To write comedy, do you have to have an uncensored environment? That’s essentially the question that’s being put before the California Supreme Court in a harassment case involving some of the Friends writers. I absolutely fall into the idea that it’s a creative necessity to be able to say anything, because that’s how you find laughs. What makes funny stuff is usually inappropriate stuff that makes people feel uncomfortable. Saying them out loud, creates laughs. And a show like Friends, which is so focused on the sexual behavior of the characters, it seems impossible to work in an environment where talking about sex would be verboten.
But reading the description of what the plaintiff says went on (via The Smoking Gun), it sounds like a lot of it crossed over into the personal, and rather pedestrian, fantasies of the writers on staff (sex with cheerleaders, C’mon?). Although arguably, talking about turning Joey into a serial rapist is a creative process decision (and might explain the sudden move of the character to LA in Joey). This document, of course, only shows her side of the story. What really happened is probably someplace in-between.
It’ll be interesting to see how this shakes out. I imagine a plaintiff win could mean a lot of repression in writing rooms. For a rather amusing anecdote about an uncensored environment, one that doesn’t cross over into the personal and done purely to relieve creative tension, check out this Louis CK description of a late night writing session at Conan (4th Item down).
Filed Under Improv
Another thing I wonder while watching Crossballs: was the audience told what they’d be seeing? Do they know the show is a satire? It seems like it can take a while for the audience to laugh (that may just be because something wasn’t all that funny). But that might also be because they don’t know they are allowed to laugh. (The decision to have an audience is also curious… is it a variation on the laughtrack idea, i.e. those at home won’t know it’s funny unless we have people laughing?)
Are they buying this as a cross between Jerry Springer and Hardball? Or are they in on the joke from the getgo? It seems like it wouldn’t be hard to inform the audience what’s going on… it was done for Superstar USA if I recall. I’d love to hear from anybody who’s been to a live taping of Crossballs.
Filed Under Improv
Despite complaints from the left and the right, I have a hard time seeing anyone who appears on the show Crossballs getting all that upset. Mainly because I can’t believe they would still buy the show as real after seeing some of the exaggerated positions the fake guests take. On a show about vegetarians/animals, Matt Besser appeared as a German concerned about the purity of the German Shepherd breed. Incredibly funny and completely over the top. Though I saw a couple of smiles from the real experts, it appeared to be more from disbelief in the person rather than the context. They’d continue to debate despite this and other rather obviously demented positions.
I think Crossballs gets away with this because the host Chris Tallman is so willing to play the straight man to all of this. Any time one of the other players on the show makes an extreme statement, he’ll pipe right in with a “You’re wrong” or an “Are you serious?” that assures the real guests that they have another reasonable person in the room.
Filed Under Humor
So you think you’re an aughties - a zeroties - the ohties - oh, whatever - fan? OK, Osama but are you ready for this jelly? It’s “I Love the 2000s” and this is 2001! The terror! The TV! The Taliban! The flicks! The fundamentalist Muslims! A totally scarring year that gave us these burning questions: Why do other countries hate us so much?
Could be decades of exporting a culture full of values our foreign policy doesn’t even come close to emulating. Or maybe they just didn’t like Rush Hour 2.
How did Saddam Hussein found Al Qaida?
He planned 9/11 with the help of the WWE’s Iron Sheik and Jafar from the movie Aladdin.
and… How newsworthy is it if it only makes the crawl?
Michael Ian Black:
Those tickers are very effective. When I am trembling in fear on my couch, I need to know that sales of American flags are up 85%. (pause) I need to. (pause) Desperately.
The answers to those questions, plus Who sent the tabloids anthrax if it wasn’t J. Lo? and… Did irony really die or was it just cryogenically frozen until the nostalgia clip show could be invented? Because you love the 2000s. Because you’re still having sex with firemen, this is 2001!
Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy
Great piece on NPR about Demetri Martin, despite the reference to him as “the voice of generation Y.” Though the comparison isn’t made in the piece, I’ve always seen Demetri Martin as kind of a successor to Steven Wright. They both have similar rhythms to their jokes - one-liners that have “a-ha” moments where the sudden perspective shifts are combustible. Of course this was before, I caught his new one-person show “Spiral Bound” in June.
Spiral Bound features a journey of Demetri into his notebook. (You can take kind of a similar journey at Demetri’s website.) The show describes the decisions and situations that led Demetri to performing stand-up instead of being a lawyer, and the effects it has on his highly-driven medical student fiancee. It’s surprisingly confessional and quite a bit removed from one-liners.
The NPR interview confirms Demetri is kinda undergoing a focus shift in his comedy. He mentions how he feels audiences don’t really know much about you if you’re just throwing out jokes. And he’s right. How much does anyone know about someone like Steven Wright, who seems to cultivate a sense of removal from human behavior (something Demetri never had with his one-liners.) Someone who can write the joke, “I got some pajamas with pockets in them. Which is great because before that I used to have to hold stuff when I slept” has definitely got a very interesting internal life that audiences would love to be brought into.
Big Ups to Sacha, Ite?
Great (and apparently rare) interview with Ali G alter-ego Sacha Cohen (or rather, vice versa… or not) in the New York Times today. Particularly interesting is the distinction Sacha makes about his interview subjects and other targets being good sports. He says:
I think the term “sports” is wrong because that implies that they are playing along and they realize they’re part of the game. As far as I’ve seen, they’re not.
So there’s a sense with him that just playing along with the character isn’t being a good sport, it’s realizing your being had and playing along anyway. To use the language of improv, the target of the joke would “Yes, And” with Ali G, Borat or Bruno. I’m looking forward to the new season of the Da Ali G Show... there’s too little comedy featuring pranking white fat cats.
Insert Never Forgets Joke Here
Caught the sketch group Elephant Larry this past weekend in their new show “The Crime Machine.” The troupe of five guys put on a really energetic show, with some sketches working simply because of the players’ complete commitment to a premise such as “Fightman and Puncher,” featuring two superheroes who only catch bad guys incidentally because they’re too busy hitting each other. A lot. The video was nicely mixed in, culminating in a tandem bit where all five dance along to a imagined ubiquitous Will Smith tie-in rap for the film “I, Robot.” There’s some clunkers in there, but the highs outweighed the lows. My favorite performer was Geoff Haggerty, who lent a bizarre innocence to a scream of “bloody murder!”
Comedy is Timing. And this is far too late.
Saw this in the bookstore today. The Sitcom Career Book. I see this easily edged out in sales by Reality Casting for Congenital Morons.
While ordering Patton Oswalt’s album over iTunes, I noticed that a search for Genre:Comedy does not work on the store. Currently it just takes you to back to the main iTunes page. Don’t know if it’s always been this way or not, but it’s rather frustrating. The return of the comedy album has been pursued heavily by people like Uproar Comedy, Laugh.com and, most notably, Comedy Central Records.
The absence of a main comedy landing page on iTunes probably impedes online distribution of comedy records. With comedy such a spontaneous buy, the ability to have the “celestial jukebox” featuring a wide range of comedy may be exactly what the comedy album needs. Of course, iTunes has brought a lot of changes to the music industry itself, including returning emphasis on the single. Is there an equivalent to the single for comedy albums? Maybe having the first few tracks of Feelin’ Kinda Patton seeming isolated from the whole is a good thing in the new online distribution model?