Video excerpts are up from the “Making Fun of Filmmaking” conference at the SxSW Festival. Interesting stuff from Patton Oswalt and Paul Provenza about censorship, sort of a contrast to my last post. Particularly insightful is how audiences, both left and right, are the main censors at comedy clubs.
Audiences have only one expectation from comedians: laughter. But as the now-deified humor writer Michael O’Donoghue argued, a laugh is only one response to a joke and not always the most desirable one. It’s a little confusing, but when you are feeling uncomfortable at a comedy show, that’s a good sign. Patton’s right, anyone who tells you they’re “edgy and dark” isn’t and is simply attempting to fake the atmosphere and tension that real comedy creates.
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The South by Southwest festival has put up a trailer for a documentary about Sarah Silverman's stand-up show “Jesus is Magic.” (click on the low bandwidth version, the high doesn't seem to work at all). I saw the show a couple of years ago, but from the short bits shown none of stand-up looks new. But this looks to be more than just a concert film with sketches and songs interspersed throughout, almost like a TV show development execs should have been begging her to make but probably couldn't, since the trailer has at least two jokes that could cause a “chink” controversy, 'cept with a different ethnic group. Like “Aristocrats,” I'm hoping this film gets enough distribution to be an underground hit.
On Blogging Sundance, Jason Calacanis wonders if there should not be a separate award at the Sundance Film Festival for Comedy, citing that funny films just can’t compete against films that are “socially important.”
I’m of two minds on this. I can see the value of having an award… comedy is far too often overlooked, not just for awards, but as something that does contribute to society in valuable ways. Having a separate award would certainly give some well-deserved attention on people not grinding out ha-ha films for Hollywood. And it could start creating a higher standard for film comedy, which tends far to often to rely on premises that are only sketch-thin.
But I dislike putting comedy aside, like it’s something incapable of reaching the heights of a dramatic film. It can and has (see “Doctor Strangelove”). Look at how powerful late night monologues have come about defining our political leaders, traits that were broadly stroked by Johnny Carson have become pinpointedly defined by Jon Stewart. There’s no reason why film comedy can’t be as effective in defining our times.
I’m also well aware that a reason why comedy can reach people better is that they’re guard is down. They aren’t expecting something good for you… something “socially important.” Let dramatists beat people over the heads with “points” and receive the accolades. Far better to be ignored and have the ideas sink in the back way.
Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette premiered their new film “Aristocrats” at the Sundance Film Festival. The film is primarily the telling of one joke over and over again by comics as varied as Phyllis Diller, Steven Wright and Jon Stewart. The punchline is revealed in the title of the film. But even if you didn’t know it, the real humor comes from how darkly filthy the joke is told, with some versions including incest, bestiality, coprophilla and whatever else the comic can improvise at the moment.
The MPAA will likely rate it NC-17. If the language doesn’t kill ‘em first.
Shecky Magazine speculated that the film is a hoax, but the traditions of the joke are well established. Probably the most famous telling of the joke was by Gilbert Gottfried during the Friars’ Club Roast of Hugh Hefner… the joke never made it to air of course.
At 87 minutes of the same joke over and over again, the film could be close to a Bataan Death March of comedy, but it might be of the Mike Myers’ school of extended joke, where it because funny because it is so relentless. Personally, I can’t wait to see it. If you want to sample a segment of the film, a link to the “South Park” version of the joke can be found here (highly adult language, you have been warned…).
It strikes me this can be almost a comedic Rorschach test, with the improvised middle section revealing something of the comedian’s own dark weirdness when he or she starts describing the Aristocrats act. Or just a really good excuse to curse. Either one.
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Jim Carrey’s getting the AFI Star Award at this year’s Aspen Comedy Festival. Yawn. Considering the state of film comedy, I’m surprised Jim Carrey didn’t win sooner. Of course, I don’t see a single one of his early films on the circa-2000 AFI’s 100 Laughs list. What happened? Did somebody just get around to watching Dumb & Dumber?
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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.
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Well, no. But a nice inflammatory headline, huh?
In the trailer to their new marionette movie Team America, Trey Parker and Matt Stone promise that George Bush, among others, won’t be happy when he sees the flick. Well, one down and ten or so to go. W. hasn’t even seen it yet and already his handlers are expressing their displeasure.
Though not the first time Trey and Matt have satirized a president, the Bush administration may want to “wait and see it” as Parker suggests. “That’s My Bush” was targeted more at the lameness of sitcom conventions rather than the policies of a President. Though much of the film references the current war on terror, the inspiration for it was action movies, specifically “The Day After Tomorrow” (which they wanted to shoot themselves perfectly straight, using puppets for all the parts).
And Bush isn’t even the flick according to Parker, despite how the website shows a similar looking marionette from the back (he may be added Parker admitted). Instead the main villains (if you can call them that) are the misguided legions of Hollywood liberals, who interfere with the terrorist fighting Team America group in an unspecified way. With a release date of October 15, three weeks before the election, it sounds almost eerily on message with the “heart and soul of America” speeches W.‘s been delivering in battleground states (side note: with red and blue states, why aren’t these states called purple states? C’mon, America loves color coding.)
However, judging from “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut,” the satire will be anything but toothless. The actual villain implies a certain critique by his selection: Korean dictator Kim Jong II. (Of course, the duo may be done with Saddam Hussein jokes.) And the initial sequence set in Paris sets up parallels with go-it-along cowboy militarism and action movies that are very uncomfortable.
Though at times rumored to be Republican, Trey Parker and Matt Stone are apparently more libertarians. But they both claim people will leave the film wondering where they stand. I’m definitely looking forward to the film, and with the election thisclose, both sides are bound to be inflating their positions. I hope Trey and Matt not only don’t have any sacred cows, but no sacred donkeys or elephants either.