Filed Under Sitcom
NPR has an interview with Carl Reiner where he talks about his long career. Check it out, if you got the time.
Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy
Todd Glass has begun to sell out comedy clubs as a result of the appearances on Last Comic Standing. The Los Angeles Times article refers to how Todd tweaks the stand-up profession too. His act was my favorite in the LCS Wild Card shows with his magician-secret-revealing set-ups. “You know what guys do that’s a little cartoonish? Or maybe guys don’t do this. I think I might have made it up for my act…” It’s a strange kind of meta-comedy that works for me.
Filed Under Late Night
A University of Michigan study has linked voter apathy to late night TV. The report links lack of voting with viewership of Letterman, Leno, etc. There’s also the corollary that watching programs like Oprah makes young adults more politically optimistic as well as more likely to vote.
I have to say I can see why this would be true. Seeing things like a crowd of country music fans willingly join in a chorus of the anti-Semitic “Throw the Jew Down the Well” on Da Ali G Show doesn’t make me excited for America’s future. But I don’t think watching Oprah would make me any more excited about the political process. I had a pessimistic viewpoint on politics beforehand and don’t really believe in easy, weepy solutions. With satire at least I know what’s wrong with the country. And I can choose my candidates accordingly.
One of the things I wonder is what results you would get if you fragmented the survey out further, dividing it between shows like Letterman and Leno and shows like The Daily Show and Real Time with Bill Maher. I imagine that the former set, where comedy that addresses politics rarely dives into specifics of policies, gives the impression “they’re all crooks!” Whereas comedic shows like The Daily Show and others, which focus a bit more on politics, actually motivate voting.
Syracuse professor of being quoted in magazines and newspapers about TV Robert Thompson described comedy in a recent article as the “fifth estate.” I definitely see these shows in that light, where they keep our journalists and politicians honest. If some voters get disillusioned… well, maybe if we could have kept our estates to four in the first place, maybe we wouldn’t need satire as much as we do.
Filed Under Late Night
Late night underwent a sudden shift last week when Craig Kilborn announced he was leaving The Late Late Show. I’ve never been a big fan of the man… the smugness always wore on me. He did seem perfect for the first incarnation of the Daily Show which was more news parody than news satire. He was a modern Ron Burgundy, your local news anchor transported to basic cable.
But I never really saw the point of having him host The Late Late Show. Talk shows at their core are about the person behnd the desk. There never seemed to be much to Kilborn other than some good hair and a desire for a good time. He just never did much for me (or anybody else, if ratings are to be believed). I never really saw him moving on to 11:30 and I imagine CBS didn’t either.
Of course now there’s lots o’ handicapping about who’s taking the spot. The Post puts forth the inspired notion of Amy Sedaris. As a huge fan of Strangers With Candy, I can’t even fathom what an Amy Sedaris talk show would be. She’s an incredible interesting person, but her appearances on Letterman, though charming, play so wacky I have a hard time seeing CBS brass embracing the idea. I’d love to see it if they did.
The Daily News throws out five contenders... some more crazy than the next. Chris Rock? Please. The guy’s been there and done that with talk shows. And he’s bigger than 12:30 AM. If he wanted to do it, he would have gone to Fox a long time ago. Vince Vaughn is a very interesting idea. But I most like the suggestion of Sarah Silverman. She’s incredibly engaging and funny and deserves a bigger forum. I don’t know if her style of comedy would play anywhere but HBO. But again, I’d love to see CBS give it a shot.
With Conan’s contract up at the end of the year, there seems like there could be room for a lot of new late night chatfests. Whoever’s the number two choice for The Late Late Show will likely get Conan’s spot if he bolts for someplace like Fox (or rather bolts for an earlier time, like 11PM). The whole field is completely unpredictable, particularly when you remember that despite all these mechanations, Jay Leno will still probably have the highest late night ratings. Kinda sad, huh?
UPDATE: The headline above is a reference to this infamous Esquire article. (Sorry to overexplain, just want everyone in on the joke.)
Filed Under Movies
You know how people complain when comedians try serious roles? All kinds of bitchin’ and moanin’ that demands comics to “just be funny.” Well, there one guy who never waivered from the comedy path. Chevy Chase. Sorta proof you can’t win with audiences, huh? Granted, calling most of Chevy’s movies from ‘85 on comedies is being charitable to the order of Mother Teresa.
Entertainment Weekly profiles Chase, alternatively claiming that he’s loved and hated every paragraph or so. The article concludes that the man is just one good hit from a comeback. (Hmmm, maybe he should try, I don’t know, a drama?) Scanning his imdb entry, I was surprised to see he recently did a film directed by former Onion Editor-in-Chief Scott Dikkers called Bad Meat. I don’t think that’ll be his comeback hit, but I enjoyed Dikkers’ Spaceman and like the idea of Chase doing a black comedy featuring people who live out their days in dangerous, finger-severing meat-packing plants. Check the trailer.
