Artisans on Fire co-owner Dustin Iannotti was 4 years old when the infamous “fried egg” commercial first appeared on televisions across the nation.
When actor John Roselius gravely informed viewers back in 1987 that doing drugs was the equivalent of putting your brain in a frying pan, the message came with a visual that was hard to forget. TV Guide would later recognize the commercial as one of the top 100 television advertisements of all time. The video was viral before the concept was even introduced, making such a splash the American Egg Board — yup, that’s a thing — registered their frustrations out of fear the clip might lead to a reduction in egg sales.
Cultural touchstones ranging from Saturday Night Live to Breaking Bad have referenced the campaign over the years, proving its staying power as a lasting piece of anti-drug propaganda.
By nature, public service announcements have always arrived with an axe to grind. Now Iannotti and his Las Vegas cannabis marketing agency are giving the infamous anti-drug clip a new slant.
“When we asked our clients what the most memorable drug-related commercial or PSA was that they remembered, they all referred back to the fried egg,” Iannotti explains. “What I remember about that commercial is that it was very effective, but that it also shed a very negative light on drugs as a whole.”
In the Artisans on Fire update, the stern, Roselius’ Caucasian visage is replaced with professional chef Todd Sugimoto, who re-creates the original video’s opening dialogue but substitutes “cannabis” for the catch-all “drugs.” At the point where Roselius cracks a shell into a frying pan and lets it sizzle, Sugimoto instead takes the egg — meant to represent the brains of those who use the substance — and proceeds to prepare a healthy, delicious omelet.
The message is meant to highlight the creativity and wellness possibilities offered by cannabis while distancing pot from its former image as a narcotic only suitable for ne’er-do-wells and burnouts.
In keeping with the spirit of the original PSA, Artisans on Fire decided to self-fund its version. They found a household to film in, recruited the chef of an acclaimed casino restaurant to play the starring role, and spent a day painstakingly recreating Roselius’ exact movements from three decades earlier.
The project also has a personal connection for Iannotti, whose father has battled cancer for the better part of a decade and found medicinal benefits from using cannabis products.
“My father had cancer of the spleen,” Iannotti says, “and he’s used CBD products for the last year or so to help get his blood count up. He believes very strongly that CBD has done a better job for him than many of the very expensive prescriptions he has.”
This updated version of “This Is Your Brain on Drugs” is predated by a 2017 video released by the Drug Policy Alliance. In that clip, actress Rachael Leigh Cook — best known for her starring role in the 1999 teen romance She’s All That — revisits the PSA she made in 1997 that saw her violently smashing a kitchen to pieces with a frying pan to explain the harm caused by using heroin. In the new version, she instead explains how a white egg faces almost no consequences for their drug use, before narrating an animated clip detailing the chilling experiences faced by a brown egg that engages in the same activities.
While the Drug Policy Alliance focuses on the racial inequalities that have come to define the “War on Drugs,” Iannotti and his team instead have created a PSA focused on combating the stigmas frequently levied at cannabis users.
“If nothing else comes of it, we would just love to get more awareness out there,” he says. “This is meant to serve as a way for the cannabis industry to come out from the darkness and into the light.”
Released on July 17, the new PSA has yet to go viral — it currently has just under 6,000 views — but Iannotti remains hopeful that word-of-mouth will help the clip gain traction in the days and weeks to come.
For now, he’s just happy that the man who helped inspire him to create the video seems to be a fan.
“My dad has seen the video,” Iannotti confirms. “I told him that it was obviously, in part, dedicated to him, and he was very, very grateful. He said, ‘Go team. Keep fighting the fight.’ It was a nice moment between us. He’s proud either way, but I feel like this played a small role in making him that much prouder.”
Zack Ruskin covers news, culture, and music for SF Weekly.
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