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Comedy Central

Two new typefaces perfectly complement the successful rebrand of a more mature — but still funny — cable network.

Contributed by Stephen Coles on Jan 13th, 2011. Artwork published in 2011.

U.S. cable network Comedy Central started the new year with a new logo and on-air identity created by thelab. While it was received with the usual angry mobs and mockery that seize on any high profile rebranding, there were many, including the jaded voters and commenters at Brand New, who saw it for what it is: a subtle, clever, flexible ID that demonstrates Comedy Central’s newfound confidence and maturity. A logo doesn’t have to be “funny” to show that the company has a sense of humor.

Add the symbol to anything and it becomes Comedy Central’s.

The symbol is a play on the copyright symbol, and it’s often used that way, tagging the top right corner of words (like show titles) and images (like Jon Stewart’s head).

The accompanying typeface is Brandon Grotesque, one of the most popular releases of 2010 (currently #1 at MyFonts, beating out Helv!), though we won’t really start seeing a lot of it in the wild for a while.

I congratulate thelab for passing on more obvious and safe choices like Futura or Gotham, which would look great too, but would have made the identity less original in the current design climate. They wisely avoid Brandon’s lowercase entirely. Its shapes and low x-height are what give the face its 1920s–’30s appearance, and that wouldn’t be quite right for the brand. The caps are more neutral.

Comedy Central started using Brandon Grotesque in Fall 2010 for promos like this one. It’s a great type choice for a rally, but the poster designers botched the spacing pretty badly (see “SANITY”).

Brandon first appeared in Comedy Central on-air promos a few months ago and was used for their (poorly kerned) Rally to Restore Sanity branding. It was introduced with the new logo and complete identity package this month and the usage is more consistent.

The identity really comes to life in the introductory reel which Doug Jaeger and Kristin Sloan describe well in their feature at Motionographer:

While some may find this mark to be too serious, boring, or too similar to other symbols, as it acts and behaves on every beautiful back-lit screen, it shows its unique personality. As it animates, it pukes, spins, and explodes with energy. It is frenetic. When it presents its full name — with the word central upside down and backwards — it tips its hat to slapstick heroes.

Motionographer’s page has a high quality embedded video of the reel. You really must go there and watch it (about halfway down the page).

It’s more than motion that makes this identity work — it’s the pairing with Eames Century Modern, a serif family with vitality and charm, and even a sense of humor of its own (though maybe only type geeks are aware of it). Erik van Blokland’s design for House Industries has an amazing flexibility. I’ve seen it in sober annual reports and playful ’70s throwback flyers. thelab deployed Eames Century with almost giddy glee here, filling the TV screen with paragraphs of it, using its exuberant italics and the extremes of its weights. Doing this work must have been a typographer’s dream. It’s certainly this typographer’s delight to view it.










2 Comments on “Comedy Central”

  1. Bill Dawson says:
    Jan 14th, 2011  2:53 am
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    I love the bold new look of Comedy Central. Kudos to them for embracing this simpler, more elegant approach. This is more Steven Wright than Carrot Top- and for that I am truly grateful.

    I really am impressed by thelab's original typeface choice here. Brandon and Eames Century Modern seem really fresh here.

    My one issue is using Brandon Grotesque for typography other than the logotype. I feel it weakens the strength of the identity by making the COMEDY CENTRAL typography feel somewhat generic in context. I think that they could have used another geometric, say Avenir, as a complement to Eames.

    Small gripe.

    Big fan.

  2. Scott says:
    Jan 18th, 2011  5:47 am
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    I know that people often have knee-jerk first reactions to redesigns but I don’t like what they’ve done with the logo. It should also be noted the difference in Comedy Central between its US home (showing programmes like Daily Show etc.) and what we get here in the UK, which is made up of mainly sitcom repeats (Fraiser, King of Queens, Everybody Loves Raymond, Two and a Half Men etc.) I’m not sure if the redesign really goes with what they show here and it will be interesting to see if they keep the old identity as it’s only been 18 months since they rebranded from Paramount Comedy.

  3. Lachlan Siu says:
    Jan 18th, 2011  7:35 pm
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    I love the new branding on comedy central and find it very refreshing. The previous logo keyholed too much into the childish side of television along with those of cartoon network and nickelodeon.

    It works perfectly as symbol and very nicely with the text (which i love the humor of it upside down).

    Still funny but now hints a bit more sophistication...but I can relate at why there be some negative outlooks at it.

