Eclaire Fare

Enjoying Pop Culture, One Bite at a Time

Brian Regan at the Majestic October 25, 2009

Filed under: Memories — Emily @ 10:53 am
Tags: , , , ,

“If you were to second guess your decision to book some time to visit an Indian community, that would be a reservation reservation reservation.” That was the one joke that comedian Brian Regan said he didn’t really have a good place for in his routine, but it made the crowd at the Majestic Theater in downtown Dallas laugh anyway. Regan put on a great show, and comedian Joe Bolster, who warmed up the crowd, was also highly entertaining.

I’ve seen Brian Regan on Comedy Central and DVD a few times, but this was my first time to see him live, and it was definitely worth the price of admission. His jokes are hilarious, but what’s even better are his expressions, mannerisms, and other physical comedy. He had everyone in the audience under his comic spell from his opening horse jockey joke (“how would track runners feel if I ran behind them flogging them with a whip to remind them to run…”) to his closing “I walked on the moon” piece (the astronaut’s dinner party trump card that beats all other stories).

The ornate lobby at the Majestic Theater

The ornate lobby at the Majestic Theater

As for the venue, the Majestic Theater was great. It was my first time to see a show there, and there’s something special about an old restored theater, with its grand staircases, ornate decor, and interesting architecture. I would definitely like to see more shows there. It is nice that the Majestic is in the heart of downtown Dallas, so you can enjoy the view of the skyline or grab a bite to eat at an interesting restaurant before or after the show. Another plus is the ample amount of parking available. We actually found a metered parking space right across the street from the entrance (and were amazed at our luck since we arrived right at show time), so we didn’t get stuck in parking garage traffic when we left.

Overall, this was a relaxing, stress relieving evening. Laughter really is contagious when you’re sitting in a theater packed with grown-ups giggling and guffawing uncontrollably. But I didn’t have to depend on the audience to make me laugh, because Brian Regan’s jokes and demeanor were consistently successful at doing their job.

Here’s a sampling of some of my favorite jokes of the night (I can’t do them justice, but hopefully you’ll get the idea…)

  • Grown-ups shouldn’t vomit like the balloon boy when they lie – This was probably my favorite moment of the show. I appreciated that he included such a timely topic as the balloon boy incident, and his use of the material was great. Basically, Regan explained that someone needed to teach Falcon how to lie without vomiting, since that’s a dead giveaway that you are lying, and then imagined what would happen if grown ups had a tendency to throw up while lying. His impersonation of a husband vomiting while lying to his wife about where he’s been had everyone in the crowd rolling with laughter. “Yeah, honey, I was out playing pool with the guys…” (followed by ridiculously loud and explosive retching noises). This scenario played out in similar fashion for another minute or two, with equally hilarious results.
  • 125,000 Gorillas – This joke relied on the sight gags for most of its humor. He explained that he read in the news that researchers have “just discovered” 125,000 gorillas in the Congo. He had trouble understanding how someone just happened upon “one hundred and twenty five THOUSAND” gorillas that had remained undetected until now. He wondered, were they all standing in a single file line behind a tree? And he reenacted the moment of discovery by pretending to pull back some branches, and seeing 125,000 gorillas! You probably had to be there to fully appreciate this one, but you know…
  • Wide Receiver Stance – In another sight gag, Regan mentioned that he played football in high school and college, but was always bummed that his wide receiver position had the only not cool starting stance on the field. While everyone else was striking a manly pose, he was doing the “Tinkerbell pose,” standing up straight with his hands on his hips and one foot pointed out in front of him. Kind of like this:

