John Oliver, Source: Youtube.com, This Week with John Oliver
Why John Oliver Rocks Content
I love John Oliver. He’s up there in my comedy pantheon along with Key and Peele and Jon Stewart (who gave him his start on The Daily Show). He’s smart, insightful, self-deprecating, and funny as hell. John Oliver rocks content and, well, so can you.
I believe his show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, offers some big lessons in how to think about creating great content. And yes, comedy inspires many of my posts (I am both a storyteller and comedian) and comedy is the best storytelling training I know of.
Why John Oliver Rocks Content: Three Big Things that Can Change How You Think
Here are three big takeaways many comics, and especially John Oliver (Jon Stewart did this, too as does his successor, Trevor Noah) provide in how to think about creating great content.
1. Information. John Oliver and his team do amazing research to get solid information. This isn’t just comedy – they get their facts right. Often more than the news does. And that is why so many people rely on these types of shows for information. Great research on topics important to your audience brings me to my next point: utility.
2. Utility. Information that is helpful to your audience is of high utility. Not all information is high on the utility scale. By utility, I mean information that is distilled into tips, actionable steps, and easy-to-digest information that can make a difference in outcomes for your audience.
Audiences are swimming in information overload. John and his team take the research they do so well and distill it into smaller pieces (sans the jargon) that offer high utility and convenience for the viewing audience. This show often tackles topics that often don’t get dealt with much in the news, or get lost in the big news cracks (and yes, the show also covers the big news, too). For example, it has covered everything from setting up a religion to claim tax-exempt status (and it exposed all the tax loopholes here), to most recently, exposing the exorbitant fees that retirement fund managers and brokers make for doing nothing.
And these fees add up and eat into peoples’ retirement savings. It also exposed how many managers don’t make it clear to people what a “fiduciary” is. By covering these topics, the show gives tremendous value to its audience. By using research on topics audiences care about, his team provides tremendous utility. That is consumer advocacy at its best. In the episode where he exposed televangelists’ predatory practices (and using religion to claim tax-exempt status), his research team spent 7 months corresponding with a televangelist and they also went through the process of establishing a church to show how easy it was to skirt certain legislation. John dubbed this Church comically and appropriately, ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption.’ That is a taking research-based information + utility (and advocacy, I’d also add) to a whole new level. That team is an advocate for the viewing audience when it comes to getting at the truth of something. And comedy is how the message gets through; and that brings me to point number three. And comedy is all about delivering the truth with an emotional punch. And comedy is a big part of why John Oliver rocks content.
3. Comedy. What can I say…comedy makes your message “hearable” in a way that is getting so hard to do these days. When you take great research-based information, provide tremendous utility and deliver it in a incredibly funny (read: non-boring way!), you are far more likely to get traction in a noisy world besieged with crappy, self-serving content. In the episode where the show exposed retirement plan fees, for example, the show ended with a very funny, informative, honest tips-filled bit delivered by comedian Billy Eichner with an appearance from Kristen Chenoweth. You don’t have to go for outrageous funny; however, you do need to pack a high emotional component with memorability and in a non-boring way!
I get it. Not everyone has a comedy background. However, everyone can deliver information of high utility in a way that is a lot less boring then just doing the same old thing. Even a little levity goes a long way towards standing out and getting your message heard.
A Content Equation for Busting Boring Content!
Start thinking about how you can create great content by combining:
Information (research that yields solid facts, info) +
Utility (distilled tips and how-to based on that info) +
Comedy (wrap your message and tips in a layer of humor for emotionally compelling delivery).
Even a little goes a long way. Aim for fun if funny is too daunting. That small amount can help. Yes, I am a comedy nerd so I think about the nuances of comedy vs. humor vs. just having fun.