Wick Communications

Brando and Barcaloungers

In Writing techniques on 25 Aug 2011 at 4:32 pm

He coulda been a credenza.

That’s the lede on David Knowles’ story in The Daily about the estate of Marlon Brando suing a Florida rent-to-own chain over a line of Brando furniture. The line plays off of one of the most famous lines in movie history, “I coulda been a contenda,” which Brando growled in On the Waterfront.

It is cute and I confess to liking cute. There is a fine line between cute and yuck, however, which Knowles himself acknowledges in an email shared on the journalism website Romenesko.

Cracking jokes in a lede is a tricky matter, especially when there’s a serious matter you’re covering (even a lawsuit), but I decided to go for it in this case.

Knowles is absolutely correct. At the very least, puns will bring a groan. It may be worth it, but I would be careful. A couple of things to keep in mind.

Don’t joke about serious stuff. I’m sure the furniture thing is important to the Brando family, but it certainly isn’t life or death or even particularly important in terms of the financial wellbeing of the estate I wouldn’t think. I would never make light of a murder trial or a car crash. …

Businesses are serious, too. You might think twice about this kind of thing when it involves a local business. Ask yourself how you will feel when the butt of the joke calls you in the morning to say you are messing with her livelihood. There is a goat dairy in our neck of the woods belonging to a lovely woman named Dee Harley. Someone once stole a bunch her goats. I thought it would be funny to write, “They finally got Dee Harley’s goats.” Dee didn’t think it was funny at all.

Be understandable. Finally, make sure your reference is universal. The “credenza” line only works because On the Waterfront is iconic. Just because you watched every episode of Cheers in the 1980s, doesn’t mean your readers remember, “Norm!” Test it out in the office. If folks don’t get it, move on.



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