Tuesday, June 16, 2009
The Post Where I Tell You What's Up and What's Funny
I want to write a sweeping post about the death--okay, the evolution of--comedy, a result, obviously, of the Internet's fracturing of our popular culture and its promotion of quirk. But that would mean some bullshit bandying about of academese that no one -- I especially -- wants to endure (well, maybe Thumbu excepted). So, let me check my "discursives" and my "normatives" at the door, and say this only by way of opening query: Remember when only things that made you laugh out loud were truly funny? I have vivid memories of the scene in Naked Gun (or one of its sequels) where Frank Drebin uses the bathroom without detaching his microphone and everyone is made to listen to his bodily functions; that Barry and Levon $240 worth of pudding skit from MTV's The State; that Moleculo the molecular man skit that Conan O'Brien did when he was on Saturday Night Live. And I remember laughing hard at each of them and knowing that, that right there, that's funny. The first of these skits/scenes was universally funny, if the universe was peopled by awkward 10-year-old boys. The second of these ventured into some welcome absurdism, which my high school self had some appreciation for. The last of these I caught at a friend's house one Saturday night before a night out with a large group of people, none of whom got or cared for the joke. I remember standing in this friend's living room, doubled over, as ten people looked at each other, totally perplexed.
I have since watched all three scenes/skits and find them notably less funny than when I first watched them, but I don't think this diminishes their value at all. The thing to note is that all three at one time in my life made me laugh out loud, really hard. Why is it then that these days so much of what passes for humour in our popular culture evokes maybe a half-crooked smile? Robert Downey, Jr.'s minstrel show in Tropic Thunder? Virtually every moment of The Office ever? These -- the performance and the show -- have been haled as virtuosic examples of comedy by many people I respect, but neither have encouraged the slightest snicker from my person. It occurs to me that quirk, that certain boldness of performance, perhaps what Derrida would call differance (French pronunciation; also, just fucking with you...), these are the measures of good comedy, but where is all the stuff that makes you keel over because you're convulsing with laughter? Look, I like Zach Galifianakis plenty, but is clever and discomfiting the same as funny? Seriously, is it? I like Keyboard Cat (see above) too, but does he even qualify as amusing, or is he just the latest example of the mainstreaming of quirk brought on by the internet?
Don't get me wrong. I am happy that laugh tracks are going the way of GM and the newspaper industry. I like that we, collectively as a society, have put up some resistance to cookie-cutter comedy (e.g., America's Funniest Home Videos) -- and yes, I know there is plenty of evidence suggesting we haven't -- but is it too much to ask that things that purport to be funny make us laugh out loud?
That's my piece, and let me end it this way. There are two people on the Internet who make me laugh almost without fail. Aziz Ansari and Gabe Delahaye. They are also both my secret boyfriends, and I not so secretly hope that one day they make a baby together. Recently they both posted throwaway items in their blogs that made me laugh, and as anyone who has ever read the vile trash that is The New Yorker's Shouts and Murmurs section knows, it's not easy to elicit that kind of reaction through the written word alone.
Here's Gabe on the upcoming season of Entourage, and here's Aziz on IM'ing with his brother.