Though the EW article focuses on Chase’s movie career, the two moments that appear to be most embarrassing to Chase were on TV. The first being his quickly-cancelled talk show, which was apparently meant to be a sketch show in the tradition of Ernie Kovacs with “spitting nastiness.” Never seen the actual program, but Chase was completely lost inside the talk-show format. Venomous former SNL Head Writer Michael O’Donoghue, in wicked glee, kept a tape of it by his bedsite. Trio, you have your first program if you want to do another failures month. (BTW could someone start a Classic Comedy Channel, where we’d see Kovacs, Sid Caesar, You Bet Your Life, Flip Wilson, old Carson eps… well, that’d just be swell.)
The second was Comedy Central’s 2002 Roast where none of Chase’s friends showed up and he had to hear cruel slams from relative unknowns who had grown up laughing at the holy trinity of Caddyshack, Vacation and Fletch. Apparently, Chevy turned to the camera and stated “That hurt.” Too bad that roast wasn’t broadcast live, huh?
Considering we got few original SNLers left, I’d love to see Chevy do a role that wasn’t Chuck Griswold or Fletch that reclaimed his comedy legacy.
And then, it might be fun to see if he could fuck it up again, like Travolta did.
Filed Under Sketch Comedy
Last night, I came home to catch The Daily Show and discovered that Blue Collar TV now reruns on Comedy Central. As a former Atlantan and Southerner, I felt the need to rewind the TiVo to see what I missed. (I should clarify that I’m technically more of a son of carbetbaggers, as my folks are Yankees and we didn’t move there ‘til I was six.)
Blue Collar TV isn’t exactly my mason jar of moonshine as far as humor goes. But it’s interesting to watch because believe it or not, Jeff Foxworthy has the all-time best selling comedy album ever. And his buddies Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy are huge themselves. Comedy Central got it’s best ratings ever featuring these guys during a “Redneck Weekend.” With networks always chasing the young male demo, it’s kind of easy to forget what the rest of America finds funny. Sure we’ll make a Joe Dirt or a Ronnie Dobbs, but there’s a sense that to laugh at unsophisticated white folks, the people making it need to be unsophisticated white folk (at least in persona… Larry the Cable Guy probably loves a good Chateau Lafite after doing his Elton John Impression. “He’s queer! That’s my impression of him.”)
Another bizarre fact: Blue Collar TV apparently draws more women to Comedy Central than it’s regular programming. Sure with The Man Show, South Park and others, Comedy Central isn’t always the most appealing choice for women. But I don’t really see how these three guys are. Engvall and Foxworthy are pretty forward about being family men in their comedy… is that all there is to it?
For the show itself, I felt the absence of Ron White (who joined the trio for the Blue Collar Comedy Movie) , who I always found the funniest of them all. It makes sense when I think about it… White’s a bit more Texas renegade to Foxworthy and Co’s southern rebels. He seems to be doing lots of guest shots so I won’t miss him too much (if I watch again, which I might).
Foxworthy started an episode I saw with a stand-up routine that quoted the bible to begin a riff about being “nekkid.” Never seen that before. I found it ingenious in a way. So many people in these country love God (or profess to), having someone a bible verse as a base for some racy comedy (a blurred out naked Grandma and a “risqué” cheerleader routine) seems almost subversive. Almost. It makes me wonder which side of the Parents TV Council’s Best and Worst Shows list Blue Collar TV will ultimately fall.
There’s been talk about the July 28th Nightline, which featured an exchange between Ted Koppel and Jon Stewart that some say outlines the gulf between old and new TV journalism. The description of The Daily Show as journalism gives insight into how low journalism has fallen. Not because The Daily Show is bad journalism, but because journalism isn’t doing it’s job and satire is having to pick up the slack.
Stewart and Koppel debate on what a News Anchor’s role should be. There’s a sense that there needs to be objectivity in news, presenting all sides to a story fairly and honestly. Stewart argues that the political spin machines take advantage of this and that TV news needs to adapt, not only to keep viewers, but to be effective. The audience doesn’t want them to stand idly by when each side presents contradictory facts.
The comedy presentation of news does give interpretations. Stewart rightly states that no one in his audience is coming for news, but they are coming for what they see is the truth behind the news. The real behind the measured coldness of just coverage.
At one point Stewart tells Koppel:
“...you CAN say that’s BS. You don’t need humor to do that because you have what I wish I had which is credibility and gravitas.”
News worries about presenting the truth and thus presents all sides of a story, penetrating none. Satire, while not necessarily giving truth, takes the elements of a story and uses them to illuminate something at their core.Stewart is pushing for Koppel to give more perspective. To bring more of a frame to stories and to call lies when he sees them. The fact Koppel seems to dispute the idea that he could call BS is bizarre when you read a speech Koppel delivered at a dinner of TV News directors that Jon Stewart himself introduced him at. At Koppel’s request! Koppel talks about the need to give news context… well isn’t that just a fancy way of saying “calling BS”?