So if you weren’t alert on the internets yesterday, you might have missed Isaiah Mustafa, the Old Spice Man, basically going nuts on the internet for Old Spice – first sending Digg cofounder Kevin Rose a “get well” video, and then putting up an Ask Me Anything post on Reddit and answering as many questions from just about every social media thing where Old Spice has a presence as humanly possible. (This probably hit the high mark when he proposed to someone for that someone’s someone.)
Thoughts in no particular order:
1.) If anybody wasn’t impressed with Isaiah Mustafa’s acting ability, they should be now. Granted, his original commercials with Old Spice were extremely impressive, but almost anybody can deliver lines well with a lot of practice and a bazillion takes, and the commercials were as much about the clever visual play as they were about the Old Spice Man being the Old Spice Man. Yesterday’s video blitz, however, was basically Mustafa standing in front of a camera while wearing a towel, occasionally striking a bit of a pose, and delivering lines in Old Spice Man mode (injecting additional bass into his voice, maintaining pleasant poker face, etc.) – and given the speed with which they were cranking these mini-ads out he didn’t have a lot of time to practice.1 Ironically, these mini-ads, which have to be vastly cheaper than the “real” ads Mustafa first performed in, required much more skill on his part. If nothing else, Mustafa has certainly earned a chance at his stated desire to play Luke Cage.
2.) For all that people are blathering about the “innovation” of the ad blitz – and I don’t want to take anything away from it, for it was clever – it relies heavily on tried and true comedic techniques. Overliteralism (pronouncing netspeak literally, saying punctuation aloud), silly phrases (“manly babies” is one of my favorites), grandiose boasting2, shoutouts to other minor celebrities, and self-referential metahumour aren’t anything new, and if the Old Spice Man were posting on 4chan he’d just seem like another /b/tard trying to get attention. But if you hit people in the face with them fast and furiously enough in a slightly unexpected format, they seem fresh.
3.) But it also works because of the comedy of repetition creating lowered expectations for a laugh. After all, in most of these videos, the Old Spice Man is just standing there, so when he breaks out an easel and canvas or a snorkel or a giant trophy, even though he’s not really doing anything except holding a prop, suddenly it seems incredibly fresh despite the fact that, if you think about it for a bit, it isn’t fresh at all. (Not that it isn’t still funny; it is. But it seems funnier than it is out of perceived novelty value. Only a few of the prop gag pieces are actually really top-notch among the entire selection.)
4.) The only time Mustafa nearly loses it is in this one, which is probably the best of them all.