Not only are we in a renaissance for stand-up, but some favorites of sketch comedy gone through some incredible revival this year. And we all get to enjoy them on web video.
Kids in the Hall A version of this sketch was part of their Just For Laughs show. I’m not sure it’s still part of their current live tour, but they definitely go further here than they could on stage…
The State What’s a little pantomime between manly construction workers? This is from the UCB LA reunion show. No tour or other shows have been announced, but perhaps a successful KitH tour will inspire more from The State?
When the Dana Carvey Show went up on Hulu, it went up without the first episode. That first episode featured the infamous sketch with Bill Clinton suckling babies, puppies and kitties at his man breasts to show he could be both mother and father to the United States.
I wondered how anyone could think the first sketch of the Dana Carvey show was still controversial today. Particularly with Robert Smigel’s love of using live animals in sketches now being a much loved part of Triumph and TV Funhouse. Apparently they agreed, because the first episode of Dana Carvey just went up last night.
What a shot across the bow, huh? I’ve heard some people say you have to earn the audience trust to do a sketch like this, but I kind of love a show that says “This is what we think is funny. If you like it, stick around because there’s going to be a lot more of it.”
An interesting post about directing comedy from Cinemoose puts forward this Buster Keaton quote, “Tragedy is a close-up; Comedy, a long shot.” They argue that it still applies to comedy today. Why?
Long shots put the straight man in the scene, helping to both set-up a bit and also land the jokes with the straight man’s reaction, who subs for the audience.
Close-ups put you in the mind of the character, creating sympathy which destroys the distance necessary for comedy.
They use the old banana peel analogy, that cutting the viewers witnessing the fall would create laughter but cutting to the man who slipped would put our emotions with him.
I’m not sure this is true any more. Today’s comedy is a little crueler… allowing us to laugh directly in the face of a character’s pain.
Also, long shots aren’t really necessary to get the reactions in any more. Often that same thing is done in other ways - think of the quick pans in “The Office.” The joke is heightened because we get to anticipate what Pam or Jim reaction might be to the sexist/annoying thing that Michael just said.
There’s a trust today that the audience knows that this is a terrible funny thing, so we don’t need a straight man to substitute for us as much anymore. Often in sketches I kind of prefer it if everybody in the sketch buys into the crazy thing going on - it makes the sketch get funnier, rather than relying on a character saying, “What are you people doing?” for the jokes.
One trait of comedy that’s also very true today is mimicry. Not so much parody, but a scene needs to be done in the style of drama to make it funny. Besides the acting being played straight, the directing must be played straight as well. It makes the exaggeration all the stronger. Here’s an example, from Human Giant and their sketch “Sketch Artist.” Rob Huebel never breaks the senior demeanor of a cop haunted by his partner’s death and killer and neither does director Jason Woliner, making the arrival of the killer that much more funny.
After introducing the silly killer, they keep up the dark, straight part of the scene with Huebel bleeding. (Human Giant is possibly the bloodiest sketch comedy show ever filmed I think.)
So what do you think? Does Keaton’s maxim still apply?
Sometimes a blog post is held up around here because I can’t find exactly the right way to feature something I’m loving. I’ve been planning to talk about The Dana Carvey Show being available on the free TV site Hulu for about a week now, but I haven’t been able to decide which clip I want to feature. The talent involved in front (Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell) and behind (Robert Smigel, Louis C.K., Dino Stamatopoulos, Bob Odenkirk, Charlie Kaufman) made too many wonderfully absurd bits to choose from. So, do what I’ve been doing, start with episode two and work from there.
(Alas, episode one featuring Bill Clinton breast feeding puppies is not on the service. Still controversial today? Really?)
I love Mitchell and Webb’s sitcom “Peep Show”, so I’ve been thrilled to indulge in their sketch comedy show “That Mitchell and Webb Look”, which began its run on BBC America just last month. You can, and should, check it out at 9:20 PM tonight.
Here’s a taste, a very brilliant and appropriate short sketch which features Robert Webb as somebody who really, really wants something particular for Christmas.
More pleasurable to my comedy nerd heart is Numberwang, a running sketch about a confusing game show. The following clip, I believe, was the first and all of the following versions use it as a template. But yet I find it surprising every single time.
The best part about the sketch: everybody in it seems to believe there’s some logic in the game. So often a sketch is done like this where one person has to be the straight man to point out the absurdities of what’s happening. This one they let everybody be nuts and the absurdities hit even harder, because everyone inside it believes they make complete sense.
By the way, one of the great things about the BBC’s short seasons is that talented folks like these can switch up and do an entirely different series for a time, in this case going from “Peep Show” to “That Mitchell and Webb Look” and back again. It keeps funny people from feeling stuck inside a premise which may not fit all their comedic ideas. It’d be kind of nice to see an American cable channel take a similar philosophy, alternating seasons of two different shows for some talented comic. It would be fun to see what the creators and cast behind “Reno 911!” or “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” could do with a sketch show.