career, I don’t have much of a filter. Filtering is not my strong suit. I’m a “if it comes into my head, it comes out of my mouth” type of guy. I leave the filtering up to people who are more qualified.
Watch John Henson on truTV’s “Funniest Commercials of the Year” special on Sunday at 9 p.m.