“You’re a boring, milk-toast motherf*cker.”
That’s the critique I received from a big-time TV producer many years ago after I told him some of my brilliant show ideas. I was young and he was my mentor and a wildly successful comedian, so I really had to consider the possibility that my ideas sucked. Was I forgettable? Did my stories lack flavor? And what was “milk toast,” anyway?
He provoked me to provoke. To create characters worth knowing and to write stories worth telling. To make conflict more “conflict-y” so people’s pupils would dilate in anticipation.
At Northlich, I’ve had the opportunity to work with the wonderful folks at the Joanie Bernard Foundation on their mission to end kill-shelter execution of cats. They took a chance on a truly provocative character.
Since the first time the words “Scooter the Neutered Cat” were uttered, he’s made fur stand on end. I had never sung to strangers about testicles and balls before, let alone in a client presentation. Remembering my mentor’s advice about boredom, I smiled big, put on sunglasses and acted as if I sang about male reproductive anatomy every day.
Two commercials, many videos and hundreds of tweets later, Scooter is a success – but some people still find him offensive. The super-cool cat is not suitable for people allergic to nut jokes. The idea isn’t crass for its own sake, though. We’re shocking people into awareness of the tragic result of feline over-procreation.
Recently, we put “Kitten Disposal” trash cans around Cincinnati. We talked to passers-by about the connection between spay/neuter and eliminating kill-shelter death. Some people were pissed. We forced them to think about something awful. The severity of the problem freed us to be severe in our approach.
We need to ask ourselves: Is playing it safe really safe? Can one or two “How dare you!” emails erase so many saying “That’s awesome!”? Let’s win loyal fans who love what we love. They’re the foundation of a campaign that can become a movement.
Through Scooter’s journey, I finally learned that a nutless cat is my spirit animal. And his favorite food is milk toast.