Archive for the Comedy Category

Sketch Primer 2 – The Fast Show

Posted in Comedy with tags , on February 26, 2009 by fieldingmellish

For part two of my several part series on Sketch Comedy I was going to do Mitchell and Webb, but I called an audible at the last minute and switched to The Fast Show, another English sketch show, for reasons I’ll get into in a minute. Anyways, the point of this series is to try to get you, the reader to watch more and different sketch comedy, while learning a thing or two about what makes it great. The first installment, Mr. Show, was covered here.

So why did I choose the Fast Show (also known as “Brilliant!” in the US, a terrible name if ever there was one)? Well, that’s sort of complicated. The Fast Show was the second sketch show I ever really watched, after Monty Python’s Flying Circus, so it holds a special place in my heart. But for the purposes of this series, it’s interesting because it’s an almost exact contemporary of Mr. Show, lasting three seasons from 1994-1997. I figured it would be a good look at what was happening across the pond, since for all intents and purposes The Fast Show was the biggest and most important English sketch show of the mid-90s. Many of it’s characters and catchphrases have entered into popular usage in the UK, while noted fan Johnny Depp quotes it in his movies and puts its cast in minor roles. This year at the Olympics, an American reporter named Ed Winchester caused quite a few chuckles when he went on the BBC and said, “Hi, I’m Ed Winchester,” and nothing else. But you’ve probably never even heard of it. Continue reading

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George Carlin, God of the Internet?

Posted in Comedy, General with tags , , on January 21, 2009 by fieldingmellish

I’m a little surprised George Carlin isn’t more popular. I mean, he’s obviously popular. In fact, he may be the single most popular comedian of all time. He had this sort of ability to cross generations and span time with his comedy. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t heard of him.

But there’s something in his comedy that represents a sort of cheerful anarchy and happy oblivion that fits in well with the internet, especially the pseudo-intellectuals who became Ron Paul r-evol-ution fanboys back in February. I don’t mean to demean George, because he probably would have found that group of morons as funny as the rest of us did. I don’t mean the crazy, backwoods, get off my land types from Montana either. I mean the specific subset of the Internet who saw V for Vendetta and thought it was a documentary. I’ve been re-reading Brain Droppings, one of the funniest books ever written, and some of his lines kind of fit in with that sense of anarchism.

“They call it the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

“They debated the NAFTA trade bill for a long time. Should we sign it or not? Either way, people get fucked. Trade always exists for the traders. Anytime you hear businessmen debating ‘which policy is better for America,’ don’t bend over.”

“Property is theft. Nobody owns anything. When you die, it stays here. I read about these billionaires: Sam Walton 20 billion, Daniel Ludwig 15 billion. They’re both dead. They’re gone, and the money is still here. It wasn’t their money to begin with. Property is theft.”

“The word ‘bipartisan’ usually means some larger-than-usual deception is being carried out.”

Just to take a small sampling. There are countless jokes about racism, murder, disfigurement, sex, and everything else the internet is known for. So why isn’t George Carlin more popular on the Internet? Well, it’s partially because these armchair anarchists are mostly 16 year-olds who don’t feel comfortable quoting their dads’ favorite comedian. That’s pretty obvious. Others are 16 year-olds who don’t even know who George Carlin is since he wasn’t involved with South Park. A lot of his more famous stuff has to do with language or little-world observations, so even if they know him they might not know his more political stuff (though this seems unlikely).

I think the real reason is that George Carlin is too smart. He’s a comedian who says all of these sort of deeply held beliefs in a joking way, not a serious way. He knows how the world works, what’s wrong, what’s right*, and that in the long run we’re all dead. I think he’s too happy about the whole clusterfuck. The Internet crusaders charging their lasers are too angsty, too emo, too caught up in the notion that what they’re saying means something. They aren’t anarchists at all, but misplaced idealists who think their method is better than all the others that were tried.

*”The thing I like the most about this country is that, in a pinch, when things get really tough, you can always go in a store and buy some mints.

