Laugh While You Can
So the US state has voted to increase its power over the governed. They can spy on and torture anyone who's a "threat" to their holy interests. Of course, they always could and did, to varying degrees; but now they're out of the closet, proud and unashamed of their condition.
Surprised? You shouldn't be. This is who we are. Oh yes, there are angwy wibwals out there, mourning the "real" America that appears lost. I don't know what movie they've been watching for the past 40 or so years (not to mention the classics from long before), but judging from their astonished reactions, it looks like it was directed by Frank Capra or perhaps the early Spielberg, with the young Mickey Rooney, Kristy McNichol and Haley Joel Osment waving American flags, washing down caramel corn with sidewalk-bought lemonade as Ray Charles, in a glittering Old Glory tux, sings "America The Beautiful" while the spirits of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy hold hands, gaze from the clouds and smile over the proceedings.
Well, that film is pulled and back in the can. Get ready for coke-fueled Scorsese, baked Tarantino, or Rob Zombie with a blockbuster budget.
Yeah, the shit is covering the fan, or to paraphrase Burroughs, we now see what's at the end of every fork.
But I'm not gonna dwell on this today. There'll be plenty of time (let's hope) to do that, and I will, with my characteristic goodwill and boundless optimism. But Friday is Fun Day at the Son, and fun for me is comedy, primarily the sketch form. I was planning to wait another couple of weeks before sharing my thoughts on "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," but Lance Mannion weighed in after only two episodes, so I guess the topic's open to the floor, stained though it is with the blood of anonymous detainees (stop that! STOP THAT!).
I can't say that I'm the biggest Aaron Sorkin fan alive. I enjoyed "Sports Night" when I caught it, and I've watched maybe 15 minutes of "The West Wing." Friends tell me that I'd like that show, but I find it hard to sit through liberal fantasies about the US Presidency, and the "Wing," from my brief exposure, was decidedly that. Which is fine. Liberals need their fantasies, for without them they'd probably go completely insane, and we can't afford extended lunacy 'round these parts. But now Sorkin's training his eye on "Saturday Night Live," looking for the dramatic angle, as well as celebrating the "better" features of network television. And that, so far, is what "Studio 60" is really about: celebrating TV.
Hell, I don't blame Sorkin. TV's made him rich and has given him hours upon hours of airtime to air his concerns, his hopes, his dreams. I'm sure every plasma in his home is coated with kiss-marks. And I respect the fact that at one time, at least, Sorkin was ingesting psilocybin mushrooms (for which he was busted in 2001), suggesting that he has seen things thru the third eye, and recognizes, in theory anyway, how the universe is really structured, and how human behavior is largely at odds with this natural order, when not waging total war on it. (The clarity experienced at the mushroom peak both heightens your spirits and breaks your heart.) I'm sure he and I would have a pleasant conversation.
Based on the first two shows, I confess to liking "Studio 60" more than I probably should, but truth be told, it's the "SNL" premise that keeps me in the room. "SNL" has been a part of my life in one form or another since I was 15, when the show premiered. Yes, I'm one of those farts who was around for the first season and remembers, in real time, the major impact "SNL" had on the culture, and on me, as you've probably noticed by now. Every time I think I've outgrown the show, I go back, secretly hoping to be inspired once again. But it's hard to be inspired by the cheap concepts and candy-assed "political" material that has defined "SNL" for the past several seasons. Plus, the "SNL" premise has been done, and done better, by other sketch shows. At this point, "SNL" is like Liberace in his late-Vegas phase, playing innocuous, crowd-pleasing favorites while younger, smarter, angrier musicians are pounding their instruments in smaller dives. The show will never be, can never be, what it once was. It had three good periods, and those days are long gone.
The trick for Sorkin and crew is whether or not they can write funny or even edgy mock-"SNL"-style sketches for "Studio 60." Judging from the Gilbert and Sullivan parody at the end of last week's episode, I'd say that the comedy geniuses played by Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford have some more all-nighters to pull before "Studio 60," the show itself and the show within it, is worthy of serious attention. A few mushrooms wouldn't hurt, either.
Now, for the real deal.
It's impossible to select a single bit from "Mr. Show," partly because most of its concepts flowed into each other, a la Python, but mostly because there are simply too many first-rate sketches to choose from. A couple of weeks ago, I said that "SCTV" was perhaps the best English-speaking sketch show to date, and it's certainly up there. But so is "Mr. Show". It blended absurdity, surrealism, physical comedy and political satire that had actual teeth, something that "SNL" long ago abandoned. This piece, broken up in two parts, contains all of the above. Plus, it's really fucking funny (especially Tom Kenny's Lincoln). And any resemblance between David Cross's angry performance artist and yours truly is merely an illusion . . . or is it?????
Comedy Central gave "Exit 57" only two seasons, but that also gave us Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello, who went on to create "Strangers With Candy", a show so precise in its comic depictions that it actually hurts to watch in extensive doses. It's no surprise that Colbert is an accomplished comic actor, as his current talking head persona proves. Here he is with Sedaris and Dinello, the three of whom forge a balanced and very funny chemistry.
I was never that crazy about Dana Carvey when he did "SNL". I thought his characters were too cute and his comedy too light. But when Carvey snagged his own prime time gig on ABC, that assessment changed. "The Dana Carvey Show" came and went, but it had some great moments while it lasted. Of course, the writing staff, which included Robert Smigel, Dave Chappelle, Louis C.K., Dino Stamatopoulos (a "Mr. Show" writer), Stephen Colbert and Steve Carrell (the latter two also performed), had a lot to do with that. Here's one of the better pieces, with Carvey doing his Regis Philbin as totally beholden to David Letterman, Jan Hooks playing Kathie Lee Gifford, whose anti-evolution song is perhaps the sketch's highlight, and Colbert in a small role as Michael Gelman the producer.
And of course, "Fridays". I was hesitant to include this, since this piece displays an early "Fridays" weakness -- cheap drug jokes. Even when I saw this live at the age of 20, I didn't think it was all that great, as I preferred the show's stranger material. But any honest appraisal of "Fridays" must include such sketches, and this one, and the ones that followed, proved very popular with the audience. I mean, the Three Stooges on drugs? In 1980? Slam dunk. Plus, the "Fridays" writers were notorious for their chemical intake (no shock when you see what the writers looked like in the show's closing credits), so this kind of premise was inevitable. Watching this again a quarter century later doesn't offend my sensibilities as it did in my purist comedy youth. It's just a silly sketch, with Bruce Mahler as Moe, Larry David as Larry, and John Roarke doing a pretty inspired Curly, which is saying something, as I've always been a Shemp man. Hmmm. Shemp on hemp? Where's my time machine . . .