  • Black Coffee – He doesn’t understand why it’s so hard to order a simple black cup of coffee at a restaurant. He asks for a “cup of black coffee,” and the waiter asks him how he wants his coffee (“um, could I get it black, in a cup?”), and then asks if he wants cream and sugar (“do they make black cream?”). Finally, he lets out a long rant about how black he wants his coffee. I couldn’t possibly remember the whole thing here, but he starts with the phrase “blackity blackity black” and ends with something about closing your eyes and imagining the infinite blackness of space, and letting that be a starting point for understanding how black he wants his coffee. So funny, and so true, since this once simple beverage has been complicated so much by the various concoctions created by Starbucks.
  • Food Pyramid – Does anyone actually use the Food Pyramid? He mimes taking the Food Pyramid out of his pocket to order at a restaurant… “I’ll have some grains – 6 or 7 servings – that’s right, just keep ’em coming… And I’ll also have some legumes…” I knew he would mention legumes – it’s such a funny word, and few of us are even sure what they are (he said he’s not sure he’s ever even seen one).
  • Irish Dancing – He mentioned his Irish heritage, and said the Irish are only good at dancing from the knees down, before proceeding to do a very spastic version of the river dance.
  • Texting – He closed the show by recounting his first experience with receiving and responding to a text message. I could totally relate. He didn’t even know what was happening when his phone made a different sound, and then his wife had to show him how to accept the message. His first text was a wrong number, and only said “Yo yo, we clubbin?” Out of courtesy, he responded to let the person know that he was not “Yo Yo,” and that they hadn’t reached the right person. His response was ridiculously long, and he acted out typing the whole thing, which included words and phrases like “to whom it may concern,” “individual,” and “Godspeed.”
  • The Encore – I had heard that this is always a fan favorite, since Regan takes requests from the crowd. He only did two requests at our show, probably because he had another show at the theater an hour later. But they were good ones, and both related to how certain people always want to one-up you with their stories. In his “Wisdom Teeth” bit, he related how you should never try to tell a “two wisdom teeth” story, because the “four wisdom teeth” people will parachute in and steal your thunder with tales of impacted teeth that were twisted around their tongue, and of how the teeth were ripped out with no anesthesia, and they were eating corn on the cob later that day. From there he went straight into his astronaut bit, saying he wishes he had been one of the astronauts that had been to the moon, because then he would always have a story better than all the “Me Monsters” (those people at parties who constantly talk about themselves without taking a breath – his impersonation of them is great). He proceeded to imitate a Me Monster at a dinner party speeding through one extravagant tale after another, while an astronaut sat quietly in wait for his moment. When the Me Monster took a breath, the astronaut simply said, “I once walked on the moon.” Classic.

These are only a few highlights of Brian Regan’s 75 minutes of pure comic gold. I’ll leave you with a video of his classic dinner party bit:


Must-See TV Roundup: Thursday, September 17 September 18, 2009

Filed under: Fringe,Television — Emily @ 11:50 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

Thursday nights are known in tv-viewing homes across America as a conundrum, an impossibility, and most definitely a night that you have to check that your DVR is working, and then stay home so you won’t get behind on all the buzz about your favorite shows! I’ve mentioned on Eclaire Fare before that Thursdays this fall are especially a challenge for me, as there are about eight shows that I am interested in watching. So what did I decide was “must see tv” last night? Fringe, The Office, and Community. Still waiting on my Tivo are Bones, Vampire Diaries, and The Mentalist, and in the next few weeks I’ll be adding FlashForward and 30 Rock. I only recorded Bones because I wanted to see guest star Cyndi Lauper, but needless to say, I’ll have plenty of shows to choose from this weekend. So anyway, back to my must-see list, here are my thoughts on the season premieres that I felt compelled to watch right away.

These are currently my favorite people on tv!

These are currently my favorite people on tv!

  • Fringe – The season premiere was giving off strong X-Files vibes: the creepy shape shifter guy who was going around town killing innocent bystanders, the congressional hearing to determine whether or not the Fringe division would be shut down, and the global war for survival that very few people know is happening. And I loved every minute of it – from the jolting opening scene in which Olivia suddenly reappeared and catapulted through her windshield onto the pavement, to the closing, heartbreaking moment in which we saw poor, dead Charlie being dumped into an incinerator by shape shifter Charlie. This show certainly knows how to come out of the gate at a full gallop. What a terrific season opener! Walter and Peter’s banter is as clever and amusing as ever, Olivia still exhibits an appealing balance of emotion and resolve, and even the new girl on the block didn’t bother me. In fact, I think that FBI Agent Jessup may be a good addition to the group of core characters. She seems unphased by the weird stuff she’s encountered thus far, and was willing to bend the rules to keep the investigation into Olivia’s disappearance/car crash/subsequent murders going. The actress, Meghan Markle, looks vaguely familiar to me, but her tv credentials are pretty slim. Let’s hope that this will be her breakout role, so she won’t have to be remembered as one of the models who held a briefcase on Let’s Make a Deal! One more thing about her – I’m not sure what to make of the closing scene that showed her linking info from the Fringe cases to biblical events in Revelations. Are we supposed to think that she’s in a cult? or crazy? or keenly aware of a bigger picture? I look forward to finding out more. One more thought on this show: at the end of last season we found out that (apparently) Walter brought the Peter we know over from the parallel universe when his son Peter died as a little boy. This secret has all sorts of implications big and small, but I’m wondering if Peter could be a key figure in this struggle between the shape shifter group and William Bell. From what I gathered last night, something important has been hidden somewhere. I’m wondering if perhaps it’s hidden in Peter? Just a thought… This is currently my favorite show – quite an accomplishment for a sophomore!
Stanley was at the center of this weeks Office premiere.

