An Auteur Theory Of Funny

Filed Under Print

Humorist and Author of the Harry Potter parody “Barry Trotter” Mike Gerber makes an interesting case for the singular voice of a humorist without interference from an editor. One statement I particularly like:

Any novel that’s the least bit pointed or ironic is christened “a satirical romp” or “a comic tour-de-force,” but when you put them up against The Daily Show, which makes you laugh more? And that’s the test of a humorous piece of writing—does it make you laugh?

The rarity of laugh-out-loud prose compared to the number of blurbs that suggest it is enough to make a reader suspect that literary critcs have a congenital funny bone deficiency. No wonder the Daily Show book “America” is number one… the literate are starved for laughs.

In some ways the question of how much latitude a creator needs to have in their work is important. I think one of the most important factors in creating something funny is having something to resist against… the more restrictions on a piece the funnier it gets. This goes for no-holds-barred humor that stretches society like National Lampoon, but also from humor that doesn’t aspire to be as caustic. A good editor of humor will help hold a writer to the comic boundaries setup at the begining of the piece. If the writer wavers, goes too far… a smart editor will recognize that and rein them in. I don’t think the editor should ever drill down so deep as to the mechanics of joke-telling (and if they did, why would they need the writer in the first place?). But they can help a writer keep honest with their premise.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 08:37 PM | Comments (4)

Abort, Retry, Banana Peel

Filed Under Funny 2.0

Came across this press release in my inbox today for “Expert Comedy Writing” software apparently used to by Drew Carey and Steve Oedekerk (so that’s how he got the idea to put talking thumbs inside pop culture parodies!). Apparently it works on helping you work out associations between ideas, which means it’s just a $200 notebook. An old-school spiral notebook would be just as effective… look at the results for Demetri Martin.

This curiously enough, made me think about whether we’ll ever get funny machines… Hal 9000 crossed with Hal Sparks. Though computers have logic and comedy has logic, the syllogism breaks down on computers and comedy. Simply because comedy has the kind of logic that isn’t. And yet is. To a computer everything is a number. Humans can’t tell what number something is, so right there, we get the possibility of comedic exaggeration. If a robot ever enjoys the idea of comedic exaggeration, it’ll be a light chuckle about crushing it’s 1,834,236th human skull.

You can tell I was a philosophy major, huh?

Posted by Todd Jackson at 12:47 AM | Comments (2)

Last Comic Gets a Winner, NBC a Big Loser

Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy

So first, NBC gives up the finale of “Last Comic Standing” to Comedy Central, but then they mute any ratings by announcing Alonzo Bodden won the contest, which kinda kills the suspense of a finale. Heck you can even watch Alonzo’s winning set on NBC “Last Comic” sitelet.

Well, Alonzo got $250 thousand anyway, so who cares about another hour of low-rated airtime? As he states in this interview, “I’ll take it.”  And did NBC get the ratings it wanted. Ah, nope. According to Shecky Magazine, the two “Father of the Pride"s were fifth for the night. Though neither shows represent what I’d like network comedy to be, it’s hard to celebrate that both fail to attract audiences.

If you are really still interested, you can see the half-hour finale on Comedy Central this Saturday at 8 PM.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 12:04 AM | Comments (0)

Last “No Respects” 2

Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy

Been reading the obituaries for Rodney Dangerfield and was struck by how rare he was. As he stated in his LA Times obituary:

“I’m very lucky to have an image. Most comedians do not have an image. They do, ‘Did this ever happen to you?’ or they do satire. But there’s practically none around today with an image. (Jack) Benny had an image. (W.C.) Fields had an image. An image is tough to come by. It doesn’t just happen. And people try to create it and think, ‘What’s an image for me?’ But it has to happen from your soul, I guess. You have to feel it.”

Rodney’s image was of an iconic level: the tug on the “red tie” with the declarations of no respect. He manage to keep both contradicting balls of comedy - familiarity and surprise - up in the air for so long. We kinda knew what he was gonna say, but it always pulled the rug out from under us anyway. I don’t think anyone will have such a solid image again… so much stand-up is about being real, that filtering your jokes through a persona seems ridiculous. Yet Rodney’s persona was real… it was him… a downtown comic whose demeanor was Catskills. No wonder he was a bridge between generations of comedy and why many claim he was responsible for many careers including Sam Kinison, Roseanne Barr and Jerry Seinfeld.

