Guy Williams is a veritable triple threat in the media world: his face regularly features on Seven Days and Jono and Ben at Ten; his words are published daily to over 30,000 followers on Twitter; and now his voice can be heard every weekday afternoon on The Edge.
And given that the radio station has an accumulated total of over 260,000 Twitter followers and Facebook fans in addition to all its listeners, it will definitely be keen to tap into Williams' cross-channel expertise to further expand its brand across the board.
Although Williams isn't actively involved in the advertising industry beyond appearing in the odd promo for one of his shows, his ability to consistently deliver a humorous message no matter which medium he is working in is something that many marketers and brands strive to do with their campaigns.
So, in order to learn his secrets, we sent the lanky comedian a few questions.
You've pretty much established a personal brand (as much as I hate to say something as vacuously jargon filled as that), and in the words of Mugatu "you're so hot right now." So what exactly is it that men like you, Derek Zoolander and Steven Seagal have in common?
Haha. The best and most clichéd advice is 'be yourself, and for me that meant exposing my horrible, terrible personality. The second piece of advice I’ve been given is to 'tone it down a little, you’re a bit full on'. The thing I’ve noticed most about New Zealand’s craplebrities is that they’re often really artificial, so it’s been pretty easy to seem a little bit different just by going with my naturally awkward flow.
This sweet radio gig has come along just as I was starting to get the hang of doing comedy on Jono and Ben and Seven Days so I’m lucky that I can keep on improving just by being out of my depth.
You tend to tweet quite often, and you've accumulated quite a few followers. What does it take to create a Twitter cult? And, does the power sometimes scare you?
No! I wish! My theory with twitter is that there’s only about 1000 people on there actually using the thing, so the power is much less than I was hoping for … I was hoping for Mussolini levels of power.
A weird thing about twitter and the internet and internet culture is that people will love the free entertainment and jokes and stuff, but as soon as you tweet to promote a show or a gig they are out! They won’t share or retweet promotional posts even if it's just 1 in a 100, unless it has a killer joke in it. They’re with you until you ask for something in return. I guess that leads to another great thing about the twitter … it’s basically a meritocracy.
As a voracious Tweeter of things that aren't necessarily PC, it's quite surprising that you haven't offended more people. So why is it that big corporates often end up apologising to the public for shocking tweets and Facebook updates? What can they learn from you?
That’s a strength and weakness of Twitter. The people who want to follow you, follow you and the people who don’t want to, stay clear. You’re normally only talking to like-minded people. Most of my offensive tweets would be going with the Twitter river rather than against it. Plus, people who don’t understand irony generally stay away from Twitter. It's largely an elitist “Grey Lynn 500/ Wellington” hobby. If I do genuinely offend people and they’re right to be offended, then I will always delete and apologise because it's never on purpose. In my experience in New Zealand, it’s really hard to offend people outside of the TV1 audience. It sometimes seems that the most sacred thing in New Zealand is the All Blacks, slightly negative All Blacks jokes will always draw hate and lose you followers. All Blacks fans are pussies.
The only thing big corporates could possibly learn from me is realise that you’re stupid, delete and apologise. I reckon the trouble they face is they’re already quite hated so anything that’s marginal from a fast food chain's Twitter account is going to be torn to shreds.
When you're a company it's not even about crossing the line; it’s about staying a long way away from the line. In my short comedy career, I’ve slowly learnt what you can and can’t do, but the average person in New Zealand is probably less aware that it's not ok to make “cheeky” gags about racial minorities for example. It’s amazing how often in the general public, racist or sexist jokes fly and it's always surprising when employees of companies aren’t aware what you can and can’t poke fun at.
What has been your favourite advert in recent years? Also, possibly more importantly, what has been your least favourite advert?
I hate most ads. It would be a bit of a push to name of all of them.
Obviously, I’m not a fan of the product, price and noise catalogue ads, where they just yell their products at you.
One thing that amazes me is how little credit ad people get for great ads! I was thinking about New Zealand comedy and basically there was Fred Dagg then Billy T, then a pretty inconstant gap until Flight of the Concords and the Seven Days crew. What I think is over looked is that lot of New Zealand’s most memorable comedy was and is being done as ads. Off the top of my head undies/toggs, the tui billboards in their day and that bloody 'Bugger' ad that people will never get over was pretty awesome at the time.