George Carlin had the ability to make jokes about rape and bus accidents, but be politically correct without being preachy. He was just good at what he did. People posting on message boards are by and large not as smart, not as funny, and not as interesting. Even though George Carlin would seem to represent much of what they talk about, they are still threatened by him. He’s not anonymous, he’s not afraid, and he’s popular. He’s everything they wish they could be. So maybe it’s just old-fashioned jealousy.

A Sketch Primer: Part 1 – Mr. Show

Posted in Comedy with tags , on December 5, 2008 by fieldingmellish

When most people think of sketch comedy, they immediately think of Saturday Night Live. And I suppose we shouldn’t blame them for this, since SNL is basically the only game in town in the US. It’s also an institution. You know about it, your parents know about it, and your little sister knows about it. But believe it or not, there’s more out there. So I’m starting a series about other great sketch shows. If you like SNL, or you would like SNL if it were funnier, then you should check some of these other shows out. If you like MadTV, there’s still hope you can be saved.

Our first show is Mr. Show, in my opinion the best pure American sketch comedy show in history. Continue reading

An Existential Crisis

Posted in Comedy, General with tags , , on November 19, 2008 by fieldingmellish

If one writes a stand-up routine, and then later sees one of the jokes printed on Collegehumor’s 105% by someone else, what exactly does that say about one’s life and future? What if one of the commenters said “(joke in question) ftl”? What about “ftw” instead of “ftl”?

Should one continue in comedy, knowing his brand of humor has an audience, even though that audience may not be the most sophisticated in the world. An audience who’s pinnacle of comedy excellence is “pot makes me hungry” and “chick’s tits ftw” and an assortment of Dane Cook quotes?

Or should one give up, resigned to the fate that he will never achieve the level of philosophical enlightenment each true comic sets out to achieve? To know that everything built up to deny him a place in the pantheon of relevent and interesting comedians?

These are the questions…

Comedy Hall of Fame

Posted in Comedy, General on October 24, 2008 by fieldingmellish

If there was a comedy hall of fame, who would make it? I mean a hall of fame with standards like the Baseball Hall of Fame, so people generally have to be actually good or have a friend on the selection committee. I think some people go without saying: Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, the Three Stooges, Groucho Marx…

But Groucho brings up another question: Can groups go in together? Monty Python is a hall of fame group, but what about individually? John Cleese makes it easily. After that, I’m not sure. How much do we value work outside the group? Chapman, Idle, Palin, and Jones all did terriffic work in Python, but none of them really have the credentials post-Python. Picking some but not others doesn’t seem right. So I’m going to take Monty Python as a group, as well as John Cleese as an individual. Same with the Marx Brothers. Groucho is in, the rest make it as a group.

Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld? You’d have to put both of them in, even though a lot of people give David all the credit for Seinfeld. So few standup comedians really transcend their art, so it would be hard to separate them. Billy Crystal? Bill Cosby? Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy would both get in, but both were buoyed by successful films.* George Carlin would make it too. Too good for too long to ignore.

*Has any comedian had a longer decline phase than Eddie Murphy? Who’s his baseball comp? Tommy Davis doesn’t fit because he was never really that good. Goose Gossage? Maybe, but in his prime, Eddie Murphy was THE guy. It would be like Willie Mays going to the Mets, except it happened two years earlier and lasted until Willie was batting .114 with 0 homers in 1978. And even then, I don’t know if it works.

Then there’s the problem of Saturday Night Live. Of the original cast, only Bill Murray is an unqualified lock for the Hall. Dan Ackroyd flamed out too soon, as did Chevy Chase. John Belushi would probably make it. Sort of a Roberto Clemente situation, since he would almost definitely have had the numbers. Gilda Radner? I would like to put her in there, but unfortunately she’s borderline. Moving on, the late 80s and early 90s cast had a lot of stars, but are any of them hall of famers? Phil Hartman? Adam Sandler? Chris Farley? I don’t really think so, though Hartman would get a lot of votes for his Simpsons work, plus Newsradio. Tina Fey might be on track. Lorne Michaels put the whole thing together. Creating an institution like that is definitely important, but he hasn’t done much else besides spin off popular characters into movies. I don’t know.