Stanley was at the center of this week's Office premiere.

  • The Office – Oh, how I have missed Jim, Pam, Stanley, Creed, and the rest of the Dunder-Mifflin gang. They were all in top form in this season premiere. My favorite episodes are the ones in which we see a lot of interaction among the staff, and there was plenty of that going on when rumors spread out of control thanks to Michael’s need to be included. As usual, there was some inappropriateness from Michael (his inability to stay out of Stanley’s very personal business), but I like how some of his false gossip ended up being true, made others question themselves (Andy’s sexual identity crisis), and ultimately forced Jim and Pam to share their baby news. Those two sure know how to save the day. They spared Stanley the extreme awkwardness of having his dirty laundry revealed in front of the whole office by giving up on their plan to keep Pam’s pregancy secret as long as possible. The Office is at its best when all the characters are given a chance to shine, and at its worst when it focuses more on the slapstick, over the top antics of Michael and Dwight. The season premiere, then, falls in the “best of” category.
Say hello to the cast of Community

Say hello to the cast of Community

  • Community – I’ve really been looking forward to this new show! I enjoyed the pilot, but I had already seen all the funniest parts in the promos (the old man trying out for the track team, the dean giving his lackluster welcome speech to the students, Abed’s Breakfast Club reenactment, etc.). During the first half of the episode, I was irritated by what a jerk the main character, Jeff Winger, was. But, once he was put in his place by his professor friend (who gave him a packet full of blank paper instead of the answers to all his exams for the semester) and Britta (the girl he hit on, who then gave him false hope, only to take it away again), I started to like him more. Now that this ragtag group of misfits (the retiree, the single mom, the high school jock, the overachiever, the ditz, the Aspergers guy, and the disgraced fake lawyer) is banding together in an effort to survive their classes, I look forward to seeing what happens. I loved the music in the final scene, especially the Breakfast Club tune. And I have to add that I didn’t appreciate the total lack of respect the show had towards community colleges, at least at the beginning of the episode. I teach at such a college, and I’m happy to report that while there is some truth to the portrait of community college life that Community offers, my students are several notches above the ones represented on this show. I understand that they play on the stereotypes for maximum comical impact, but I hope that as the show goes on, the characters are portrayed as more than just dumb losers who couldn’t cut it at a university.

Did you watch these shows? What did you think about them? My favorite of the night was Fringe. They made a bold move, messing with one of the main characters, and I’m interested to see how that storyline will play out. Stay tuned for my thoughts on Glee (loved loved loved the latest episode!) and Vampire Diaries.


Flight of the Conchords: A Comedy Anomaly January 9, 2009

I experienced the first season of Flight of the Conchords for the first time last week. I’ve only watched half of the episodes so far, but I’ve seen enough to know that I love this show! I had been hearing tidbits about it and its starring duo for awhile, but my knowledge was limited to vague phrases like “two guys who sing” and “funny songs.” I didn’t even really know it was a 30 minute comedy show. Now that I’ve experienced it, and “experienced” is the right word here, I can say that it is unlike any tv comedy I’ve ever seen.

Background: Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement formed their comedy duo in 1998, and they have developed a cult following of their live shows over the past several years. They have also picked up various awards for their work, which is extremely hilarious and smartly written. In 2007 the first season of Flight of the Conchords premiered on HBO, and it features songs that they released prior to the show. The second season is scheduled to begin this month on HBO.

Synopsis: The HBO show revolves around Bret and Jemaine, who play exaggerated, fictionalized versions of themselves. They are two New Zealanders trying to find success as a band in the U.S. Unfortunately, they have only managed to make one fan, the super obsessed Mel. Their manager, Murray, is more concerned with taking roll call at their three-man meetings than in launching their musical careers. Bret and Jemaine are clueless about everything from love to American culture, and their only American friend who can give them direction is pawn shop owner Dave. Thus, from this meager premise, hilarity ensues.

