Filed Under Funny 2.0
Among the other changes of the redesign, one thing I’ll be doing with Dead-Frog is opening it up to voices besides my own. Here’s the first of those voices, Mo Diggs talking about the intersection of comedy and technology today.
The list of categories for the 11th annual Webby Awards speaks volumes about what flies on the web. To boot: two categories for comedy (series and shorts) and one category for drama. The bias does not signal a sophomoric groupthink amongst academy members; for every Matt Groening, there is an Arianna Huffington. This reflects the web’s proclivity for sharp sketches and brilliantly executed pranks rather than ruminations on death or tone poems about alienation. College Humor is huge; college drama is nowhere to be found except Vassar.
That and a buck fifty gets you a subway token in Metropolis until you look at television. NBC’s Thursday night comedy lineup got its lowest ratings since 1987. 30 Rock gets mauled by CSI and Grey’s Anatomy. Bob Sassone of TV Squad suggests that NBC make Thursday night drama night to stay afloat. Things obviously do not look good for prime-time television comedy.
The shift becomes apparent when you look at the hit prime-time comedies of the past five decades
50s: I Love Lucy
60s: Gilligan’s Island
70s: Diff’rnt Strokes
80s: Family Ties
90s: Seinfeld, Friends
This decade: Should have been Arrested Development; should have been The Office.
So the Internet makes us laugh, the TV makes us cry.
What about lonelygirl15? Isn’t that a big Internet drama. If only it were about the content and not the production; viewers dropped when they found out that it was a fictional narrative not a genuine voice of repressed despair.
Why is more serious fare a tougher sell online? I can think of several reasons.
OK, but why is it harder for television comedy than internet comedy? The Internet, unlike TV, delivers long tail laughs. Different people laugh at different things. For years we’ve pretended to laugh at each other’s shows. But office ladies find funny cat photos online, boomer grampas are finding old Laugh In clips, hipsters are laughing at the latest alt-comedy video. Their paths rarely cross. Edna, the curmudgeonly old lady from accounts payable, never goes on The Onion, opting for all the Ziggy cartoons her heart desires. Now do you expect all these different types of people to find the same show funny? No. Is TV aggressively pursuing all these demos? No.
Drama brings in the numbers because an hour a week is the best growth rate for character development ever conceived. An hour a week online is anathema to web surfers; who wants to spend all that time on an online hospital soap?
Of course there’s hope for both genres in their respective fields. A comedy with the mass appeal of The Simpsons may make its way to the airwaves and as home video equipment improves, the quality of online dramas will impress more viewers. So there’s hope for College Drama after all.
Filed Under Funny 2.0
The second episode of the Michael Showalter‘s Michael Showalter Showalter just went up at College Humor this week. His guest this time is his fellow State compatriot Michael Ian Black. Click on the pic below to watch:
This and the previous episode featuring Zach Galifianakis are wonderfully squirmy comedy. Though the uncomfortable interviewing is fun, the faux lights-off off-camera stuff gives me the most joy.
The Michael Showalter Showalter is a bit of an interesting direction for College Humor, which has a kind of (I think sometimes self-admitted) rap for being lowbrow. I’m not sure it’s entirely fair - it takes a lot of intelligence (or at least, street smarts) to do stupid stuff right. But this new webshow is an expansion of a comedic voice that’s probably a bit more flexible to begin with. It’s also quite telling that they jump in with one new show rather than dozen. Even with College Humor’s insane traffic, how could you properly service all of them?
Filed Under Funny 2.0
Over the holidays, I dropped by the Super Deluxe offices (also home to Adult Swim) and checked out what they’ve been working on. I’ve been skeptical about a great deal of broadband comedy, but from what I saw these guys get it. I don’t know if their bosses at Turner are happy with how they’re spending their money, but I am.
They just launched today. Here’s what they’re starting with: the first episode of “Professor Brothers” which tells the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah, the latter being a place “named after an even weirder move.” It’s by an Austin cartoonist named Brad Neely.
You should check out Brad’s other show “Babycakes” as well. Right now.
And any of you Wonder Showzen fans might want to follow the “more” link, because there’s something there called “Y’all So Stupid” which will probably make the rest of the day seem unstable and fragile.
You may remember last month when a Pauly Shore beatdown in a comedy club was quickly revealed as a hoax. It came off to many as a little desperate. Pauly recently posted on his myspace profile the “making of” the hoax, which, in my mind, kind of redeems it a little. A little. Here’s the video:
One thing that warms me to the attempt a bit more is that you can see in the new video that Pauly is aware enough of how it has to look in order for it to work, quickly chiding the audience not to laugh when he gets hit. That still didn’t stop them in the final event of course and it was one of the small tip offs in the original that things were entirely right. It’s a little fascinating to watch to see how a little detail can spoil the prank. And as a lesson that if you aren’t Andy Kaufman or Sacha Baron Cohen, you might want to stick to your punchlines and catchphrases.
Filed Under Funny 2.0
With the web finally becoming hospitable to new ventures again, there’s been a lot of people jumping into the broadband comedy pool as of late. Today Turner announced the upcoming launch of a new broadband site called Super Deluxe, which will feature both known and unknown talent side-by-side.
