Part of my day to day routine is trolling the internet watching and absorbing just about everything I possible can - mostly to further myself as a director, but I’m not going to lie and say I don’t find it somewhat entertaining.
Lately, I’ve been starting to ask myself a question each time I see an advert, web-short or series that’s meant to be funny.
Here it goes:
“Was that piece funny or was it the familiarity of the actor and/or person performing making it funny”
As in is the material funny on its own or is it just the ‘famous’ actor thats making me laugh at mediocre content.
I’m by no means a savant at being funny (yet), but I think I’m starting to recognise laziness in ideas when the truthful response to my own question is seemingly: the ‘famous’ person.
It’s almost as if when we see these people its an automated response to laugh … this is of course is license to print money and content creators know that.
So, what does this mean?
I think it means that we are now relying too heavily on ‘famous’ talent to polish a turd that wasn’t ready for the screen - improv excluded.
Look, I’ve polished many a turd in my life. Some people might even say I have a knack for lifting turds out of the proverbial porcelain bowl, but it seems to me that we’ve forgotten the ideology of a good set of words on a page … a script, or even better an actual good idea.
Take an unknown in the flesh stand-up comedian.
They get up on stage and read the crowd … gauging it as they go. If the piece isn’t working they get immediate feedback and adjust it on the fly - hopefully walking off the stage with a ounce of laughter and a shred of dignity. So, one might concur that an unknown person can be funny with good material and more important the right crowd. The content is pinnacle, because he/she has nothing else. But, seeing a ‘famous’ standup comedian do a gig and generally their material is set (they make DVDs of it for god sake) … it’s their thing, they don’t appear to adjust or adapt. Your paying money to see them do their thing. And in this instance it starts to feel like the content becomes second and they become the pinnacle.
I know what your about to quip and it’s true: since the first time comedy was on film we’ve relied on ‘famous’ people to carry pieces and one could argue that they are by the very nature of comedy the piece. After all, characters and their experiences are the reason we’re compelled to watch something in the first place.
Now take the ballooning, but still awesome, site know as ‘Funny or Die’. There is some serious knee-slapping hilarious sketches, ads and even photos on this site, but there is also some serious fucking turds too. Oddly, enough the turds are the ones that solely rely on high profile talent to forcibly make something funny - they even have photos of the ‘famous’ funny people so you can narrow content down based purely on the familiarity of their image. I get why audience would like it, but I for one find it strange.
A well known comedian with some very shit material isn’t funny to me, no matter how hard I try I just don’t laugh … but oddly other people are finding it funny - hence why content creators keep making this crap and it seemingly gets millions of views on the Yubes(my new shorthand for YouTube).
The notion of ‘what is funny’ is all very subjective … it’s fucking confusing in-fact. Making people laugh is an art form that is completely unexplainable, but I get the feeling that we’re tricking audiences when we, the people behind the camera, start believing that there’s a prescribed formula … of putting someone on screen who we all know and get them to do their bit. Some ‘famous’ people transcend this, other sadly do not.
What am I going to do about it? As a young writer/director I would like to think I’m actioning ideas that don’t need to pull in a name to make my work funnier (mostly I can’t afford them). My current slate of work, in my opinion, needs to work on a higher level and just be funny - this is by no means easy and probably why no one does it.
Maybe I’m over analysing it all or maybe some of the punchlines are just above my pay grade - writers are incredibly smart people. But if I was being completely honest it's probably a bit of jealously masked with the easy of being over critical - it's always easier to not like something than to like something.
Regardless, the very fact that I’m taking this extended moment to analysis all this means that I’m deliberating thinking about comedy, and ‘what is funny’, and no longer laughing - its the cross I have to bear.
Just my three cents (or pence for my english readers),