Friday, May 6, 2011
The other day, I was talking with some friends about the best comedians on Twitter, and I mentioned Anthony Jeselnik, who's about as dark as comedians get these days. To illustrate his abilities, I quoted one of his best tweets, posted last November. (The joke is after the jump, and it's pretty out there. You've been warned.)
"You Can't Hide From Your Problems" would have been a much better title than "The Diary of Anne Frank."
I've told a few people about this joke before, and I thought I knew pretty well how to say it. Whether it was the gin and tonics or just my headspace, I couldn't pull it off this time. I bombed horribly, even if my audience was three people. I tried saying it three separate times, changing the intonation and phrasing, but I couldn't get it to work. Fortunately, my friends were gracious. Later, I realized I had the wording off, but I marveled at how what should be a flat-out funny line could go wrong in so many ways.
Talking Funny, a round table discussion between three legendary stand-up comedians (Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Louis C.K.) and Ricky Gervais, looks at the world of comedy from the top down, and it's a fascinating look an art medium by four men who have excelled at it for many years. Over a 49 minute run time, it's absolutely riveting.
The show is only improved by the context of its performers, and how their disagreements on key elements of performance hint at why each is where they're at in they're respective careers. When Jerry Seinfeld and Louis C.K. disagree over their approach to old material, it becomes somewhat clear why Seinfeld's last few years have been riddled with disasters like Bee Movie, while Louis C.K. is just now hitting his stride as one of the best stand-ups in the world.
That's not to dismiss the accomplishments of Jerry. As years go by, it becomes more and more apparent the brilliance of Seinfeld was rooted more in Larry David's sensibilities than Seinfeld's, but Jerry comes off in Talking Funny as an absolute master of his craft, and the reverence the other men hold for him is palpable. Louis C.K. is well-suited to the bantering format, and his stagecraft seems based in the fact that he is naturally funny. Chris Rock comes off a little more inscrutable, but provides fascinating insights.
And then there's Ricky Gervais. It didn't surprise me at all to learn Gervais was one of the show's producers, and it didn't surprise me at all he would shoehorn himself among such stand-up luminaries. If there's one thing Ricky Gervais does not lack, it's the ability to self-promote.
I'm not sure why I find myself disliking him so, since Gervais is obviously an incredibly gifted comedic mind. He's been the brains behind three of the most groundbreaking examples of comedy in the last decade (The Ricky Gervais Show podcast, Extras and The Office, though I often wonder how influential the quieter Stephen Merchant was in those projects). Increasingly, though, Gervais comes off in public as wildly insecure and obnoxiously obsessed with establishing his legacy. Why is he even here? Gervais earned his fame as an actor, radio host and comedy writer. Those are admirable pursuits, but they're far different than cutting teeth with only a microphone and your wits between you and utter humiliation.
Fortunately, Gervais is rightfully treated as an outsider. Nearly all of his self-important blathering is met with confused looks and outright dismissal from the other comedians. At times, Louis C.K. stands up for him, but it seems largely out a big brotherly affection for the Brit. Gervais reminds me of the high school acquaintance everyone would love if he wasn't constantly trying to prove he was lovable. Now that I think about it, he seemed a lot like David Brent.
In other television news...
- Any pretense I had of being a stoic, strong-jawed manly man been disproved handily in the last three months. I have teared up at Toy Story 3, the Friday Night Lights finale, the Big Love finale, during nearly all of Steve Carrell's goodbye on The Office, and, perhaps most disappointing, during the Mother's Day episode of Modern Family. I blame fatherhood.
- Dan Gibson is absolutely right. After a rocky early season, Parks and Recreation has been in the groove, and right now it's neck and neck with Community as the best comedy on NBC.
- Three episodes in, and Game of Thrones has me absolutely hooked. I mean, look at this opening credit sequence. It's spectacular.