  4. EfremDavid says:
    Jan 19th, 2011  5:06 am
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    The new logo and type treatment in this case misses just a bit; reminded me of Comcast's logo. I did a double take the first night I saw it on live tv and winced thinking that Comcast, Viacom and NBC had finally acquired Comedy Central together.

  5. Omar says:
    Jan 22nd, 2011  6:26 pm
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    I could see the 1920s influence even with all caps. It's good to know it could have been worse if it were lowercase. The vaudevillian/slapstick vibe it evoked doesn't really jibe well with the network's content. But then again, I guess it doesn't have to. I'd be happier if more of the network's shows used the same minimalist approach to design. The contrast as it stands now feels awkward. Hopefully it settles in over time.

  6. Joel Mielke says:
    Jan 23rd, 2011  3:27 pm
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    On another type-related subject: the type on Colbert's droll "the Word" pieces should be set in sentence case. I hate to see articles and short pronouns set with an initial upper case letter. Look, it's not as if I'm asking for hanging punctuation here.

  7. Chris says:
    Feb 27th, 2011  3:02 pm
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    It's really interesting to see how much Comedy Central has matured over the past 10-15 years - or however long it's been around.

    I remember when it only showed stand up and was joked about as a symbol of sadness on the Simpsons, and now it's one of the most credible networks on television. Their design update reflects this credibility (along with their personality) as well.

  8. daos says:
    Mar 22nd, 2011  5:19 am
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    overall it has impact and elegance, especially from a typographic pov, but i'm not at all sure about the indecisiveness and slightly schizophrenic nature of using three different marks - th 'c in c', the 'carousel', and the 'cc:'. which is it?

    also, the website is an absolute nightmare. what went wrong?

  9. Apr 12th, 2011  3:26 pm
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    As is often the case after a design leaves the contractor and hits the in-house desk, the identity is taking a mild beating:

    Not sure what happened to Brandon’s kerning here (TUESDAY S), but that's not how it's built into the font.

  10. Luke Dorny says:
    Apr 12th, 2011  3:43 pm
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    Wow. Great to see a write-up here about CC. It's a bold and in-your-face, yet stylish campaign. I'm enjoying it. However, your comment seems to explain the problems, Stephen.

    Brandon and Eames were and still are great releases and hopefully their use will continue, filling the variety gap created by Helvetica and Gotham (though they have their powers).

  11. Trey says:
    Sep 14th, 2011  12:11 pm
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    Brandon is not a font to be used on a website. Comedy Central didn't capitalize it because they didn't want to look '20s - they did it because Brandon doesn't kern well on websites. Notice they only used the boldest weight possible - that's because the lighter Brandons will not display properly when embedded. You CAN get Brandon to look OKAY on a website, but only at larger sizes and heavier weights, with EXACT attention to the text size, to the dot. Let's hope your visitor doesn't have a non-standard text zoom setting! If you don't believe me, I present to you a website that broke my heart by ravaging my favorite font (Brandon) with no attention or care of what they were doing: http://dbeckcreative.com/

    Seriously? Aren't they embarrassed? Do they not see that they took one of the best print fonts of all time and made it look like a three year old penned it?!

    UGH! Web typography is both good and evil. We will see much amazing typography, but even more sins against all that is readable. Brandon is a print font, and a darned good one at that! Until and if he's ready for the web, leave him off of it! Comedy Central uses it the best, but I still see slight kerning issues despite their avoidance of them.

  12. Sep 14th, 2011  2:32 pm
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    I doubt that web use played a big role in the creation of Comedy Central's identity — the TV application is the most important — but you're right about the dangers of using in a web design a font that isn't ready for the computer screen. This is especially a problem on Windows browsers.

  13. Jessica K says:
    Oct 24th, 2011  6:56 pm
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    I hate the new Comedy Central Design, not because it isn't beautiful and crisp. As a designer who grew up with Comedy Central, who also is part of the key focus of their audience, the new logo lost all representation of what Comedy Central is all about. Understandably, they wanted to "grow up", but they've lost all personality in the new logo. A smile modern font was not the way to go. They could've just redesigned the old logo, instead of pitching the entire thing and rebranding it. Comedy Central is supposed to make you laugh, not become stiff with modernism.

  14. Oct 24th, 2011  7:14 pm
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    Comedy Central is supposed to make you laugh, not become stiff with modernism.

    Sometimes a logo is all about context. Take the whole branding experience into account — especially the on-air use and the identity video above — and tell me this isn’t a comedy channel. It clearly still exists to make you laugh, its just has a much better sense of itself now.

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