Having directed the Creative Arts Emmy-winning “Swear Jar” Bud Light spot for DDB Chicago — where the promise of a Bud Light elicits an office eruption of vulgarity — David Shane suggests a home version could collect some serious bucks. His kids, emulating their dad and other Brooklynites where they live, would be heavy contributors. The director recalls when his daughter was 6, she blurted, “Jesus f***ing Christ!” This was years after his then 2-year-old son greeted him with a smiling, oblivious, “Hey, motherf***er!”
Speaking from the set of an upcoming ESPN NBA commercial for Wieden + Kennedy — Shane has directed about 300 spots for the brand in nine years — he recalls telling his son, “Yes, you’re technically correct.”
Shane says his humor could well be inherited: His father, the late comedian Jerry Shane, appeared on shows such as Ed Sullivan’s Talk of the Town and The Tonight Show.
The 43-year-old’s spots brim with verbal and visual wit, and typically feature exceptional performances. In a current Goodby, Silverstein & Partners spot for Comcast HD (“Kitchen”), a cook asks questions about the product’s features and is answered with snippets from “Lady Marmalade.” In a Wieden + Kennedy ESPN SportsCenter commercial (“Performance Enhancers”), an anchor, caught red-handed with a thesaurus, is accused of performance enhancing his sportscasts. And for Sony PlayStation out of TBWA\ Chiat\Day (“Ratchet & Klank”), young men shrink their friend and see him whisked off by an owl. Of the Bud Light “Swear Jar” spot, Shane says, “It was shooting fish in a comedic barrel.”
The SUNY Purchase graduate — who while at school “mostly smoked pot” and wrote comedy for a troupe called the Giant Diaper People — fell into directing. A family friend who was a McCann exec invited him to the agency and he liked the atmosphere with its “laughter and seeming laziness.” He took a class at the School of Visual Arts and created a book that was “really just a collection of jokes,” he says.
The jokes were funny enough to impress Marty Cooke and Michael Smith at Chiat\Day, New York, who hired him to write copy from 1990-93. His mentors, he says, were Ty Montague and Dion Hughes. “I wrote the stuff meant to frighten the client into buying work the agency really wanted to sell,” he says. Chiat sent him to the London office and, eight months later, he quit and hit the road. “I was selling T-shirts out of a van for a British band [Deep Season] touring Germany,” he says.
Visiting New York, he met his soon-to-be wife, a fashion designer, and eventually moved back to the U.S. for love and comedy. Hired as a writer on the first year of South Park, he went on to co-write a pilot, Red White and You, about a morning-show host who melts down on air and is exiled to a local Iowa newscast. The script led to a development deal with Brillstein Grey Entertainment.
“I told them I wanted to write the shows that would never get on the air,” Shane recalls. “They thought that was edgy at first, then at the end they were just annoyed that nothing was getting on the air.”
Shane’s directing career began when Cooke asked Shane to freelance doctor a $1.5 million Bell South Christmas-spot script being directed by Albert Brooks, one of Shane’s comedy heros. When Brooks left the director’s chair over creative-control issues, Cooke asked Shane and art director Rick Rabe to co-direct. “I was studying acting with Cameron Thor, so Rick thought I should be in charge of the actors,” he says, laughing.
From there, Shane adds, he began making deals “to direct and write during the dotcom craze, when advertisers were saying, ‘It can’t be f***ed up enough for me.'”
He hasn’t stopped directing since. After Shane finishes the ESPN spot — revisiting an earlier campaign with marquee players and sportscasters on the road — as well as a Goodby campaign for Netflix, he’ll direct his first feature, SixtyNine, about an elderly couple who start a senior-citizen porn genre starring themselves. Their son, he says, is “pissed because they’re squandering his inheritance.”
Shane loves finding the humanity in the characters. Comedy, he says, “comes from an honest place — the truth.”