kottke.org posts about comedy

The end of Key and PeeleSep 10 2015

Wesley Morris expertly examines the show's achievements:

American television has always been fundamentally white. Its points of view emanate from the vantages of those who control the industry and create its content. If it deals with race as a problem, it typically can do so only if it believes there's a solution. But as a black viewer, I'm never looking for contrition, simply an acknowledgement of a condition; I don't need television -- or American culture -- to provide a remedy. Black America has tended to see the discrepancy between the cultural importance to diagnose and the delusion to attempt to cure. Merely giving a nonwhite person a speaking role is not absolution. That contradiction is visible to a black audience almost anytime it sees itself chauffeuring, housekeeping, mammying, best-friending, sidekicking, saying everything about white characters while saying nothing about itself. That was the biracial brilliance of Key and Peele. It understood race as real and racism as inevitable, and never lost sight of the way in which individual white people can be agents of change but also of offense, wittingly or not supporting a system of demoralization.

Kwame Opam discusses how the show lived and grew across the world wide web:

Key & Peele's greatest strength and weakness was its format; as a sketch show, it's best remembered for its bite-sized bits -- most of which wound up online. "Substitute Teacher," which first aired in 2012, is one of the show's earliest highlights. It quickly went viral, and right it now boasts more than 80 million views on YouTube. Earlier this year, Paramount even announced it plans on turning it into a feature-length film. But the episode it premiered on only pulled in 1.16 million viewers at the time, a drop in the bucket compared to its online views. And it makes sense, especially for a huge swath of the population that doesn't have cable. Why wait for the show when you can watch the best clips on the internet?

This is a complex but not unique irony: how a slice of pop culture in 2015 can be popular enough for the President himself to take notice (and embrace it), and to seem to have zeitgeist-defining properties, but not be quite popular enough to sustain a half hour in basic cable.

Maybe that's tied to something Morris and Opam touch on but don't quite name. More than any show on television, to my mind, Key and Peele felt young. Not young in the shallow way that all media, maybe especially television, seem to exploit young talent; not young in the same reckless, juvenile way Chappelle's Show or vintage Saturday Night Live was; young in the open, searching, insouciant, absurdist key that's so important to sketch comedy.

That's what's in the mix of what Morris rightly identifies as the show's blend of sadness and acceptance. It's youth knowing that this is not forever, that it would be wrong to linger, that the future (and everything good, bad, and unchanging that comes with it) is inevitable.

Roasting Richard PryorJul 31 2014

Hi, everybody! Tim Carmody here, guest-hosting for Jason this week.

I love Richard Pryor. If you don't know why, read Hilton Als's 1999 profile of Pryor in The New Yorker right after you watch 1979's Live In Concert. Everything Eddie Murphy did in the '80s, Chris Rock did in the '90s, Dave Chappelle did in the '00s, or Louis CK's done over the last decade is all there in Pryor. Stand-up comedy is a series of footnotes to Richard Pryor in the same way Western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato.

But Pryor was uncompromising and self-destructive, a common combination to breakthrough talents but deadly to life, limbs, and careers. His 1977 television series was at least twenty-five years ahead of everything on TV (and it aired in prime-time on NBC) but was pulled from the air after Pryor refused to cooperate with the network's changes. He filmed just four episodes.

For the last episode, Richard was roasted by the cast of the show and a few special guests. The roasters include a very young Robin Williams and Sandra Bernhardt, longtime Pryor collaborator Paul Mooney, and very funny performances by Tim Reid (Venus Flytrap from WKRP in Cincinatti) and a young and frankly stunning Marsha Warfield (Roz from Night Court).

The unedited roast was never broadcast, for reasons that'll be obvious. It's raucous but more or less clean until Richard gets up to respond and lays them the fuck out. It is glorious.

Do not step to Richard Pryor. He takes it straight to eleven. And you love him anyway.

Louis C.K. on testing the limitsJun 06 2014

Louis C.K. sat down with Jonah Weiner for an extended interview where he discusses learning how to fix cars, tell jokes, fry chicken, and more. (Seriously, Medium is milking that whole time spent reading thing now.) He also gives some clues as to what he seems to be up to in the current season of Louie:

JW: You've talked about how you've had to explain moral lessons to your daughters, but do it in a catchy way. It's almost as though you're writing material for them. What's the place of morality and ethics in your comedy?

I think those are questions people live with all the time, and I think there's a lazy not answering of them now, everyone sheepishly goes, "Oh, I'm just not doing it, I'm not doing the right thing." There are people that really live by doing the right thing, but I don't know what that is, I'm really curious about that. I'm really curious about what people think they're doing when they're doing something evil, casually. I think it's really interesting, that we benefit from suffering so much, and we excuse ourselves from it. I think that's really interesting, I think it's a profound human question...

