Category: Sketch Comedy

Important Things with Demetri Martin, the Renaissance Gagman

Filed Under Sketch Comedy

With his diverse interests and tendency to be a one-man band (including drawing the album cover and directing the music video), I’ve been curious to see what exactly a series from Demetri Martin would turn out to be. Here’s the first indicator, a teaser of “Important Things with Demetri Martin” from Comedy Central.

Well that doesn’t tell us too much, does it? The part the holds the most promise for me is the sketch between Martin and Jon Benjamin with the type overlaid describing the real feelings and experiences. Particularly if the scene plays straight without them, it seems that’s a fertile conceit to use again and again.

The other thing that I kind of adore already is the logo for “Important Things”, which is a very simplified version of da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man”, which is a symbol of the Renaissance. With Martin’s play in multiple artistic fields, I’ve always kind of thought of Martin as a sort of comedy Renaissance Man, someone who’s simply programmed to extend his creative energy in multiple directions at once. It’s a nice little acknowledgment of that to watchers that some of them might get even subtlety. It also indicates a respect the audiences’ brains, which is a hallmark of Jon Stewart, who’s the co-producer of the show.

Of course, there’s always that danger of being All-Trades Jack rather that Vitruvian da Vinci. We’ll know more on Wednesday, Februrary 11 at 10:30 PM, when “Important Things with Demetri Martin” premieres on Comedy Central.

Update: I knew there was a reason why I liked this image. Demetri used something like it when we created a web feature on him at Comedy Central in 2002. See below:

Posted by Todd Jackson at 10:02 AM | Comments (2)

Plug Pulled on SuperDeluxe. Not All Survives to Adult Swim.

Filed Under Funny 2.0, Sketch Comedy

Just yesterday Adult Swim officially shut down Super Deluxe. And not everything got moved over to its new home on AdultSwim.

Making the cut were some naturals… Bob Odenkirk and Brad Neely and a surprise but personal favorite, Y’all So Stupid. Tim & Eric’s work will also be up there, although it’s not yet. But lots of creators have apparently been left in the lurch and isurprise by this.

Among them, Bill Doty of Fark TV. As he states that he knew this was coming, but:

I wasn’t clear how’d they organize our shows or display the current info and stats.

...I replied to Turner asking if they’d eventually show our episodes again and they said… nothing. No response. Who loves ya baby!

P.S. VP Paul Condolora, Suck it!

Paul’s the Cartoon Network New Media guy. Just to make that clear, that it’s not a random “Suck it!”

According to a post by Peter Atencio, who co-wrote and shot Jonah Ray’s “Freeloaders Guide to Easy Living”, dropping the content went against early promises by the company.

Fortunately, for Peter, he’s got the videos he made at hand. So he posted his “Freeloader Guide” up on Vimeo, which I imagine will be the fate of quite a few things. (Other videos by creators have made it to Funny or Die.) Paul’s not doing so bad either - Fark TV lives to some degree on now.

Still this has to be disheartening as SuperDeluxe was, despite its failure, a great treasure trove of funny stuff. If you where any SuperDeluxe original is living now, please post it in the comments and I’ll update this post accordingly. (particularly curious about things such as “PriceMeanwhile, here’s that first episode of “Freeloaders Guide to Easy Living.”


Another group taken by surprise: Olde English, which as group member Adam Conover states,  renders “two years of Olde English videos inaccessible.”

Posted by Todd Jackson at 11:21 AM | Comments (8)

Monty Python to YouTube: “Call it a Draw”

Filed Under Funny 2.0, Sketch Comedy

Monty Python just created an original YouTube channel. Here’s the announcement, pointing out how regularly their classic sketches made it to the video site, and then concludes with a funny but not unsubtle appeal to people’s better natures to buy the stuff if they like it so much.

The sketch group was an early adopter the web, so I’m a little surprised that they didn’t do this sooner. But naturally, when they do it, it’s done right: putting up the definitive versions of their sketches at the best quality possible. And the commercial inducement is actually restrained, not mentioning the recently released Flying Circus Megaset, which happens to coincide with the launch of the YouTube channel. (Note: I am not so shameless.)

So far there’s about 20 sketches, plus clips of what look to be new interviews (probably for said megaset) and some home movie stuff. Included in that 20 are pretty much all the usually suspects including Argument Clinic, Ministry of Silly Walks and the Black Knight. They’re definitely aiming for the stuff with mass appeal (and, as suggested, the oft-uploaded).

Of course, if you didn’t know the exhaustive amount of material produced by the Pythons, this short clip featuring Eric Idle talking about the difficulties in the writing process with three of the Pythons, you might wonder if the channel had anything at all.