Here’s a collection of interesting links/obits featuring Rodney and his comedy. Check ‘em out:

Posted by Todd Jackson at 02:32 AM | Comments (0)

“Last Comic” Stood Up

Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy

According to Jay Mohr‘s web site, NBC has dumped the final episode of Last Comic Standing which would crown the third season victor. The winner instead will be announced at some point during a Father of the Pride marathon. The rambling note on Jay Mohr’s homepage was riddled with misspellings (including ‘thge’), so I felt the need to check my TiVo and, yep, no Last Comic Standings are scheduled. NBC also confirms the announcement of the winner during Father here.

I don’t feel the loss of the last episode… it’s filler anyway, with the finalists performing yet again with standard reality recap footage intercut to prolong what takes ten seconds to do. I’ve never been enamored with Last Comic Standing... the show has never been about being funny, but instead about showcasing personalities (or whatever passes for that) just like all reality TV does. This last version of this show naturally failed, because it ran away from why people tune in in the first place. An all stand-up version gets rather old fast because we get to know these performers’ acts and style so well, there’s no more surprise. No more surprise = not funny. The immediate followup after season 2 certainly didn’t help matters.

Season 1 and 3 contestant Ralphie May also recently claimed the show has “jumped the shark” (groan), claiming that stand-up isn’t necessarily about getting laughs but about pushing boundaries. While Ralphie May has since claimed he was misquoted, the question of how you measure good comedy (laughs vs. art) is something I’m gonna try and take up at some point in the near future.

Updated: Apparently, NBC has taken down the previous statement on the Last Comic page, promising a winner to be announced on Tuesday. According to a story on realitynewsonline, Last Comic will get a half-hour show to annnouce a winner (which again, is probably enough… who wants to draw this out including, apparently, NBC).

Posted by Todd Jackson at 11:34 AM | Comments (1)

Last “No Respects”

Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy

The joke of the day on October 5 from the late Rodney Dangerfield‘s web site:

“I tell ya I get no respect from anyone. I bought a cemetery plot. The guy said, ‘There goes the neighborhood!”

Posted by Todd Jackson at 09:51 AM | Comments (0)

Better “Late” Than Never

Filed Under Late Night

So I’m busy doing a revamp on the blog, and bam! big comedy news. Oh well, no rest for the wicked. And I don’t get to have any fun either.

Leno’s passing along the “Tonight Show” to Conan O’Brien in the year 2009. Already many are expressing theories involving Conan backstabbing Leno and strong-arming NBC management that should give Bill Carter plenty of material if he wants to write “Late Shift 2: Electric Boogaloo.” I don’t really have an opinion on such behind-the-scenes machinations, other than I’m inclined the think the best of both parties because if you look back at how NBC’s bungling destroyed personal friendships before, somebody had to give.

More interesting to me is how will Conan adjust his style in 2009. Some speculate lots of dumbing down and toothless comedy, citing how Leno eagerly embraced a base audience. I’m sure some modifications will occur… I just don’t think the Masturbating Bear will play at 11:30. But the Conan character Triumph has certainly broken into primetime, appearing on such middle-America fare as Last Comic Standing on Tuesday. Smart and irreverent comedy can play at 11:30.  Just because the time slot appeared to swallow Leno whole doesn’t mean it’ll consume Conan.

Conan would probably do well to look at Carson, who appealed to the whole country while maintaining an edge of cool that only abandoned him after Arsenio Hall (remember him?) came on the scene. I’m not sure where the two intersect, Carson’s confidence and laid back persona couldn’t seem more opposite Conan’s nerdy energy. But Carson’s level of cool, like the rat pack, doesn’t exist anywhere anymore. Performers and audience are too self-conscious now to allow it, hence irony.

The boundaries of what you can and can’t say, even on the Tonight Show, have certainly broken down. And, FCC fines aside, I don’t see America stuffing that cat back in the box. Who knows what you can say on TV five years from now? Who knows if networks will still be relevant as cable gains more prominence? Maybe late night action will be concentrated on “Adult Swim” and “Daily Show” by then. Whatever TV comedy turns into, Conan’s five years of planning time might just be a blessing. He could very well need it.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 04:26 AM | Comments (3)
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