Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I Laughed, I Cried! It Was Better Than Cats!

I'm going to see it again and again!

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.
Past attempts of the Internets to determine origin of the phrase:

7 comments:

Roger said...

I remember seeing the original ad on TV in Chicago. I think this is why it's so elusive - the Second City/Chicago roots of many SNL cast members meant that they would have been exposed to it there, and since it's specific to the Chicago market, it would be a hard tape to track down.

Roger said...

There's a web site with videos of classic Chicago TV. Here's what they have in terms of commercials for plays: http://www.fuzzymemories.tv/index.php?m=xxplaysxx

milowent said...

This mystery is still driving me crazy! Thanks for telling me the ad played in Chicago too. Definitely the play had to be one that had a national tour after Broadway.

greeneyednj said...

I live in the NYC area and I believe I remember the commercial everyone is referring to well... the show was definitely the musical "Singing in the Rain" ... the way I remember it, the quote came from three different groups of people....

An older woman says "I laughed, I cried, I left the Theater walking on air" ..and then a little girl (with her Father) says "It was better than Gremlins, better than E.T." and a third person says "The Special Effects were amazing"...

milowent said...

1985 Singing in the Rain commercial (not it), but does have a funny testimonials

including some teen boy haughtily saying "i though it was fantastic, and that's coming from a person who has seen quite a lot of broadway performances."

at 4:15 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8Mq6qdo1Dc

mjs said...

I remember this very clearly from when I was a child in New York City. It was an audience reaction/interview for the off-Broadway show "Little Shop of Horrors" ... the quote was "Better than CATS. Better than ET." So we are looking at 1983/4?

the commercial seems to be gone but I found it hilarious even then.

milowent said...

ah, mjs, i don't know. i've seen some commercials for little shop of horrors for the 80s and none match. I think there was a commercial for the movie "Critters" that said "better than gremlins. Better than ET" but I'm not sure.

Can't believe people have been looking for this for over 10 years (since the snider board thread I linked in the post) and still can't find it -- if only reddit would take notice!!