Out-dumb Your Way to Great Content
Sacha Baron Cohen reaches levels of stupid only previously achieved by Sarah Palin (world record holder in stupid) – but I mean this in the smartest way possible. Sacha Baron Cohen’s stupidness is his genius, and here is why: he out-dumbs his opponents to create amazing content. His interviews are basically conducted in the drunken Kung Fu style whereby opponents are under the impression that you are drunk/an idiot/Mel Gibson on a bender and do not take you seriously – until you deliver the death blow! By acting the fool Sacha Baron Cohen (SBC) is able to call on 2 amazing tactics that make his content some of the most viral the world has ever seen:
- Tactic 1 – SBC asks powerfully dumb powerful questions that break through pre-scripted responses and provoke genuine reactions.
- Tactic 2 – SBC acts dumb and this act gives the opportunity for his interviewees to provide real answers and does not trigger their defense mechanisms.
This blog provides examples of how SBC utilizes these two tactics effectively for viciously viral content, as well as how you can utilize his tactics for your own content. Very Nice!
Tactic 1 – SBC asks powerfully dumb powerful questions that break through pre-scripted responses and provoke genuine reactions.
“How many years have you been straight” – to Pastor Quinn, Gay-Conversion minister
By acting dumb SBC is able to ask powerfully dumb questions that provoke genuine reactions – this makes for great content. The example for this concept is with the Gay-Conversion minister Pastor Quinn when SBC (as Bruno) asks:
“How many years have you been straight?”
By asking this powerfully “dumb” question Cohen is able to avoid a series of weak “smarter” questions that potentially touch on the same subject, but are less powerful to the audience and provide less content value. For example, a smarter question is, “How can you know about converting gay people without being gay yourself?” this “smarter” question creates significantly worse content for a couple of reasons:
- The pastor surely already prepared a response for the smart question, which is pre-scripted. Pre-scripted response = bad content. Always avoid questions which trigger pre-scripted responses with the same tenacity Charlie Sheen avoids sobriety.
- There is no emotional attachment to the pre-scripted response from the smart question. If the subject is has no emotions, your content will NEVER connect with your audience (see Mitt Romney – Re: election 2012)
- The dumb question triggers a genuine emotional reaction. Fact: Genuine emotional reactions make great content.
How to use powerfully dumb questions in your content (I recognize you can’t always dress in outrageous costumes and antagonize your interview subjects):
- Avoid questions that trigger pre-scripted responses like Larry King avoids great posture contests. Pre-scripted responses are the death of great content.If you already know the answer to the question you are asking, come up with another way to ask the question where you will not trigger the pre-scripted responses. Think of SBC asking “How long have you been straight”
- Ask questions that provoke genuine emotional responses. These emotions don’t have to be bad emotions; happiness, surprise and enthusiasm also create excellent content. If you do not know the answer to the question before you ask, or you are genuinely interested in how your subject will respond – that is a great candidate for a question that will produce a genuine emotional response.
- Learn to write interesting questions. They do not have to be as crazy as SBC or Stuttering John of Howard Stern fame – but by studying the structure of their questions you can learn to ask great questions. If you are genuinely excited about your questions, your content will be stronger.
Tactic 2 – SBC acts dumb and this act gives the opportunity for his interviewees to provide real answers without filtering their responses.
“Throw the Jew Down the well” – Arizona cowboy bar
One of the most famous scenes in SBC’s career is where (portraying Borat) he was able to get a whole Arizona bar to sing through the Jew down the well (I am under no illusions – I know the American south is not playing dumb – but Arizona I expect better!). By acting dumb he was able to expose to lull that bar into a sense of ease and they provided real, raw responses – which makes for great content. Imagine if he had come in “smart” – told them that he was in fact a Harvard Professor and said, “I would like you to sing this song entitled, Throw the Jew down the well”. There is no way that those yokels would have sang – the defense mechanism of the entire bar would immediately be triggered. Instead he pretended to be an uniformed reporter from Kazhakstan, avoided triggering the bars defenses, and was able to get them to do exactly what he wanted. This scene made incredible content.
Here is how to use this tactic for your content:
- Don’t come in trying to prove how smart you are. Simple – in interviews be friendly and be open to making mistakes. The more open you are are, the more open your interviewee will be, which means interesting content.
- Conduct interviews on the interviewees home turf. Being in the bar in Arizona, he made these pseudo-cowboys feel at home and safe to be themselves. If you can, go to your interviewees office or someplace where they feel comfortable. You want to get the interview subject into a place where he (or she) feels comfortable and provides real responses.
- Don’t be judgmental in interviews. If your interviewee starts talking about something outrageous let it go – just keep recording. You want real honest responses, and you want to avoid triggering their defense mechanism.
Another article by Adam Lundquist is chief nerd of Nerds Do It Better – he used to cry under a tree when his mom dropped him off at preschool. You can connect with him on Google Plus