Jesse Thorn, America’s Radio Sweetheart, makes a great point today when he talks about Urban Legends of “30 Rock”. In particular, he mentions how the party line of the show was that it struggled at first, that it simply wasn’t funny. He rightfully insists that’s simply not true, that TV critics and others say that to cover their own asses for not getting into the rhythms of the show at first. The American version of “The Office” received similar treatment after its successful first season. Neither had perfect first episodes but all of the elements were there to make something great. You just had to be open enough to recognize it.
It’s really a common problem with comedians and comedians. Because eliciting laughter from someone requires trust. It’s something that Comedy Death Ray’s Scott Aukerman and BJ Porter talk about in my interview with them, saying:
“So much of comedy is feeling comfortable with the point of view coming at you. So I understand it. There’s people who I find hilarious now, but the first couple of times I saw ‘em, I was like “What is this? I don’t get it at all.”
It’s true of stand-up performers and it’s true of sitcoms. We have to know them a little bit and develop a sense of who these people are and what they’re about. The intersections of stuff we all think is funny is far less that the stuff we all find dramatic or sad. To bring people to your particular mindslice takes time, time for bringing the audience to the specific way you’re going to be funny. It’s why almost every situation comedy really needs a few episodes on it’s feet. Not just for ratings but for audience to gain a connection with it.
I have a perfect example from my own life. The first time I saw “Strangers with Candy”, I didn’t get it. I was repulsed by some of the intentional ugliness in the world and the surreal nature of many of the jokes. It felt completely unfamiliar to me and I dismissed it with a “that’s stupid.” A couple of years later, after hearing a new friend bemoan its cancellation, I got my hands on tapes of the first season and wondered what was wrong with my younger self. “Strangers” was a real discovery - something totally different than what I was used to. And I simply wasn’t open minded enough to get it then.
Can you judge instantly? I still do - I watched only about half of “Carpoolers” this week and decided it wasn’t for me. Maybe there will be more to it, but I felt like I had seen quite a few of the jokes coming from a mile away.
(Example: The son doing an interview over the web while not wearing pants. Can you fill in the blank of what happens?)
So my rule is: If it’s not surprising me, either good or bad, it’s not worth watching.
Do you have any sitcom or show or comic that you thought was not funny and then years later, discovered you were wrong? Who or what were they?
Update: Apparently, I’m entirely wrong about the consequences in the scene from Carpoolers. The son gets the job anyway. Shows that maybe I might need to take the lesson from the post. (Or at least watch a whole fucking episode before I decide.)