Posted by Todd Jackson at 10:21 AM | Comments (1)

Review: David Alan Grier’s “Chocolate News”

Filed Under Sketch Comedy

Though it’s not “Chappelle’s Show”, the new Comedy Central sketch effort “Chocolate News” from veteran sketch comic David Alan Grier (of “In Living Color”), fills a void in African American voices on the channel.

Though the title would lead you to think its an African-American version of “The Daily Show”, there’s no comedy drawn from interviews with real figures. It’s merely gives a framing sequence, creating an Afro-centric 20/20 upon which to hang the sketches. It’s a good conceit - allowing the show to go anyplace but have a conceive whole.

The first episode I saw had some great moments and a couple that just didn’t play more than their first appearances. It’s uneven. Take this Phat Man sketch (which plays a little off an opening monologue by DAG about how rap has lost its social conscience). Though it’s kind of a cheap set-up, the execution is great.

Then there’s a second turn, when they do the same song in front of a class of kids. The reaction from the kids, plus the lessons they draw, add more laughs. But the next turn, a version of the same song as performed for another PSA on suicide doesn’t add anything news. But that’s kind of the point. The sketch is about how hiphop has degenerated into a sex and money obsession. It’s a hard sketch to make work because the joke is about making a turn. So it works, but just don’t all the way.

My favorite part of Chocolate News’ first episode was Grier’s spot on impersonation of Maya Angelou. There’s an extra laugh each time he settles into Maya Angelou’s smile after a line. Another highlight is the fate of “Chocolate News” only white reporter.

Chocolate News premieres tonight at 10:30 PM on Comedy Central after South Park.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 01:12 PM | Comments (1)

Alan Zweibel Works the Censors

Filed Under Comedy Writers, Sketch Comedy

I heard Alan Zweibel tell this story at his show “A History of Me” at the PIT, sharing how he dealt with the censors during the first season of Saturday Night Live. Zweibel’s kind of transitional comedy writer - working in the new slash and burn style of comedy in the 70s but with roots in Borscht Belt joke writing. You can definitely hear that in this story.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 01:20 PM | Comments (0)

SNL’s “Incest Joke”: The Bridge to Exaggeration is Nowhere

Filed Under Satire, Sketch Comedy

The revelation that Al Franken took time out from his Senate campaign to pen SNL’s opening sketch about McCain’s advertising appeared to be the real political lightning rod. But another sketch from the show appears to be drawing a bit more conservative ire. More remarkable, it was a sketch that, to my mind, seemed to be written to appeal to conservatives.

Here’s the sketch. NBC has had it taken down from YouTube, so it’ll likely disappear here as well.

If it is deleted and you missed it, the sketch involved New York Times reporters gathered to go to Alaska to do digging into Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s past. The bulk of the sketch was detailing how elitist and out of touch they were - unable to recognize a shotgun and a snow machine as well as unable to deal with a place with little psychotherapists or Thai food. The reporters are also eager to dig up any sort of dirt they can on Sarah Palin, particularly of the impossible-to-verify prejudiced-to-small-towns kind. It leads one of the reporters to say this:

“What about that husband? You know he’s doing those daughters. C’mon, it’s Alaska!”

And that’s the crux of the problem for some conservatives. Even joking about a frothing liberal desire to find salacious dirt about the Governor is a sensitive subject. Suggesting incest in the Palin family makes SNL a part of, rather than a voice against, the media feeding frenzy that embattles conservatives.

There’s definitely more than a little over-sensitivity going on here. The point was lost - and will be lost - on some of those who want to be offended by any media. But I think the sketch points to an interesting problem some talk about in contemporary comedy: namely that the truth has gotten so insane, it’s impossible to exaggerate.

The level of stories about Governor Palin for a time had a “can you believe this?” quality - a quality that makes joking about them, exaggerating them, particularly hard. The line couldn’t have been, “I’d like to know if one of her daughters is pregnant? Because it’s Alaska! What else is there to do?” A simple play off the facts wouldn’t have worked and also would have undermined the point of the sketch - that the media doesn’t have interest in the truth, but rather in stories that confirm their biases about small town folk. Evoking the truth muddies that point.

So they had to go for an exaggeration. And I’m unsure any exaggeration would have worked in the eyes of those who see Palin as a media target. Too tepid and you’re just repeating a blog rumor - i.e. no exaggeration at all. So they erred on the big exaggeration, going as large as possible to ensure that nobody could ever possibly think they believe it. Except it our hyper-sensitive political culture, they did.

