How a “Fat Girl” Showed Us that Emotion, not Data, is What Matters in Storytelling


IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN the “fat girl” scene from Louis C.K.’s television show, LOUIE, then stop reading this right now and go spend the next seven minutes and 27 seconds watching this clip. I’ll wait.

Okay, so, what did you think? Raw and real? Uncomfortable? Sad? Inspiring?

It was all of those things, or some of them, or none at all. It depends on your perspective. But I can tell you one thing for sure: It wasn’t meant to be popular.

The scene quickly became a conversation fueled by social media and which continued via new articles, debates on The View and interviews on news programs like Good Morning America. Yet the scene wasn’t born from data or insights, from link bait headlines or consumer research.

It was, in the words of actress Sarah Baker who played the “fat girl” role, just a great story.

Data is wonderful and almost always valuable, but sometimes emotion is the only data point that matters. Several decades of Web and social analytics is nothing compared to the eons of evolution that wired our brains for emotional narratives.

We are connected through DNA more than we are through data. Baker and Louis C.K. simply felt this was a great story, and because they are human, and because we are human, it stood to reason that what moved them about this scene would move other humans too.

Baker didn’t (and still doesn’t) have a publicist, didn’t plan to be a meme or be the topic of daytime talk. She could have done a dozen strategic marketing plans to advance her career, and none of them would have earned her the exposure or authentic acclaim she has now.

Because, when all was said and done, it was “just a great story.”

There was a time, not long ago, when stories didn’t emerge from an algorithm. The great stories, the ones we remember and stand the tests of both time and technology, were born from human hearts and minds, from raw instinct and basic intuition.

This doesn’t mean stories can’t drive business goals and revenue — those that follow theBrand Storytelling Hero’s Journey often do just that. But if you start with emotion and lead with narrative, then the outcomes, business and otherwise, will be greater than you can imagine or that all the software in the world can predict.

Let’s use intelligence, human and technological, as much as possible, but let’s not over-think. Let’s use data to make our stories better and reach the people we care about, but not to write our stories for us.

No amount of research could have told Louis C.K. that a nearly eight-minute scene at the end of a basic cable sitcom, about a culturally taboo topic, would go “viral” and lead to a national debate.

Fortunately for us, no one had to.

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