Category: Funny 2.0
Comedy Central Records is experimenting with putting out some albums digital only. The lead off for this is the EP “God’s Pottery: Live from Comix” from the faux Christian group God’s Pottery. With songs like “A Brand New Start with Christ” which asserts the superiority of Christianity over Judaism and Islam, God’s Pottery plays against them with some aggressively cheerful patter that’s just as judgmental. A friend of mine once wondered if the pair could actually play at an Evangelical event and the attendees not know. Well, they might get tipped off the word “shitstorm” in the fourth song “Jesus I Need a Drink.” If you like the comedy to be sacrilegious in disguise, this is for you.
Normally, I’d give a track here, but the EPs is less than $4. Do I really need to tease one track out of four? In lieu of that, however, here’s a little video snippet which catches the group in the process of mixing their CD:
Comedy Central Records has got a couple of more digital releases coming up before the end of the year. On December 18, Comedy Central takes Hard ‘n Phirm‘s previously released album “Horses and Grasses” online and also gives us a single from Mike Birbiglia entitled “Medium Man”, which should be familiar to any of those who saw his college tour.
The second season of David Wain’s show “Wainy Days” just began yesterday. If you were like me yesterday and hadn’t watched any of the episodes, you’ve been (and I was) missing something. I watched all eleven in a row and gradually found myself falling for its non sequiturs, bizarre choices and playfulness.
The show revolves around Wain’s dating life, and though he supposedly found the girl right under his nose (his real life girlfriend Zandy) at the end of the first series, the reset button is pressed very quickly here.
The current strike by the Writers Guild of America is incredibly unfortunate. Though the internet is a relatively young medium, the writers are right to insist that they get compensated for sales/viewings on the web - particularly after making the sacrifice they made in 1988 to support the equally young at the time DVD market. There are far better sources out there for the why and the wherefores of the strike, so I’m not going to talk much about it. Readers should definitely check out Deadline Hollywood and United Hollywood, the first a good source for what’s going on and the second serving as a web arm for the writers’ voice in this mess. What I’m interested in is what might come out of this strike - by looking back at something that was part of the last.
Many say the 1988 strike set the stage for reality programming, but I think it’s arguable that it also was influential in creating the next paradigm in comedy - that being “The SImpsons.” At the time, George Meyer, who had talken a self-imposed withdrawal from the industry after stints at SNL and Late Night with David Letterman, starting toying with a photocopied newsletter called “Army Man.” At only 8 pages, it’s still coveted by comedy writers today.
“Army Man” had a ramshackle layout with several short typewritten jokes scattered throughout the page, but it was all pro when it came to the writing. I have copies of the three issues produced and each one I’ve poured over numerous times, digging into the little details - appreciate the economy of the comedy.
Here’s a taste of what Army Man was like:
That woman in the Virginia Slims ad is cute, but she smokes.
Due to the tiny volume of mail we receive, we are able to acknowledge every submission with a heartfelt personal note, and occasionally even a gift.
Okay. Here it is. The caption says, “Honorarium.” And it’s like an aquarium, only it has little trophies and plaques swimming around. Can’t you just picture it? I hope so, because otherwise I’m in deep trouble.
Army Man was begun before the writers strike, but after the first issue the strike was certainly on. And several comedy writers, who had jokes they wanted to tell, ended up contributing to Army Man - as contributor Ian Frazier relates here in this interview with Believer.
Once the strike was over, SImpsons producer Sam Simon, who was a big fan of Army Man staffed some of the Simpsons writers room with Army Man contributors including Meyer, John Swatzwelder and Jon Vitti.
Writers write. If the strike goes on for any length, they’ll start making stuff again but for themselves. Stuff like Army Man. And this time, it would be photocopied 200 times and handed among friends. It’s going to get to the rest of the world through the web.
Predictions have been that a long strike could be good for web entertainment and if the audience does go looking, and the writers are writing, they’ll find each other. There will be a direct connection between creator and audience. So a side project that’s creatively fulfilling like Army Man could become something that has demand in the marketplace. Demand that the studios could be totally cut out of.