Assessment: When I started watching the first episode, I wasn’t instantly hooked. From what I could gather, this was a show about two inept guys, and the tone of the show was absurdist. Well, both of those observations are true, but the show’s comic gold lies in its songs, the lyrics, the choreography, the visual effects, and the way that they are woven together into one great crazy tapestry of ridiculousness. My husband and I have laughed a lot, shaken our heads, and said things like “that’s so weird” and “that’s really random” while watching the first six episodes.

One thing we had trouble figuring out is what’s supposed to be going on when Bret and Jemaine break into song. I found this clear explanation on Wikipedia:

“Jemaine or Bret break into song periodically throughout each episode. The songs are built into the narrative structure of the show in several different ways. Some songs form part of the actual plot of the show. In these instances, Bret or Jemaine sings to another character. Other songs serve as the internal monologue of one of the two. Typically, at least once per show, a song is shot in the form of a music video. Some songs use a combination of the styles. For example, in the first episode, “Sally”, the song “Most Beautiful Girl in the Room” is a mix of Jemaine’s inner thoughts, which are inaudible to those around him, and his spoken invitations to Sally to get a kebab and to go back to his place, while the music video for “Business Time” (from “Sally Returns”) depicts a daydream that Jemaine is having.

The enthusiastic manner in which the characters express themselves through song is in stark contrast to the very low-key, monotone manner in which the characters express themselves throughout the rest of the show. Thus, when the characters cannot verbalize their feelings, the songs serve as inner monologues and explain the thoughts and feelings they are unable to communicate to others.”

Highlights: Read on for some of my favorite moments, music videos, lines, and lyrics from the first six episodes.

  • “Beautiful Girl” – This was my first experience of a song on Flight of the Conchords. Jemaine sings about Sally, and how she’s the most beautiful girl… in the room. (“You could be a part-time model, but you’d probably still have to keep your normal job.”)
  • The music video for “The Humans Are Dead” – Murray decides that Bret and Jemaine need to film a music video to get more exposure. Unfortunately, due to their limited budget, he films it with a camera phone, and the guys’ robot costumes consist of spray-painted boxes. The song itself is very funny, but the way the scene is set up and filmed makes it even more memorable. Bret’s binary solo is classic.
  • “I’m not crying. It’s just been raining on my face.” – This was the best excuse Jemaine gave in his song full of explanations for why his face was wet. (“I’ve just been cutting onions,” “my eyes are a little sweaty today,” etc.)
  • “Inner City Pressure” music video – This video and song are a spoof of the Pet Shop Boys’ first hit song, “West End Girls.” Bret and Jemaine perfectly capture the spirit of 1980s music videos, from the pacing about, to the slow motion camera work, to the synthesizer playing.
  • “I think I need a 1983 Casio DG-20 electric guitar, set to electric mandolin” – This may be the most random moment so far on the show. Bret is standing and chatting with fellow sign holder (that’s his job) Coco, and he is inspired to sing when he realized that he’s attracted to her. As he voices his need for a Casio guitar, an old man walks by and hands him one.
  • The Dancing Chorus of Sign Holders – In the song that begins with the Casio guitar moment mentioned above, there is a group of sign holders who act as background dancers for Bret. The song is “She’s So Hot – Boom!”, and it’s a reggae/rap number. Typically, background dancers are attractive, scantily clad women. In this case, they are a mix of male and female, small and large, and dressed in regular clothes. Maybe you have to see it to appreciate it.
  • “This is where we break it down” – At the end of the song “Think About It,” which talks about people getting stuck in the leg with knives and forks, and getting diseases from monkeys, among other things, Bret and Jemaine “break it down.” Normally there are lyrics to accompany this cascading part of a song, but in this case, they just do lots of “oohing” and “aahing” and repeating that they are breaking it down. It’s a fun poke at songs that over-milk the break down. You can view the entire video of “Think About It” here.
  • “Business Time” – Everything about this song and music video are funny. Jemaine runs into Sally at a laundromat and commences to daydream about what his life would be like if they got married. “When I’m down to my socks it’s time for business. That’s why they’re called business socks.” See the funny here.
  • Mel insulting Jemaine to compliment Bret – In the episode “Bowie,” Bret develops some body image issues, so Jemaine asks their one fan, Mel, to give Bret some extra compliments. When she “just so happens” to run into them on the street, she takes things overboard, to the point of giving Jemaine his own set of body image issues.