The sketch, besides that one point, is a near-perfect model for being evenhanded (a goal expressed only last week, in the Times of all places, by head writer Seth Meyers). The sketch gives voice to the media bias seen by some of Palin’s defenders. But the sketch is also an exaggerated cartoon of elitism that it makes liberals laugh because they recognize that’s what some conservatives think a newsroom works like. It’s almost like a reverse version of Hee Haw.

if they could have found a different exaggeration, I could easily have seen this sketch as having been as much of a conservative rallying cry as the primary’s Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama sketch.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 09:22 PM | Comments (1)

Just For Laughs: Sketch Show with Bill Hader and Bob Odenkirk

Filed Under Sketch Comedy

The Just For Laughs fest is primarily associated with stand-up, so sketch comedy is a bit of a outlier for the event. But Bob Odenkirk and Bill Hader weren’t giving any quarter at the Kola Note, coming out and asserting that the ranking for comedy goes from prop to stand-up and then sketch. Their proof?

After enumerating all of the brilliant sketch groups (including Mr. Show and Mr. Ed), Odenkirk asked the crowd to name one famous stand-up. George Carlin? “Actor. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” Jerry Seinfeld? “TV Actor”

After Odenkirk and Hader then did a quick sketch to illustrate Odenkirk’s troubles at customs (Prime Minister of Europe? “Simon Cowell.” Correct!), they got the show rolling. After all, “who has time for silliness when you’re in a nightclub trying to get shit done.”

First up Dance Party of Newfoundland. Among bits was a man ordering a small vegan… person who had to be captured with a harpoon and net (“See if you can close enough to crush all his bones at once. He has no muscle” and a singing group called “Sons of Our Fathers” who performs pro-condom songs during recess and exposes the teacher’s own VD.

Odenkirk asserts the evening’s comedy should be clean. No “I F-ed her with my big C.” Why? “Because there’s some couple here who haven’t even F-ed yet” who might not sure if “I want his D in my sloppy C.”

The Apple Sisters generated some audience goodwill for staying in character during a technical mishap where Candy’s microphone wasn’t working. Cora: “We don’t understand all this technology, we’re women.” The fact the tech had to reach up Candy’s dress to fix the problem (twice) gave them plenty to play with as well.

Once corrected, the Apple Sisters charmed the audience with their songs “Pink Wine” and a song which tells the first Thanksgiving with the Indians getting the boost. The line “And that’s America” was met witha lot of approval by the Canadian audience.

Finally, the Apple Sisters paid tribute to their sponsor Corndy by singing their jingle and spitting corn fresh from the cob in each other’s faces, much to the delight of the audience. But perhaps not so much after Hader announced intermission and told the first row that it was their job to pick it up.

When they returned, Bob Odenkirk announced he’d decided they’d try some improv, but confederates Bill Hader and Paul Rust as goombahs in the audience insisted on making some literal, but horrible, suggestions. Odenkirk invites Andrew Friedman on stage for the scene. We’ll just ignore that he’s in costume with a Hitler mustache and a feather boa. Sugestion? Hader: “Hitler in a feather boa!”

Our third group, Backpack Picnic shared a set of sketches that easily flowed into the next, beginning with a man attempting to dislodge another from his “favorite chair” but the force field prevents him from hitting him.  We see from slow motion that the force field is a man who comes from off stage and quickly diverts any punch. One favorite exchange was in a scene between a tourist and a tour guide. “Do anyone of you speak English?” “Is This English?”

Michael Naughton and Andrew Friedman then get to show off a little, playing suspects in an interrogation room to Hader and Odenkirk’s cops. The puffed up Friedman’s gang member repeatly tried to get the pair to flinch (no luck, although Hader broke a smile a little). And Naughton playing a gang member who’s afraid of the cops, insisting he’s being roughed up when they’re not even touching them. They bounce back and forth - including the bits. Puffed up gang member insisted he killed someone with a Netty Pot, victimized gang member “You’re going to Netty Pot me, is that what you gonna do? Netty Pot me?” The scene felt very improvised in a great way…

Sax and Dixon were our last group and they seemed to delight in sketches that fall apart… an “impromptu” freestyle rap reveals far too much about their own sex lives and a cute song they wrote when they were six injures Sax’s leg, disrupting the next ironically-placed doctor’s sketch.

Then we lucky enough to get a visit from Dusty Velvet (Casey Wilson), the quadriplegic stripper who refused to let her spirit be paralyzed. One member of the front row, which presumably had corn clean up duty, got awarded with a lap dance from the indomitable Ms. Velvet. As she was dragged into falling onto the man, Velvet repeated “sensual and sexual” over and over. With such belief in herself, how could anyone else not believe it too?

Posted by Todd Jackson at 02:35 PM | Comments (0)