Now of course, with broadband video maturing, that creatively fulfilling strike side project doesn’t have to be Army Man. It could be the Simpsons.
I’m not sure how close we are to this yet. I think the key would be getting a writer-created show sold through something like iTunes. Or some micro-payment structure equivalent to what ZeFrank did with the show and Jonathan Coulton does on his site. I can see this more likely in some ways for a sci-fi show, which has cult audience that will be loyal to something - but with many writers also being the performers in comedy, they have a chance to go beyond cult - attracting a general public who’s missing new work by them.
But if I was among the producers, I’d be looking to solve this faster, before writers start writing for themselves. Because it seems like to me, the longer this is drawn out, the producers resistance to giving up a residual looks like a risk at giving up the entire pie.
Note: If you want to see more joke from Army Man, Maud Newton typed up a bit of it a while back, here’s a larger version of page 1, issue 1 and The Believer put issue one in the middle of the book, the same issue where they interviewed Meyer and Fraizer.
I’d love to put all the issues online myself, but I’d rather have some kind of permission first. However, after the jump, you’ll find my favorite cartoon from “Army Man” ever…
Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn and Maria Bamford are hooked up with SuperDeluxe to document their 2007 Comedians of Comedy tour - a la the movie and the TV show. Except it’s more mockumentary than documentary this time, with semi-staged bits from behind the scenes. Here’s the first from Seattle.
I could never do what Maria just did there. Blech.
I think it’s very easy to misjudge Patrice O’Neal as a comic, I certainly never expected to like him as much as I do. But the first time I saw Patrice perform live, I had that moment when you lean forward in your chair, transfixed. I had the same sensation when he did his HBO Special a couple years ago. He’s brutally funny - honest in ways that make a lot of people uncomfortable. One of my favorite parts of his act is how loose it is. I’m sure he has an act built in his head, but he’s one of the few comics I’ve ever seen who can create the illusion that everything he’s saying is off the top of his head. It makes the funny stuff all the more surprising because he appears to have just thought of it - he could be surprising himself.
In the spirit of the age, Patrice O’Neal has hooked up with some white people to do a podcast. It wisely appears to be more about the making of a sketch than a sketch itself - Patrice riffing with his comedy buddies, cracking on their ideas and slips of the tongue. The second installment is below, featuring Patrice and his sketch players working out a sketch about cockfights. And they ain’t talking chickens. Do I need to say it’s NSFW?
The point Patrice O’Neal makes about not being clever about it reminds me a lot of what Louis CK said when he was working on Lucky Louie. Dancing around a topic rather than bluntly dealing with it comedically. (BTW, I dig For Your Imagination’s player - the bar using a condensed picture of the video to create a timeline. It makes very easy to seek and find parts of it.)
After the jump is Patrice’s self-effacing introduction to the whole enterprise.
Super Deluxe debuts the first installment of “Derek and Simon” - the Bob Odenkirk directed and produced series. “Derek and Simon” started off as a TV Show for HBO, turned into a pair of shorts for Sundance after the network failed to pick it up. I like how “Derek and Simon” has a Maxim-ish bros-before-hos feel and then turns into something far more nuanced and uncomfortable. The silent movie style titles are also right—for a reason I can’t put a finger on.
I love how the buddy “forgot” that little detail about his girlfriend - it looks like a regular world, but logic doesn’t get in the way of a good joke (and even becomes the foundation for another).
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.
- Production values: a dramatic work with a z-movie budget will come off as pretentious
- The workplace: most people, depressed and numbed by their jobs, do not want to open their e-mails and watch Method acting
- Relatively objective response: Acceptable TV and Funny or Die run on the premise that funny videos survive and unfunny videos languish in justified obscurity. Drama deals with more nuanced emotions. Imagine voting on the value of Lost or The Wire after watching five minutes?
- Time: “Dick in a Box” takes five minutes of your life. Hamlet doesn’t.
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.