I’ll leave you with the song “The Most Beautiful Girl,” which as I mentioned before, was my introduction to the essence of Flight of the Conchords.


Hulu’s Comedic Shorts are Short on Funny November 23, 2008

Filed under: Hulu,Hulu Awards — Emily @ 11:40 am
Tags: , ,

Recently I discovered some great dramatic shorts on Hulu, so I was looking forward to reviewing the potential nominees for one of this week’s Hulu Awards categories, Best Comedic Short. I figured that if many of the dramatic shorts were well done and entertaining, then surely the comedic shorts would be equally so. Unfortunately, I had more difficulty finding the good amidst a sea of mediocrity.

My problem with these comedic shorts is that most of them weren’t funny. Some of them were quirky and creative, like Music For One Apartment And Six Drummers (but there was nothing amusing about that one), or bizarre like Stricteternum (the little girl with the eyes painted on her eyelids was just plain creepy!), but it was difficult to find humor in many of these shorts. Nevertheless, I managed to choose four proposed nominees. I encourage you to check them out on Hulu to see whether or not you agree with me, or if you think I overlooked any other award-worthy shorts.

My Proposed Nominees for Best Comedic Short on Hulu:

  1. Laid Off – Very low key, dark humor. This short had the highest production values of the potential nominees, so in terms of quality, it had to be on my short list. I didn’t laugh much, but I was mildly amused by the main character’s monotone overview of his life after death. The group session of the departed was the funniest part.
  2. Bjorn: Hurdles of Bureaucracy – Unlike most of the comedic shorts on Hulu, this one actually made me laugh out loud. It points out the ridiculous hurdles to getting a passport. Of course, in the U.S. you could never renew a passport in a matter of hours. The only drawback was misspelled or otherwise incorrect subtitles, which I found distracting. Such simple and glaring errors take away credibility from a movie.
  3. How to Cope with Rejection – For some reason, ninjas always make me laugh. (Ever seen I liked the low key, melancholy humor of this short. The music worked well to reinforce the tone.
  4. Walking on the Wild Side – This one was strange, but it made me laugh out loud several times from the awkwardness of the situation. The actors were perfectly cast for their roles and did a great job. Sidenote: until my brother and his wife traveled to Amsterdam recently, I didn’t know that in countries where prostitution is legal, it is common for “working girls” to advertise themselves inside what is similar to storefront displays. Window shopping for a hooker. Weird. Anyway, that context makes this short make more sense.
  • You can view all four of these comedic shorts, plus any of the other contenders in this category, in Hulu’s Movieola Shorts: Comedy section.

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The Top Five TV Comedies on Hulu November 20, 2008

I’ve already discussed an expanded definition of “comedy” and have established what characteristics, in my opinion, a comedy must exhibit to be considered great. Now it is time for me to unveil my proposed nominees for Best TV Comedy on Hulu. So, without further adieu…

  • Arrested DevelopmentThis is my top, top pick. Everything about this little show is greatness. It’s a travesty that it did so poorly in the ratings, but at least it garnered all the critical praise that it deserved. And we have a movie based on the series to look forward to. Given all the attention this show deserves, it is terrific that the entire series is available to watch on Hulu, plus hundreds of clips of classic Bluth dysfunction. What makes this show perhaps the best comedy to ever grace the small screen? Hmmm… let me count the ways. Insanely funny characters. Ridiculously spot-on actors. Perfectly timed voice-over narration. Wacky serialized storylines. Buster’s hook hand. Gob’s endless attempts at magic tricks gone wrong. George-Michael’s name. George Michael’s awkward infatuation with his cousin. Maebe’s career as a movie producer. Tobias’ wearing of jean shorts under his other clothes. Michael’s level-headedness amidst the madness of his family. I could go on and on. I spent almost as much time rewinding episodes of this show as I did watching it, because I was constantly laughing and would have to go back to see what I had missed. The jokes come fast and furious from the opening narration to the ending faux preview of the next episode. In every way, this show is pure comic genius.

