Jack Dee spent ages trying to make it as a comedian.
For years he plugged away, every night at the stand-up circuits.
Trying to get the audience to like him.
Some nights he’d get some laughs, some nights he wouldn’t.
He kept trying to work out what he ought to do.
He tried being cheerful.
He tried being thoughtful.
He tried being nerdy.
He tried being cheeky.
Somehow nothing worked.
And all the while he had to keep his day job going as a waiter.
He was getting paid next-to-nothing as a stand up comedian.
Meanwhile there were loads of other stand-ups trying to get the audience to like them, too.
All trying to work out what the audience wanted.
All trying to change so they’d be liked.
All waiting for inspiration to tell them what they ought to be doing.
And every night, just like them, Jack Dee would try something different.
And every night some of it worked and some didn’t.
And every night he got more desperate.
And he carried on, week in, week out.
He got fired from his day job for being too tired.
He became a drunk from worrying about it.
His girlfriend left him because he became obsessed and boring.
Eventually, it was obvious even to him.
He was crap at it.
He had to think the unthinkable.
He had to think about giving up.
He should accept that he was never going to make it.
And once he accepted that, it was like weight coming off his shoulders.
Now he didn’t have to get laughs anymore.
Now he didn’t care if the audience liked him or not.
He only had one week of bookings left, he might just as well have fun.
So that night he walked on stage as himself, and didn’t smile or say anything.
He just glowered out at the audience.
Eventually he said “Well you look a right fucking miserable lot.”
They started to laugh.
He said “Shut up, I don’t want your pity laughter.”
They laughed louder.
He said “Who asked you anyway? I don’t give a fuck. I’ve only got another week then I’m getting a proper job.”
The audience were laughing, shaking their heads and banging tables.
They’d never seen a comedian like this.
He carried on like that all through his performance.
At the end he said “Right, I’m finished. You can all fuck off now.”
And he got a standing ovation.
He did the same thing every night, and the manager offered him a contract at double the wages.
Because what Jack Dee did was what was actually true for him.
He was himself.
And that was what made him different.
What made him one of the most successful comedians in the UK.
I get lots of letters, emails, and phone-calls from students and graduates.
Always asking me what they should do to get into advertising.
What does advertising want them to be?
Should they go to college or do work-experience?
Should they have a book of digital or TV?
Should they do mass-mailings or concentrate on top agencies?
What do agencies want?
What do I think they should do?
Can they meet up with me and get my advice?
I think this is a formula for failure.
They are behaving like Jack Dee before he got successful.
They are looking for someone to tell them what to do to be liked.
They’ll just end up making themselves the same as everyone else.
It didn’t work for Jack Dee, it doesn’t work in advertising, and it won’t work for them.
What works is being different.
Don’t try to be liked.
Find out how you’re different.
Then be that.
That’s where the power is.
That’s what’s new.
That’s what’s wanted.