The problem with comedy is that even if your joke is the best joke ever (which is always very subjective and difficult to make broad) you only want to hear it a maximum of three times. So, after about five repeats, you wish the company that’s doing it would die.
What type of advertising appeals to you?
I’m a terrible person to ask about ads. While I think I”m very susceptible to advertising, I’m a long way from the New Zealand mainstream that most ads appeal to.
I really like sporting ads. (I’ve always loved Nike/Jordan stuff – I used to know the spike lee Michael Jordan ads from the 90s off by heart).
It amazes me that we’ve never done good All Blacks ad. It always brasses me off how bad their ads are. I guess it's such a winner to have them in an ad that it doesn’t matter what you do with them. It seems like a home run to go through the archives play Pokarekare Ana in the background to some slow-motion footage and then finish with Dan Carter and a kid on the couch: “Will you be next … Powerade." Instead, they’ve got this weird ad where the rugby players are climbing up fields on their way to this bad CGI stadium (that was a shocker) or turning up to Leon's house taking him through some boring training drills and then saying “Do you want to know the secret to All Blacks” and Leon's like “yes” and I’m like “yes” and then they’re like "well you’ve got to visit this crappy website" and I’m like, "well I guess I’ll never know the secret to All Blacks!"
There’s a lot to be said for just playing a cool video. My favourite New Zealand ad of all time is this L&P ad for an 80s-looking mullet man who’s “grass skiing” with no shirt on. I can’t believe they haven’t brought it back yet! It's an entertaining video first and in my opinion a worthwhile ad.
I love those Nike virals, like Ronaldinho kicking the ball and hitting the crossbar or Kobe Jumping an Aston Martin … I think they inspired the Jean Claude ad from last year. Those ones that make you think “It’s not real, it is real, it's definitely fake, but maybe … if it's not real … how did they do that?”
The NFL did an amazing ad that featured players punching through drywall to cache a pass or kicking the ball and landing it in a rubbish bin.
The All Blacks did a knock off and didn’t nail it. If they just shot Richie McCaw running in Canterbury high country for 30 seconds and then said Rexona I would buy it. Instead they’ve got some idiot putting a leaf in his shoe and spraying himself like it's the 90s.
I really like integration. I love how on ESPN they tell you “this show was brought to you by” or “presented by” and you’re like thanks massive alcohol slash car slash drug company for bringing me this awesome thing that I like. For some reason in NZ that is not done enough. I don’t know why we don’t just copy what they’re doing over there. Clearly, they’ve done the research as to what works.
Advertising and comedy are quite similar (a stretch I know) in that you need to captivate an audience very quickly. What do you think advertisers could learn from comedians and vice versa?
Advertisers could learn from comedians how to make things for less money. I for one am just waiting for the advertising bubble to burst. You go into a room for a voice-over ad or radio ad and there are eight people there and they’re all eating some weird miniature novelty food that they’ve ordered from the weird recording booth studio slash converted loft. How long is this going to continue before you realise you could fire six of those people and loose the tiny novelty cupcakes and improve the quality of your jokes. In my experience with creating comedy, the less people the better. You can still give it to everyone to listen to and approve the final cut, but in the booth you would be better doing heaps of rough versions instead of dissecting the frog like they do in that room while eating miniature bagels.
Comedians could learn from advertisers how to write a catch phrase. It’s amazing how effective they are and they’ve become so out of fashion with comedians. Yet every time someone spills a drink in a comedy club, the comedian will steal the “no more beersies for you” line from the advertisers and it will be the biggest laugh of the night.
Comedians could also learn how to be weird. Jokes like the 'Ghost Chips' one that was so successful. It seemed to me to be really esoteric, but that turned out to be the sensation that swept the nation. Comedians so often think very little of their audience where ads sometimes push the envelope further.
While speaking to his audience via a radio show, Uri Geller was able to make their clocks at home stop. What will be you bring to the history of Kiwi radio this year?
Haha. Hopefully, if I achieve three laughs over the year, it will be a smashing success.
My dream is that I’ll lift the bar a little bit. Radio is weirdly still a bit of a dark corner of New Zealand Media. I never really paid much attention before I got a car last year, but I’ve listened to Radio sport and I’m like what the heck is wrong with these people? It seems really racist and sexist and backwards?
Luckily, most of the old NZ broadcasting “legends” seem to be retiring and moving on.
I also think music radio can sometimes be a bad influence. If I can make there be less radio stories about spewing up while drinking mixers on a Friday night, then I will be a success.