I think it's really interesting to test what people think is right or wrong, and I can do that in both directions, so sometimes it's in defense of the common person against the rich that think they're entitled to this shit, but also the idea that everybody has to get handouts and do whatever they want so that there's not supposed to be any struggle in life is also a lot of horseshit. Everything that people say is testable.

At the LA Review of Books, Lili Loofbourow has a good essay about Louie's abrupt shifts in perspective, in the context of its recent rape-y episodes. There's Louie the dad, who garners sympathy and acts as a cover/hedge/foil to Louie's darker impulses. There's standup Louie, who acts as a commentary and counterpoint to dramedy Louie... except when he doesn't, and the two characters blur and flip.

Louie is -- despite its dick-joke dressing -- a profoundly ethical show... Louie is sketching out the psychology of an abuser by making us recognize abuse in someone we love. Someone thoughtful and shy, raising daughters of his own, doing his best. Someone totally cognizant of the issues that make him susceptible to the misogyny monster. Someone who thinks hard about women and men and still gets it badly wrong.

I had to stop watching Louie after Season 1. I raced greedily through those episodes, enjoying the dumb jokes and the sophisticated storytelling, and telling my friends, "this is like looking at my life in ten years." Then my wife and I separated and that joke wasn't funny any more, if it ever was. The things in Louie that are supposed to indicate the cracks in the fourth wall -- the African-American ex-wife and the seemingly white children -- are actually true in my life. His character is more like me than his creator is (except Louie has more money). No haha, you're both redheads with beards. It's an honest-to-goodness uncanny valley. I had to walk away.

At the same time, I feel like I understand Louis C.K., the comedian/filmmaker, better now than I did three years ago. If you read that interview, you see someone who's more successful now than he's ever been, who knows he's good at what he does, but who's never been certain that anyone's ever loved him or if he's ever been worthy of love.

Now America loves Louis C.K. and hangs on his every word: on gadgets, on tests in school, on what's worth caring about. How can he not want to test those limits? How can he not want to punish his audience for caring about a character based on him that he doesn't even like very much?

Dangerously DeliciousMar 23 2012

Aziz Ansari has released his latest comedy special as a $5 direct download from his website. I love this model. Love it. Love it. The $5 price point is so cheap. You can't get anything for $5 anymore. How do you suppose this fits into the constant GIVEMEMYGAMEOFTHRONESSOIDONTHAVETOPIRATEIT discussion? A discussion which boils down mostly to, IDONTLIKEHOWMUCHITCOSTS. (I didn't realize how much of a zealot I was about this until I was typing in call caps.)

Anyway, good on Aziz for making his special so affordable. Aziz and Louis CK are the Fugazi of comedians.

In support of the release, Ansari was on Reddit for an IAmA.

Personally, I bought the special because a Die Hard reboot with Aziz in the lead would mean a lot to me.

GQ: So you're not planning on releasing a Fast and the Furious-type action movie like this?
Aziz Ansari: That would be great. It would be great if this was so successful that I could make the money to buy the rights to Die Hard and then reboot it with me in the lead role. That would be tremendous. If enough people buy this, maybe we can do that next.

Here's the preview of the special, which you might want to watch with headphones if you're at work.

Comic David Cross replies to Larry theOct 16 2007

Comic David Cross replies to Larry the Cable Guy's criticism in an open letter.

As for being a multi-millionaire in disguise, that's just merely a matter of personal taste for me. I do not begrudge you your money at all, it is sincerely hard earned and you deserve whatever people want to give to you. What sticks in my craw about that stuff is the blatant and (again, personal taste) gross marketing and selling of this bullshit character to your beloved fans. Now look, if someone wants to pay top dollar to come to one of your shows and then drop a couple hundred more on "Git-R-Done" lighters and hats and t-shirts and windshield stickers and trailer hitches and beer koozies and fishing hats and shot glasses etc, then good for you. I just think it's a little crass and belies the "good ole boy" blue collar thing you represent.

Comedian Aries Spears does awesome impressions ofNov 10 2006

Comedian Aries Spears does awesome impressions of LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg, DMX, and Jay-Z. Here's a shorter bit of him doing Michael Jordan and Shaq. (via zach)

Profile of comedian Sarah Silverman, who tellsOct 18 2005

Profile of comedian Sarah Silverman, who tells the most uncomfortable jokes around.

I must be living in a caveSep 17 2005

I must be living in a cave because I hadn't really heard of the Daily Show's America the Book (more here) before today's presentation by Paula Scher and Ben Karlin.

Remembering Phil HartmanApr 08 2005

Remembering Phil Hartman. The Sinatra Group is probably one of my top five favorite SNL skits ever.

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