When I love something, it’s usually due to a combination of factors, but I can always pinpoint one element and say, “This exemplifies why this is awesome.” Like how “Clowntime Is Over” might be the best song ever, but whenever I listen to it, I lose myself in how perfect the bassline is. Or like how The Jerk is an indisputable crowning achievement of 20th century comedy, as represented by the duet between Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters where she suddenly without warning breaks into a trumpet solo.
In this vein, there was an ad for Comedy Central that ran in the early/mid-1990s that was so intensely dark, non-sequitir-y, and perfect that it is the gold standard by which I judge such promos. And I do judge promos. Constantly. I’m judging even as I type this.
This commercial was shot in black and white. A prisoner is being led to the electric chair. Tight shots on his panicked face. Beads of sweat break out on his forehead. A priest gives him halfhearted last rites. He shoots a hopeful glance at the phone on the wall, hoping for a pardon. Nothing. He is strapped in. The helmet is put on his head. The clock ticks closer and closer to midnight. Any second now, he will pay for his crimes.
And all of a sudden, an acoustic bass is heard. The prisoner looks off to his left. The camera cuts to a corner of the room, where a jazz trio is performing; a vocalist, a drummer, and a bassist. The singer is a pompadoured hipster-crooner in sunglasses, singing right at the prisoner with exaggerated hand gestures the following lyrics:
You’re gonna win!
You’re gonna go!
You’re head of the pack,
You’re king of the show!
You’re on the move
Straight to the top
You’re way out in front
You’ll never stop!
You’re gonna win!
You’re gonna WIIIIIIIIIN!
Halfway through the song, the prisoner is smiling and tapping his feet. Yeah, everything’s gonna be okay! And it ended with the tagline THINK POSITIVE: COMEDY CENTRAL.
Everything about this ad was great, but the one detail that really got me was the trio’s drummer. He had this insane wide-eyed grin, almost Cheshire Cat-like, looking straight at the camera. It was monstrously funny. I used to draw little recreations of the trio in my high school notebooks. That’s how much I loved them.
This ad popped up in my head recently, so I decided to troll through the internet and look for it. Surely someone had captured its majesty in YouTube form so the entire world could enjoy it and make racist comments about it (since all YouTube videos, regardless of content, attract racist comments).
Well guess what, Internet? You have failed. Failed miserably. Because there is no video representation of this ad ANYWHERE on your series of tubes. For shame.
Sure, you can find later permutations of the ad, like one where a guy comes home to find his wife boning the plumber, and another where a guy takes a dive in a runaway elevator. Not good enough, internet. The death row ad was the ne plus ultra. You need to supply the original and you need to do it posthaste.
I have literally dozens of VHS tapes from this period with episodes of MST3K. It’s very possible one (or more) of them has this ad on it. But you know what? I’m putting the onus on you, Rest of the Internet. Haven’t I done enough to immortalize the commercials of yesteryear? “Yes,” says everybody.
So get on the stick, you guys. I want this thing on my desk after Thanksgiving or heads are gonna roll.