Ernest not in earnest

I always wondered how the producers of The Daily Show or Ali G—get people to go on camera, because anyone who has ever watched those shows knows the interviewees end up looking like total morons, or if not morons, sad chumps.

So when I saw none other than sophisticated media guy Ernest Lupinacci (who wrote William Shatner into Priceline commercials—talk about putting the dead in deadpan) seem to fall hook, line and sinker for an interview segment on The Daily Show, I kinda felt sorry for him.

He came off as your average, decidedly non-Mensa level, oblivious slickster ad guy (and proud of it!), but it did make for some fine entertainment. (To see it yourself, click here, then scroll down to Glossing Over Evil.)

In a piece by investigative correspondent Bob Wiltfong titled, So You Wanna Gloss Over That Your Corporation or State Entity is Evil, Lupinacci is identified as someone who “has helped many companies get out of jams.”  He was asked, hypothetically, how he’d help Enron improve the public’s perception that it has stolen retirement money from little old ladies, who are now forced to go without heat.

“Okay, the message is let the bitch freeze, we’re taking her money!" Ernest responded, earnestly, in full sound bite m.o. "Well, that comes across as rather provocative, rather aggressive, so we might suggest to push back—soften it a little."

Later he suggested coming up with "a jingle—a well-known, well-liked song, that could deliver a different message." With a dream setup like that, The Daily Show writers concocted their own commercial, which was then shown—with the musical tag line, "Enron– Freezing bitches since ’85!”

But wait, there’s more! (humiliation!). Lupinacci, identified as the founder of Anomaly, was questioned about his roster of clients. He responded that he was not in the position to say, so Bob the crack interviewer shot back with, "Okay, I’ll say the name, and you just blink … blink once if it’s yes, twice if it’s no.” Whether through editing or playing along, Lupinacci actually stared the guy down, like in Clockwork Orange, making a Herculean effort not to blink, as the interviewer threw out "Coke.”  Bob stared back at Ernest, and after several agonizing seconds of Lupinacci keeping his eyes bolted open, the interviewer leaned forward and screamed "You blinked!”

Meanwhile, I sat there, unblinking, wondering how this could happen to a guy like Ernest. Well, folks, it turns out WE WAS PUNK’D!:  say it ain’t so, but it’s a made-up show with made-up interviews, and Ernest played along. “The way they explain it is ‘pretend we’re from CNN, so no matter what we ask you, you respond like it’s a legitimate question,’" he told AdFreak from his Tribeca office. "It’ s like in the movie Stand By Me, when the kids are having a serious discussion about who’s tougher, Superman or Mighty Mouse. You don’t want to be the guy who says, ‘well, they’re in different media, and one’s an animation.’" You’ve got leap over the absurdity to go to the next level.”

In fact, he said throughout, he was giving the crew ideas about how to make it funnier. (He suggested the song for Enron’s spot to be "It’s a bitch girl, but you’ve gone too far … you can rely on the old man’s money, you can rely on the old man’s money.")

The segment elicited howls of laughter from the studio audience (and presumably, the millions watching at home.) But Ernest also had the last laugh: "When he asked about my clients we had actually gotten [Coke’s] Dasani the day before, but I couldn’t tell anyone."

We blinked!

—Posted by Barbara Lippert