Speaking of the Simpsons, Matt Groening has to be in, I think. What about other cartoonists? I did say “comedy” hall of fame, so even the Simpsons is kind of borderline. If you open it up to Cartoonists, it might change the focus too much, since you couldn’t justify Gary Larson without Bill Watterson, but you couldn’t justify either of them without Garry Trudeau and Charles Schultz, right? So for now, Groening gets special dispensation, but other cartoonists are generally out.

Sketch groups outside SNL? We already talked about Monty Python. What about the Kids in the Hall? Mr. Show? Tough calls. What about Nicols and May? George and Gracie? Sid Caeser and Milton Berle are in probably. What about Carl Reiner? John Landis? Harold Ramis?

I think the problem is that it’s hard to define what exactly comedy is. How can you give credit to John Belushi for Animal House but not consider John Landis? So, in the coming days, I’m going to try and sort all this out. You can try too and we’ll put our lists together and see what makes sense.

Free Frank!

Posted in Comedy, General, Sports with tags , , on October 2, 2008 by fieldingmellish

So this is the time of year when bashing Frank Caliendo becomes popular. His chubby, smirking visage is a constant presence on TBS during the MLB playoffs. And like the swallows returning to Capistrano, the haters once again rise from the woodwork.

“He’s everywhere!” “He’s not funny!” “He doesn’t look like any of the people he’s impersonating!” “His impressions aren’t even that good!” Now, these are opinions that you are free to have. Many people I respect have these very thoughts and express them to me in so many words. But if you’ll indulge me for a moment, let me defend Frank for a minute.

Frank Caliendo, first and foremost, is a stand-up comedian. He is an impressionist. Some of his impressions are better than others, but the guy has a pretty incredible range. If you think he doesn’t sound like Bush or John Madden, you probably don’t like impressions. That’s ok. There are other comedians out there for you. But you have to remember that he’s a short, chubby guy who doesn’t look like anyone. So he isn’t going to look like John Madden. He’s also not really an actor. Playing these characters is not something he does particularly well. But that’s ok too, because he’s a comedian. If you’ve never seen his stand-up, I urge you to check it out before you hate him. He goes in and out of characters, he ad libs, and he looks like he’s having a great time. He makes funny segues and weaves in and out of jokes in a fun way, like he’s a friend of yours who happens to be good at impersonations. I guarantee you’ll laugh at least a little. And if you don’t, you can say he’s not funny.

Let’s be honest, here. Frank does not look like he’s having a good time in these ads. He seems embarrassed, like he knows he’s ruining a lot of people’s evenings. But if you’re a comedian, this is how you make money. Yeah, he’s on NFL Sunday, and yeah he has his own terrible show, but for the most part, he’s making money from ads. So I guess that makes him a sellout. Oh well. I say, good for him. He’s succeeding. I wish he could survive on stand-up alone, but he can’t. He probably makes more from one Dish Network ad than from a year of touring. He probably doesn’t even write the ads himself. So cut him a little slack. We’d all do the same thing.

Yes, I wish he was a little less present when I’m trying to watch baseball. But I wish there were fewer Viagra ads as well. As far as ads go, at least his remind me of how funny he is. And maybe even once in awhile, they make me smile a little. So before you jump alongside the masses of too hip internet commentators who love bashing Frank, take a second look at him. Listen to his voices and see his stand-up. He might just surprise you.

Contributing to the conversation…

Posted in Comedy, General with tags on September 18, 2008 by fieldingmellish

Here’s my new rule:

If we’re talking about Woody Allen, and the only thing you can contribute to the conversation is “he married his stepdaughter lolz!” then you are not someone who shoud be talking about Woody Allen.