Thursday, October 26, 2006

I Think I've Got It

Much virtual ink has been spent in online debates between those who think that a show about funny people doesn't have to be funny as long as it has enough showoffy esoteric references to appear "smart," and those who see Studio 60 for the spectacular disaster that it is. Yet there is so much wrong with the show that it's hard to pin anything down; you could list things for hours and never finish.

But I think it all comes down to this--the essence of why Studio 60 does not work, why it can never work, why it is conceptually flawed at its very core: Comedy is about tearing down whatever's on the pedestal. That is the fundamental instinct of comedians. Putting oneself on a pedestal is antithetical to comedy itself, and nothing is less funny than a comedian who has put himself on a pedestal. Which is exactly what the characters on Studio 60 are doing all the time. This is why the sketches are not funny, this is why the characters ring false as comedy writers and sketch actors, and this is why the show as a whole is so deliciously irritating.

Let's hope they can keep it up.


Zack said...

Comedy is about tearing down whatever's on the pedestal.

I realize I am not a comedian, but I
don't agree with this. Comedy is about betraying trust and breaking taboos. Disrespecting the dude on the pedestal is just one such betrayal (and in this case, it would be a betrayal of the audience's expectation that the man who should be respected will be respected).

Kenny said...

I don't disagree with that; certainly comedy encompasses all of this and perhaps your definition manages to include comedy that mine does not. However, your definition is less easily applicable to what is wrong with Studio 60. The characters on the show certainly believe that they are betraying trust and breaking taboos, but attitudinally, comedy comes from underdogs (those not on the pedestal), and is not handed down from on high (those on the pedestal). Therefore I submit that "betraying trust" and "breaking taboos" lose their comedic effectiveness if they are presented from a pedestal. The pedestal makes the comic an institution, part of the machine, and therefore what *were* betrayals and broken trusts simply become the new, humorless laws of a new self-important monster, and sport for true comedians who would attack it.

Zack said...

Yes, in the unpublished, longwinded "director's cut" version of the comment I ended up posting, I concede that your definition is more useful in understanding this apparently shitty show.

But ...

attitudinally, comedy comes from underdogs

This is an often voiced point of view, but I think it's a crock of patoot. Did you never, growing up, tease another kid who was an easy mark, who was in a position of weakness? Did you never laugh your fucking ass off as he was unable to do anything about it? You felt guilty later, but that's not relevant. At the time, hilarious to make some poor kid cry because you can. You're broken a taboo of how one child is expected to treat another.

For years I had on my computer an animated gif (transfered from video) of three sheep running through a door, and the fourth jumping and striking the frame above the dor, and falling. It's straight duck duck goose comedy. And it's voyeurism at the expense of a pitiable animal in pain, over and over. It's funny, or it is to me, at least.

Kenny said...

That's true. I forgot about mean-spirited or bullying comedy, which is ironic, since I really like it. The pain and suffering of others of course carries great comedic potential, which the underdog theory does not consider. Really, it's hard to make broad generalizations about comedic theory without encountering some exceptions.

However, to try again despite this, I think one thing our theories have in common is that comedy has a strong destructive instinct. This is less noble sounding but perhaps more all-encompassing. Comedy is great at poking holes in things, disrupting them and tearing them apart, but not so good at being constructive. Thus when you have a bunch of idealistic people lecturing others and holding themselves up as exemplary, they do come out sounding much like comedy writers.

Comedy aside, underdogs do tend to make more sympathetic and compelling dramatic heroes.