There’s two interesting factors to this announcement. The first, unlike Motherload from Comedy Central and LaughLab from TBS, Super Deluxe has no ties to any cable channel. It’s living on its own merits and doesn’t have a second master to make happy. Particularly meaning there’s no existing standard & practices to limit content so they can focus on being the web rather than being TV. Almost all the successes for web comedy I can think of (The Onion, College Humor, etc.) have come not from big media but from the outside. This may be a great way to mimic that ethos but with the tentacles of a big media site.
And the second is that’s it’s being developed in the same offices as Adult Swim, and if they’re following that model, it can only mean good things. One point mentioned in the release is that their expecting the site’s “creative freedom” to be one of the main attractions for talent. If the leash is truly long for talent, that will lead to creators coming to do innovative material specifically for Super Deluxe rather than just giving them something they couldn’t get a network to buy. Experimentation with a budget, even a small one, might be the tipping point for a lot of comedic talent who’ve been ignoring the web.
As far as that talent, there’s no names mentioned in the release. But previously, Eugene Mirman mentioned he was working on some films for an upcoming Turner site. If Eugene is a marker for what they want this site to be, then it could be amazing. I’ve heard rumblings of other names but nothing I can confirm. Also, no launch date. So there’s more to come, I’m sure.
Update: There’s is a url however, and it’s superdeluxe.com. You should check it out - turn on your pop-ups. Don’t worry, they’re very playful.
Filed Under Funny 2.0
I’ve had more than a few people who sent me a recent Slate article by Peter Hyman called The Funniness Epidemic. The main conceit of the article is why are all of us trying to be funny these days.
There’s a couple of assumptions Peter makes that I have to disagree with - one of which is that comedy is in full flower on TV, particularly thanks to Seinfeld. If anything, post-Seinfeld, comedy has been in decline on network television. There’s a lot more comedy on TV now of course, thanks to the myriad of cable companies… but there is a lot more of everything now. And no comedy really holds an audience’s mind share right now - that’s all taken up with reality shows, Lost and Desperate Housewives (soap opera, not a comedy).
If there was any television to mark for why everybody is trying to be funny, I’d actually say it was reality TV, where “ordinary” people become the stars. The leap from 0 to stardom has never seemed easier in some ways, so naturally, anybody who wants it is honing whatever comedy skills they got. Combine that with the do-it-yourself ethic of the web and a decrease in the gateways of both distribution and production and you have a full-borne flourishing of funny.
But I don’t think this surge of people trying to be funny is anything new, rather it’s a side-effect of the fact that these voices couldn’t really be heard further than your water cooler before. It’s similar to all the kinky communities people found on the web in the 90s. All these would-be performers were just semi-closeted humor plushies. They were there before, we only knew about the one in our office or classroom.
Peter also points to irony or rather sarcasm as another reason for the popularity at being funny, but I would say that detachment is possibly on its way out. If you look at the Daily Show and, even, the Colbert Report - we know exactly where these people stand. There’s a sincerity behind the humor that people are responding to, even when it’s layered under a mask like Colbert’s. People respond so much because they know exactly how he feels about the issues even when he saying something completely contrary. It’s true irony rather than the dismissive brand we’ve lived with for so long. I might even make the same argument for Larry the Cable Guy - the sentiments and politics are real even if the persona is false. You know who Dan Whitney is and what he feels, even if he layers it under a character.
Of course that doesn’t mean the general public is picking up on that - it’s generally a big step for a comedian to realize that a joke he or she writes may not be a joke he or she can tell. Most comics know who they are on stage - where as the laypeople, like the IBM workers who made the Office-like videos Peter points to, are in an earlier stage - that of imitating another successful voice. Detachment isn’t so much of a pose then as a consequence of being a, for lack of better word here, amateur. You really only get attached to your jokes when you’re feeding yourself based on how they live or die.
I don’t really find myself too disheartened by the influx of people being funny - I kind of take zefrank’s approach on this - humor, like all arts, has developed codified rules - sometimes the people who don’t even know these rules at first are the ones who break new ground and expand them. And it ups the awareness and appreciation of those who do perform the art well in the meantime.
Filed Under Funny 2.0
Comedy communities are a huge hole on the web and I feel are vastly underserved. So I was very pleased to discover that MySpace has added MySpace Comedy (which seems to have been soft-launched sometime around early April). It’s pretty impressive - particularly using the same technology used in the music space to help find comics performing near you. Not such a big deal in NYC, but in other areas, it could be a great boon to find shows (like from where I grew up in Georgia). Before, some comics would set their profiles as MySpace Music profiles, which I suppose maybe helped them take advantage of some of the special features available to artists, but obviously, having something directly tailored to you is far better.
The comic profiles are pretty impressive in the amount of genres you can mark yourself as - though it has some bizarre overlap - is there any difference between “blue” and “explicit/raw”? Granted I can see some subtle shadings between “redneck/country” and “blue collar”, but are people really going to parse their comedy search that much?
Comics convert their profiles to comedians page by logging in regular and following this link.
I’ve heard rumors that when you do this, you lose any special html you used to build your page. But c’mon, did your page really need to look like a 14-year-old’s bedroom?