Comedians Sykes, Cho, Pharoah and Eichner Wield the Mic for Sandy Hook Promise

Because school shooting threats are no joke

Our ad of the week subverts expectations to chilling effect, setting up a humorous scenario that turns deadly serious.

If you're looking for a good laugh ... you've come to the wrong place.

Yes, A-list funny folks Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho, Billy Eichner and others are in the house.

But their patter's uncomfortably pointed as they headline BBDO N.Y.'s latest campaign for Sandy Hook Promise, the nonprofit dedicated to gun-violence prevention.

There are no punchlines here. Just gut punches that ring out like shots, reminding us that we've lost so many and still have miles to go.

This clip might prove upsetting for some viewers:

Sandy Hook Promise | Just Joking

Select "zingers" include:

  • "So, first day of school, last day of your lives."
  • "Some sh**'s gonna go down, and I don't think you're gonna like it."
  • "Here's the thing. I am gonna kill all of you."
  • "I wanna kill people!"
  • "Bang! Bang You're dead! Ha ha!"
  • "Please talk me out of this. The gun is in my hand."
  • "Fair warning: Stay home tomorrow if you wanna live!"

Quotes from actual school shooters informed the material, driving home the point that no one should assume such threats are only jokes. Oscar nominee and Emmy winner Henry-Alex Rubin directed.

The star-studded approach should generate headlines and build buzz. As ever, Sandy Hook Promise avoids divisive issues of firearms control by focusing on mental health and neutralizing potentially deadly behavior before it explodes.

"The urgency to protect our children from gun violence is stronger than ever," says Nicole Hockley, the organization's co-founder and CEO, whose son Dylan was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. "Even if it seems small—or like a joke—recognizing and reporting a potential threat of violence can have massive, life-saving impact. We can all do more to learn about the warning signs of violence and take action immediately when we see them."

Also appearing in the campaign: Jay Pharoah, Caitlin Reilly, Rachel Bloom, David Cross, Roy Wood Jr., and Iliza Shlesinger.

"Sandy Hook Promise PSAs are always emotionally draining, but this year's production was particularly grueling–partly because it took over a year to shoot," Gary Du Toit and Lance Vining, creative directors at BBDO, tell Muse. "Although our comedians were very generous with their time, most of them were on tour in different parts of the country. We had to wait until two or more comedians' paths overlapped in one place to make a shoot cost-effective."

Ultimately, four such shoots took place in NYC and L.A.

The nature of the material, they say, added a layer of tension.

"We needed our comedians to deliver these lines as if they were the set-ups for the joke—but of course they knew that these were real threats made by mass murderers. Although they were all incredibly professional, it was nonetheless a very stressful process, and several of the comedians broke down with emotion as they delivered the threats and needed to pause. In the end, we decided to keep some of these more emotional deliveries in the edit–especially later once we reach 'the turn' in the PSA where it becomes clear that all is not as it seems."

The editing process proved tricky, too.

"We knew at some point we wanted to 'tip our hand' to the viewers and let them know that something was wrong–that this wasn’t just a series of stand-up skits," they say. "But we weren't sure when or how much to give away. In the end, we think our editor, Paul Hardcastle, handled it perfectly. You have a sneaky suspicion something's up. Then, it gets really uncomfortable and WHAM! The pacing is flawless."

BBDO has shepherded Sandy Hook PSAs for a decade, often teaming up with Rubin. They gained national recognition for 2016's "Evan," among others.

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