Writers’ Rooms: Naughty by Nature?

Filed Under Comedy Writers, Sitcom

Read the Sunday NY Times article (original link) (author’s archive), which details the possible ramifications of the sexual harassment suit against three Friends writers.

Though I was cautiously favoring the writers’ side when I first blogged the lawsuit, this article tipped me there completely when it noted that plaintiff had none of the sexual references directed at her. Even if the comments were lewd and immaterial to the matter at hand, they all could be part of the creative process. In fact, one anecdote about having oral sex with a prostitute who turned out to be a man inspired a joke actually used on the show. All grist for the mill. Even if you don’t like the humor used in the room, if it gets a usable result, it’s hard to argue it wasn’t necessary to get the job done. You can’t judge beforehand which smutty remark would finally break a joke, so as long as it doesn’t target anyone working on the show, it should be OK. Though it doesn’t excuse the comments on Courtney Cox, Jennifer Aniston or writer/creator Marta Kaufman... it’s clear that most of the “disgusting” language took place in regards to doing the work. 

Lindsay Robertson finds fault with the assistant for considering a field like comedy writing if she didn’t have the stomach for the writers’ room talk. I don’t really think that’s entirely fair, after all… at the bottom of any field you are essentially trying out the job and seeing if it’s right for you. (Obviously it wasn’t for the assistant, she’s now in the Air Force… pretty much the exact opposite of comedy writing.) You wouldn’t necessarily imagine the writers from Friends would be talking about Joey being a rapist from watching an episode of the show. But you could be told that when you applied.

I think for every writer and assistant there will need to be a waver which states that the employee acknowledges they will work in an environment where uncomfortable subject matter will come up in order to create material, don’t sue. Sign it if you want to make the funny. People should still have the option of suing if they feel they have been directly sexual harassed… like the Bill O’Reilly case.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 12:44 AM | Comments (0)

I Wouldn’t Say it was a Bad Set…

Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy

Christian Finnegan supplies for starting comics a what they say/what they mean about post-bomb comments.  It’s humor, but (ha-ha) “it’s funny cuz it’s true!” My fave:

COMMENT: “The audience really sucked tonight.”
TRANSLATION: I like you as a person, so I am going to help you shift the blame for what just transpired off of your either half-written or over-written jokes and non-existent stage presence to a group of people whose only crime was to spend their hard-earned money and time trying to be entertained by you.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 12:34 AM | Comments (1)

Stewart 1, Carlson 0, The Public -243

Filed Under Late Night

I’m sure you’ve already heard about the huzzahs for Jon Stewart’s confrontational appearance on “Crossfire” (transcript, video). People were a little surprised to see a serious Stewart challenging the premise of Crossfire and particularly Tucker Carlson (whom Stewart attempts to even avoid facing, if you watch the video). But I think Stewart is sick of the idea that his show, a comedy show, is seen by many as the only oasis from spin.

Tucker Carlson attempted to make Stewart address his softball questions to John Kerry, but Stewart’s job isn’t to interrogate Presidental candidates. He’s a comedian and, sure, often a satirist, but the viewing public shouldn’t need him to do the job of the actual press. The media claims that they aim for objectivity but it’s obviously both parties have learned ways to work around that. The media has yet to adapt to these new realities. And that’s what Jon Stewart’s been screaming about for months.

As the media has been taking “The Daily Show” more seriously, it’s been missing the message of the show. It’s not that this is how people get their news. It where people gets the perspective that news used to provide. Satire only starts becoming a viable option for information when the media fails in its job. Demanding Jon Stewart ask harder questions of our elected officials shows how far our media has slipped. He’s not a newsman. He’s a comedian. Once the press stops trying to be entertainment, reporters and pundits won’t have to worry about entertainers doing their jobs better.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 06:37 PM | Comments (2)

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)
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