  • 30 RockNothing came close to the tone and style of humor of Arrested Development until Tina Fey left Saturday Night Live and started a quirky little show called 30 Rock. 30 Rock displays the same irreverence for anyone and anything, so you never know who the joke will be on from week to week. While Arrested Development revolves around a dysfunctional family, 30 Rock focuses on a similarly dysfunctional cast and crew of a variety show, TGS with Tracy Jordan. It is interested to me that the show was initially marketed as a Tracy Jordan vehicle, because his character is marginal to me at this point. In the first season, there were also differing opinions about whether Jane Krakowski’s character added or detracted from the show. Now in its third season, these problems have been ironed out, and the result has been a consistently clever and funny show. The show’s strengths (and funniest aspects) include the interaction between Jack and Liz, Liz always babysitting the cast and staff, Tracy always coming up with a new scheme with Dot Com and Grizz, and the brilliant roles created for the guest stars. On this show, celebrity guest stars aren’t just a gimmick. They actually work within the context of the show. My favorite is, without a doubt, Will Arnett as Jack’s (Alec Baldwin) professional nemesis. Edie Falco was also perfect as Jack’s liberal Democrat lover (he’s a staunch Republican), and more recently, Jennifer Aniston played the part of Liz and Jenna’s crazy friend in very believable and entertaining fashion. One final attribute that makes 30 Rock one of a kind in the current television landscape: it pokes fun at anyone and anything in politics, entertainment, etc. All the other current sitcoms, that I know of, stay firmly entrenched in their fictional worlds, but 30 Rock draws limitless rich material from our culture, whether it’s Oprah’s Favorite Things or NBC’s “Go Green” week.

  • The OfficeI have always enjoyed the mockumentary (i.e. Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, Drop Dead Gorgeous), so I was thrilled when the genre made its way into the tv comedy landscape. I actually prefer the American version over the original one. I guess I’ve never been a fan of dry British humor. The Office is a show that thrives on the adventures of its characters: Michael’s quest for a healthy relationship, Angela’s manipulation of fiance Andy in the midst of her continued relationship with Dwight, Jim and Pam’s long distance engagement, etc. Most of us know people like Stanley, Phyllis, Kelly, and the rest. Sure, they are exaggerated versions of stereotypical co-workers, but there is still a lot of truth to be found. In this case, where there is familiarity, there is humor. The show’s format also adds to its entertainment value. We, the viewers, get extra insight into the situations when the characters talk on camera, and we “get it” when one of them raises their eyebrows or sneaks a smile at the camera over something that happens in the office. So while this show isn’t as smart and quick with the jokes as my previous two nominees, there is still an endless supply of laugh-inducing material.
  • Buffy the Vampire SlayerSome people may argue that this show isn’t a comedy – that it should be categorized solely as horror/fantasy. I disagree! During the years it aired, I’d argue that Buffy was consistently funnier than most of the half hour comedies most people were turning to for laughs. Joss Whedon is a terrific writer and director, and he kept the witty banter going for seven seasons. Some stand out comedic episodes: “Band Candy,” in which the grown ups reverted to their teenage persona after eating some drug-laced candy bars; the fantastic musical episode “Once More, with Feeling,” which had everyone singing and dancing about things like dry cleaning and parking tickets; and “Tabula Rasa,” in which Willow’s memory spell goes awry, making everyone forget who they are (Buffy thinks her name is Joan, Spike thinks Giles is his dad, Xander and Willow think they are dating, etc.). All three of these episodes are on my list of the Best of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

  • Family GuyUnlike the other shows on this list, which I’ve seen every episode of and count among my all time favorites, I have only seen a few episodes of this animated comedy. So why is it worthy of this final nomination spot? Quite simply, it is hilarious. Sure, it is unabashedly irreverent, and it features some potentially highly offensive scenes, but the cleverness of its dialog and its pop culture/political/social satire more than make up for it. I recall some brilliant Broadway-style musical numbers in one episode I watched. More recently, I was introduced to the way Stewie says “Cool Whip,” and it proves that something as simple as that can be very funny on this show.

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A Recipe for Comedic Success November 19, 2008

Comedy. Funny awkward? Funny ha ha? Funny bizarre? Funny means different things to different people, and so there are many varieties of comedy in today’s entertainment world. Before I list my picks for Best Comedy TV Show on Hulu, let’s take a look at the dictionary definition of comedy, followed by characteristics that I look for in a successful comedy.


