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Humor in today's beer commercials falls flat

November 16, 2011

I fear for America's commercial sense of humor, specifically as it relates to the brewing industry. I say this because of the death of boxing legend Joe Frazier.

First, I think anyone with a decade of Super Bowl watching under the belt can attest to the fact that the last really good year for humorous commercials was probably circa 2004.

Much of this came as a result of the dot.com collapse. At the dawn of the new millennium, you might recall, there were bushels of "hi-tech" companies that had a lot of good ideas for funny television commercials, even though they did not appear to be entirely sure what it was they were selling.

Unfortunately, and perhaps tellingly, the only one to survive was "go daddy," which to this day maintains an advertising campaign limited to finding different ways for Danica Patrick to strip.

So it's against this backdrop that we witnessed the death of Joe Frazier.

I have finally found a meaningful use for Facebook: As a platform for swapping 30-year-old beer commercials that someone has been thoughtful enough to put up on YouTube.

And sure enough, someone posted an old Miller Lite commercial featuring Joe Frazier leading a coterie of crooners snapping their fingers and singing about the virtues of this particular brand of beer.

It's followed by a great sight gag — you might need to call it up yourself, because if you're old enough to remember you're going to be too old to remember, if you know what I'm saying.

Compare that with today's Miller campaign, where the fat guy takes beer from people he does not believe are redneck enough to drink it. Or, in another, a guy is deemed to be too unmanly to drink light beer. (If you need commercial air time to convince guys that they are not necessarily sissies if they use your product, how much comedic potential can you have?)

Either way, these are no match for the First Lite Beer Camping Trip featuring Rodney Dangerfield in 1985. Or Bubba Smith pulling up a tree to allow Bert Jones a shot in the First Miller Lite Golf Open. Or Bob "I must be in the front row" Uecker getting locked out of the bar.

I thought Budweiser's semi-recent  "Waaasssuuuppp" campaign was pretty lame until today's "Here we go" nonsense came along. Consider the great Budweiser frogs, or the horses playing football ("Is that unusual?" "Yeah, usually they go for two.")? And the house made out of Bud Lite? Even that's just a knockoff of the Stroh's beer-filled swimming pool with the introduction of the 30-can "Strohcase" in 1987.

No one did beer commercial comedy like Stroh's cabin in a blizzard spot:

"Where ya goin?"

(Zipping up his parka) "To get a Stroh's."

"That's about a five-mile hike through heavy snow."

"I know."

"If you think of it — get two."

Even when old beer commercials were trying to be serious back in the day they couldn't pull it off. My friend Guy posted a vintage spot with Patrick Swayze drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon in a disco. I don't think they were aiming for humor, but I defy anyone to watch it without howling.

So what has happened to us? Are we so bereft of humor these days that our only laughs are provided by GOP presidential candidates? I say no. I challenge today's modern beer companies to do better.

I know that talking frogs are no George Carlin. But at this point in our history, it might be the only thing we have to fall back on.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant at www.herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 at 6:30 p.m. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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