In the 1980s, it was common for Broadway TV advertisements to include short testimonials from audience members who were uniformly WOWED by the show. These man-on-the-street reports slyly convinced the unwashed masses that we must immediately rush out to see the same play.
Here is a classic commercial from this genre from 1989, for Grand Hotel:
This advertising gimmick reached the height of absurdity around 1985-86 when a woman exiting some forgotten show made reference to the current Broadway blockbuster, "Cats". The woman exclaimed: "I Laughed, I Cried! It Was Better than Cats! I'm going to see it again and again!"
It was unintentional hilarity at its best.
On October 11, 1986, the new season debut episode of Saturday Night Live parodied the commercial with a fake advertisement for hypnotist "The Amazing Alexander". All the testimonials stated, verbatim, "I loved it! It was much better than Cats! I'm going to see it again and again!"
Here's the clip:
This was a very popular parody, and since it was broadcast nationwide, it has reached many who do not know of the inspiration for it.
Both the original commercial and the SNL parody have spawned countless sarcastic uses of "its better than Cats!!" since 1986. But the original commercial seems to be lost.
Where's the Original Commercial?
In various internet forums over the past 10+ years, various plays have been suggested as the source for the original commercial. The 1985 Broadway revival of "Singin' in the Rain" had poor critical reviews and probably wished for some of the Cats audience. It also played throughout the United States in 1986, and people have reported seeing the lost commercial outside the New York metro area, so its a good candidate. Other options include Sweet Charity, which had a 1986 Broadway revival, and "Man of La Mancha".
There are countless videos of 1980s commercial breaks uploaded to YouTube, but this commercial still proves elusive. (See, for example, this July 4, 1986 commercial block which has a commercial for Drood and the long-running A Chorus Line--but its not those!)
Somebody must have this recorded on a moldy VHS tape, somewhere! Can you find it and reap everlasting Internet fame?
Sources That Are Better Than Cats
Selected early uses of "Better than Cats" joke in media
- 1990: Alec Baldwin's upcoming role caused him to say: "I laughed I cried I loved it more than Cats!"
- 1990: Chicago Tribune review of Johnny Depp film "Cry Baby" reports that "I laughed; I cried; it was better than "Cats.""
- 1991: Student movie review is titled "I laughed, I cried - it was better than Cats"
- 1992: College guidebook has "School v. Cats" section of students comparing their school to Cats.
- 1993: Time Magazine article by Margaret Carlson on Clinton documentary opens with the phrase. "I laughed. I cried. Better than Cats!"
- 1996: Jenny McCarthy TV show is, you guessed it, better than Cats. At this point references to the phrase are everywhere in the press.
- Better than 'Cats'(Snider Board, June 16, 2003, 2 page thread)
- July 2007 blogpost and comments
- July 2009 - Blogger asserts commercial was for "Man of La Mancha", currently unconfirmed