Tshirtsputting Up A Good Front

If there was ever a cottage industry in humorland, it's the T-shirt business. You not only can write the gags from your own kitchen, you can be in busi ness in less time than it takes to marinate a steak. Typical of the success stories is Dan Gray, a high school dropout from Cleveland, who went into business with an investment of $600 and five years later was grossing six million dollars in sales under the name of "Daffy Dan T-Shirts."

T-shirt humor is written from the point of view of adolescents who discover that body language is the next step up from sticking out their tongues to win attention. The humor is mostly "in-jokes" brazenly poking fun at some local happening: a current news event, sports event, or a success story ("I survived . . ." is the most popular copy legend).

The writing technique uses mostly double entendres or reformed clich├ęs. The only other requirement is that the copy be short and accompanied by a cartoon illustration. T-shirt manufacturers must get in and out of fads quickly because the humor is topical and very shortlived; three weeks is average and a fad that lasts three months is a big winner. As a result, they welcome ideas and suggestions offered "on spec" (payment only if accepted, with no guarantee of acceptance). The only value, in this case, of a "spec" presentation, is that a meeting may result in an assignment from the manufacturer to focus on a specific event or future happening. Copy sales run $50 to $100 and you sell all rights.

T-shirts are popular premium giveaways for commercial firms who are also open for tie-in copy ideas. Even dentists award child patients with T-shirts that read "I got drilled by Dr. Allen."

Sex teasers are one of the biggest commercial successes and coeds will wear T-shirts with suggestions they wouldn't dare say out loud: "Consume now before I'm all used up," "You can't win if you don't play," "Feel good all under," and "Help with the fun raising." T-shirt humor, like the T-shirt itself, is quickly dirty.

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