Comedy aims at entertaining by the fidelity with which it presents life as we know it; farce at raising laughter by the outrageous absurdity of the situation or characters exhibited; extravaganza at diverting by its fantastic nature; burlesque at tickling the fancy of the audience by caricaturing plays or actors with whose style it is familiar. Generalized sense of “quality of being amusing” dates from 1877. Comedian “comic actor” is 1601; meaning “professional entertainer who tells jokes, etc.” is 1898

That definition covers the main characteristics of comedy, which leads me to a few points I’d like to make:

  • The term “comedy” originally referred to plays that had happy endings, as opposed to the tragedy. Now we use the term “comedy” to apply to stand-up routines, movies, tv shows, etc. There are, of course, many categories of comedy now: dark/black, romantic, satire, parody, slapstick, deadpan, tragicomedy, lowbrow, highbrow, etc.
  • Bottom line: Comedy is intended to be funny, whether it be in a dark, sarcastic, ridiculous, or generally amusing sense.
  • For something to be funny, there must be some thematic elements the audience can relate to – Dysfunctional family relationships, awkward interaction with coworkers, meddling in-laws, etc.
  • Comedic actors exhibit certain traits that make them funny: physical comedy (i.e. Kramer bursting through Jerry’s door, or Elaine shoving someone while proclaiming “Get out!”, on Seinfeld), deadpan delivery of lines (i.e. Bob Newhart, Ray Romano), intonation of voice (Jerry Seinfeld’s incredulous, high-pitched yelling, Matthew Perry’s overemphasis of “be” on Friends – “Could this be any more awkward?”), subtle changes in expression (Jim’s glances at the camera on The Office), etc.
  • Of course, the actors would be limited in their ability to entertain were it not for the writers. Comedic writers have a knack for writing clever, humorous dialog and scenarios. Who knew that losing a car in a parking garage could be so funny – until Seinfeld’s writers created an entire episode about it. Or that a single phrase could become a source of endless hilarity – until “serenity now” (Seinfeld) and “the rural juror” (30 Rock) and others came along? Other times it’s more about witty, fast-paced scripts, as with the dialog and accompanying narration by Ron Howard on Arrested Development (“Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together. It’s Arrested Development.”)
  • Aside from the acting and writing, audiences connect with comedies because they allow us to escape (doesn’t everyone wish they lived carefree lives in a fantastic New York apartment like the characters on Friends? Or wouldn’t you love to live in a world where you used a supernatural ability to solve a crime and then sit down to eat some delicious pie, like on Pushing Daisies?) or they focus on situations that we find familiar. Though in real life these situations may be less than enjoyable, a comedy can turn them upside down to find the light-hearted, amusing, whimsical, warped, or ridiculous underbelly. Waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant for what seems like an eternity. A husband refusing to unpack his suitcase, which remains sitting at the foot of the stairs while spouses’ pride gets in the way. An inept boss who means well but only creates awkward situations.
  • Two characteristics of comedies that I value most are running gags and inside jokes. If a show possesses these traits, it is evidence that the writers value their loyal audience, and want to provide them with “easter eggs.” For example, on a Halloween-themed episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xander was transformed into a soldier, and from that point on throughout the show’s run, he would occasionally draw from his knowledge of combat and weaponry, a holdover from his short stint as an army man. This inside joke was rewarding for viewers, and it also fit well with Xander’s character development on the show, as he always felt out of place on the team of gifted and talented Scoobies. At least he always had his soldier knowledge to fall back on. As for running gags, perhaps the best current example is Barney and Marshall’s slap bet on How I Met Your Mother. How many slaps are left now – is it two or three? 30 Rock and Arrested Development probably have more inside jokes than any other shows, and usually they involve the shows taking aim at their respective networks. 30 Rock, in particular, doesn’t hold back in turning NBC into a running joke, whether its highlighting the network’s head-spinning organizational structure, or taking reality shows to the limit with “MILF Island.”

Those last two characteristics, running gags and inside jokes, are high on my list of necessary ingredients for an award-worthy comedy. They are evidence that the show runners have carefully planned and written the show. Other important ingredients include smart writing, outstanding acting, memorable characters, and, simplest of all – something that makes me laugh. The more, the better! There’s nothing worse than sitting through a sitcom and not laughing once. What’s the point? Another trait that puts a comedy low on my list includes relying on lowbrow humor or sexual innuendo for most of its laughs. There are a lot of funnier things to focus on, but often it seems like shows take the gross out and/or sex joke route because they are the easy way out.

So, now that I’ve laid out my idea of what is required to have a successful, classic, hilarious comedy, I will review the nominees for this category of the Hulu Awards (Best TV Comedy Show), and then announce and defend my proposed nominees. Stay tuned.

  • Click here to view the list of and cast your vote for the proposed nominees for Best TV Comedy Show.
  • Click here to view all the categories currently open for voting in The Hulu Awards.