September 29th, 2005

glaring glavine

No funny for the money

It's not that hard to be funny. I say this not out of some mistaken belief that I'm a comedy god, but because it's just not. Humor comes from juxtaposition. You take two things that one doesn't normally think of as going together, you put them together, laughs ensue. It's just the way our minds process the absurdity and interconnectedness of the universe in which we live.

That being said, it constantly amazes me how unfunny much of what passes for humor in our society actually is. Mainstream crap is the easiest to criticize, since it's the most consistently shitty. Every year the networks wheel out about half a dozen new sitcoms, and the vast majority of them turn to be reheated crap. The average sitcom is about as appealing as those little chunks of 'mystery meat' floating in a pool of brownish 'gravy' in most high-school cafeterias. It's probably not going to kill you, and in a pinch you could try it, but 90% of the time it's going to end in heartache and an afternoon spent squatting on the toilet praying for death.

There are a host of reasons and excuses for why this is, from demographic considerations to the fact that most of these shows are cranked out by teams of writers getting very little sleep and with no time to be truly creative in between their 70 hour work weeks, cocaine addictions, and the pursuit of every piece of tail who came from Kansas recently enough that she doesn't know to get her 'featured cameo appearance' in writing before she gives head. A lot of blame can be placed on executives who judge based on cold hard demographic research and focus groups rather than asking the simple question "Is it funny?" That's why someone decided we needed a family comedy staring Freddie Prince Jr. this season, while a show like Arrested Development is lucky to avoid the chopping block. Maybe the executives are right, maybe middle America does crave 10 shows about fat losers with beautiful wives. Maybe there's a market crying out for Mr. Sarah Michelle Gellar to demonstrate the kind of smooth comic timing he showed in "Summer Catch" on a weekly basis. Maybe there are 2 guys in Poughkeepsie who are really hoping that Yes Dear gets picked up again. God I hope not, but could be.

Fortunately it doesn't matter. At least not as much as it used to. Cable and satellite have opened the markets up some, and now we're finally getting the good original programming that we were promised way back when they said we'd get 500 channels but neglected to mention that 90% of them would show nothing but Saved By The Bell reruns and Lifetime Original Movies. Comedy Central's leading the way with the incredible "The Daily Show" and the recently deceased "Chapelle's Show" (The latter showing the downside of finding the funniest guy out there and throwing money at him.) FX is making an attempt with dramedies like Nip/Tuck and recently some pure sitcoms with edgier material than you might find in the George Lopez Show.

Yet even here there are signs of danger and potential pitfalls. David Spade's new Comedy Central show is bad. Not just normal bad, David Spade bad. Why anyone thought that people wanted to see irritating ex-movie star David Spade crack unfunny jokes on current movie stars with the aid of incredibly amateurish production values and co-stars is beyond me. That someone actually made it happen is, well, a little scary. Did Comedy Central greenlight the show because it had a 'name' attached? Product quality secondary to the star machine is already a staple of network crap (and indeed the best network shoes frequently feature a cast of relative unknowns) and if it moves into cable... Likewise the appearance of a show like Entourage on HBO is a cause for concern. Entourage isn't really funny. It's a comedy in the same way that the plays of the 17th century were comedies, it has a happy ending. Other than that it's just lifestyle porn. On the other hand HBO did run Arli$$ for years, and follow that up with Mind of the Married Man, so maybe expecting more than Curb Your Enthusiasm and Extras from them is too much to ask.

My point is simple. Comedy isn't really that hard. Find the right people and give them creative freedom and you can have something reliably funny, at least to a niche, which is the way television seems to be moving anyway. There's no excuse to churn out unfunny crap and call it comedy, and even less excuse for watching. I'm sure executives couldn't care less about what I think, but at some point shouldn't we as a society give a damn about quality? Shouldn't someone take responsibility for putting out crap they know is crap (and yes, sometimes things that seem like good ideas don't work, but that's the entire point of the Pilot process) and lowering the bar? Shouldn't we juxtapose shit with cancellation?

I mean how much Pine Sol can "How I Met Your Mother" Sell? Really?
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