You can’t say penis on TV.

This is a story about Mike Henry and the short time I was privileged to work with him at The Martin Agency.

For a brief time out of college Mike worked as an account executive at our agency. Meaning no insult to either Mike or Account Executives, Mike looked and acted like an AE. He was clean cut. He wore a tie to work everyday. He had a nice smile. And his voice always sounded evenly-modulated and thoughtful. I think that was one of the secrets to Mike’s success AM. (After Martin.)

So, as I was saying, Mike was an account executive but what he really wanted to do was write, especially write comedy. So after work hours, he would show a few of us in the Creative Department spec scripts he had written for some of our clients. A typical encounter between Mike and me might go something like this.

Me: Mike, I was reading your script. It’s really funny. Truly funny. I guess my only suggestion would be, you can’t say penis on TV.

Mike: Why not?

Me: Um. Well, there’s the FCC. Network clearance. And most important our clients. Your joke is funny as hell. I just don’t think it will fly.

Mike: But if you lose penis, you lose the whole idea.

Me: I get it. You’re right. How about this? I think you can say Erectile Dysfunction on TV. I mean, it’s about the penis.

Mike: But it’s not as funny.

Me: I know. You’re right. It’s not as funny. But, Mike, this isn’t Saturday Night Live. This is an ad agency. It’s our job to worry about things like the FCC and network clearance and protecting our clients. All I’m asking is, take a second look at your script. Just see if you can re-tool it.

Mike: Re-tool it. That’s. funny.

Mike had more comedic chops than anyone I had ever met. Six months later Mike quit his agency job, moved to LA, slept on friends’ couches, took improv classes, honed a stand-up act, moved to New York, and eventually through his brother’s college roommate met Seth MacFarlane. That’s my abbreviated version.

Here’s the even more incredible unabridged story.

You might say Mike’s story is a fluke, a one-in-a-million shot. I would repectfully disagree. I would say Mike’s story was inevitable.

So, what can we learn from Mike’s journey? Find out what you’re good at, truly good at. Then make a plan to make it happen. Then make a back-up plan to make it happen. Then make a back-up to your back-up.

And if you’re really serious about your dream, start researching now which of your friends’ couches are the least uncomfortable.

Here’s to you, Mike.

Published by bassetts49

50 years in advertising, 20 years as the creative lead on Geico. A life in creative thinking.

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