Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"My Favorite Kind of Comedy"

I know. It’s just my comedy preference, and not a Natural Law of the Universe. But when it scores – the comedy style that I overwhelmingly prefer – I want to take a moment, and tip my blogatorial hat.

I don’t have a lot to say about the Oscars. They’re an awards show for other people.

Also, the way the movie business works today, there ought to be two awards shows – one for popular movies, and one for good movies. Why confuse things by pretending it’s actually one business.

Also, they mark the movies on a curve – it’s the “Best Picture This Year.” This is hardly a towering standard. What if they had a bad year for pumpkins, and the “Biggest Pumpkin” was the size of a grapefruit. “Hey, it’s still the biggest pumpkin this year.” Yeah, but you can’t carve a face on it.

Also, I don’t know the actors anymore. I watched with my daughter, and I kept going, “Who’s that?”

I guess I had more to say about the Oscars than I thought.

Anyway, what interested me, as a student of the game, were the various forms of comedy on display during the evening. There was host Billy Crystal, steeped in the comfortable rhythms of “Comedy Past” – “Puppets. Acrobats. We’re a pony away from a Bar Mitzvah!

You got the whole megilla there: The “Rule of Threes”, a setup and a punchline, and “Bar Mitzvah” where “chopped liver” used to be. In short,

Business and usual.

Judd Apatow’s Bridesmaids ladies drumrolled the “Short Subjects” awards with penis jokes. I’m sure that made the nominees proud.

“They’re penising up our category!”

But that’s what Judd’s known for. Judd Apatow without a penis joke is like Sinatra showing up and not singing “My Way.” He has to do it!

Once again, business as usual.

Robert Downey Jr. behaving bizarrely? Isn’t that his whole life? And a spacy, young actress, pretending she’s on drugs. (Or is.) All together now…

Business as usual.

So what’s fresh? Chris Rock, saying what it is. I call that “It” comedy.

“It” comedy is the truth as a joke, delivered without artifice, shock or formulaic construction. You just stick to the facts. People sense the genuineness, they feel liberated from illusion, and they laugh.

Chris Rock came on to introduce the “Animation Awards.” His performance is on Youtube, but it’s kind of messed up, so I will have to convey it, much less persuasively I’m afraid, in words.

Warming up the audience, Rock did a semi race joke. It was funny, but it felt a little obligatory, the race-joke equivalent of Apatovian Penis Land. Rock explained how wide ranging performance in animation is for the actors.

“If you’re a fat woman, you can play a skinny princess. If you’re a wimpy guy, you can play a tall gladiator. If you’re a white man, you can play an Arabian prince. And if you’re a black man, you can play a donkey or a zebra.” Rock later added, “You can’t play white, My God!”

The joke made me laugh, because “donkey” has a “k” in it, and because of the contrast. Mostly, however, I laughed, because it’s true. Black actors have actually played a donkey (Shrek) and a zebra (Madagascar.)

I do not, however, see people taking to the streets because an African American can’t play a white person in an animated feature. They can’t play a white person anywhere. (Unless they do that Wayans Brothers stuff.) The problem is the limited range of roles black actors are permitted to play, not that they can’t play a race that they’re not.

But the joke was still funny. Especially if he’d stopped at “zebra”, and let it stand as the truth. Watching his performance, it felt like “You can’t play white, my God!” was belatedly thrown in, an ill-considered ad-lib that hurt, rather than helped.

But now we get to the comedy gold. Rock reported how other actors complained about the difficulty performing in animated movies. That’s wrong, Rock revealed. Acting in animation is “the easiest job in the world.”

The content here is not exact, but it went something like this. “I go in a booth, and I say, “What’s the line?” and they say, ‘It’s time to go to the store.’ So I say, ‘It’s time to go to the store.’ I say what’s the next line? They say, “It’s getting dark outside.’ I say, “It’s getting dark outside.’ And then they give me a million dollars.”

“It” comedy.

It’s simple. It’s honest. It’s illuminating. And explosively funny.

And in the comedy huff and puff of the Oscars…

It shines like a diamond.


Anonymous said...

Why does donkey havinng a 'k' in it make it funny?

Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; that you still watch the Oscars is commendable. I gave up on them long ago for no good reason other than they made no sense. You can't really call "best" on art, so I gave up caring. Once I'd done that I gave up watching. I like that you watched it for me and picked out the good bits.



JED said...

A black voice actor, Phil Lamarr, did play a Japanese character, though. He was the voice for The Samurai in the animated series Samurai Jack. I guess that's OK, though.

Jim Dodd

PS - Boy, the word verifications to enter comments are getting really hard.

canda said...

Earl, your comments were on the money. Funny people saying funny things trumps gimmicks, gratuitous profanity, and cymbal props every time.

Tania said...

So very glad I found your blog.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
You are spot on.
Can't wait to read more of your comedy insight.