Tuesday, January 30, 2007

On "Random" Humor

I don't know. I think I'm starting to get tired of it.

Well, really, I've been tired of it for a long time. It's been a while since I considered LOL-internet comedy like Animutations and "Peanut Butter Jelly Time" to be the highest form of the medium. Now it's just faddish and annoying. I mean, what is there to "Peanut Butter Jelly Time" anyway? It's zany and whappa-de-doo crazy! That's all it is. And then they add it the words "with a baseball bat" to make it even zanier and MORE RANDOM. OH BOY! SQUIRRELS AND MONKEYS!!!

Yeah... it just gets to a point where people glorify crappy humor like that until it achieves godlike status for no good reason, and you just totally forget about what actually made it funny in the first place. Maybe it's fun when you discover something unusual and "random" when you're with friends, laughing together with a "What in the blue fuck is THAT?!" But it doesn't last long. After joking about it for a few weeks and turning it into some silly inside joke, you begin to realize that it's not all that substantial.

Oddly enough this reminds me of a quote from Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips. Far from a comedy band, mind you, but a great band nonetheless. In their early 80's days, the Lips were a craaaazy avant-garde band, one more interested in making their music as bizarre as possible than making it as good as possible. Not that they were a terrible band because of this - the weirdness they possessed came from a very real place - but at the same time, they had a tendency to let it overpower the music. Then came "In A Priest Driven Ambulance", a serious Lips album with an unmistakable edge of weirdness. But the "zaniness" had a point - it made the music more poignant, more unique. As Coyne said, they initially were "convinced that to 'shock' or 'teach' listeners was more important than being real. . . . What fools we were."

Of course, the only 'big' hit the Lips had was "She Don't Use Jelly," a quirky novelty song. People liked it because it was weird, not because they thought the Flaming Lips were a great band. (ahem)

BUT I digress. People love to use weirdness and quirkiness nowadays to gain attention. You know, viral videos and the Star Wars kid and the like. Which is a big 'ol reason why quirky, CRAAAZY "cult" television shows - say, like Family Guy - gain so much attention.

I used to love Family Guy. I kind of don't anymore. Do I hate it? Not necessarily. If I sit down and watch an episode, yeah, I'll give out a chuckle here and there. But I'm not 16 anymore, the show's back on the air after a 3 year hiatus, and it's just not working for me. It's the kind of show that's not concerned about decent plots of well-developed characterizations - it's about quotability, randomness, funny references that you wouldn't expect. The show's writers seem to want people to say, "Haha, what a funny reference Peter just made! I'm gonna put it in my AIM profile!!" So they constantly reference 70's and 80's mainstays like Transformers and the A-Team, or whatever, and throw them in the show for no real reason.

This kind of leads to what I consider to be my biggest problem with the show - the flashbacks. OHHH the flashbacks. Trey Parker and Matt Stone called out FG's writers for this, and they pretty much pinpointed my EXACT gripes with this aspect of the show. "It's like the time I..." Like the time you WHAT, Peter? Tried to fish with rollerstakes on? Played sudoku with the Numa Numa Guy? Had an interview with Dan Rather and discovered he was in the X-Men?? OH GOD, THERE IS SUCH HILARITY IN THESE META-REFERENCES, I MUST ALERT MY BUDDY LIST.

I think Seth MacFarlane was miffed after they did that SP episode. I remember he did something where he put on his Stewie voice and said sarcastically - I'm paraphrasing - "How dare Family Guy writers put in those asides and in-jokes that have nothing to do with the episode - they're trying to be FUNNY! That's something South Park is well above." Something snarky like that.

Seth, the characters in your show are ciphers. I remember in some early episodes of the show, there were some decent (albeit sloppy) attempts at expanding Brian's character that I kinda liked. What happened to those? Now you're got him spouting super-edgy diatribes against such "unexpected" targets like the FCC and Wal-Mart that have been done to death for about two decades now. Stewie, I don't even know who the hell he's supposed to be anymore. Everybody hates Meg, which WOULD be funny if you hadn't already made her seem, you know - human - earlier on in the show. And you know what? Those lovely asides and in-jokes that you say make you funnier that South Park - YEEEEHA!! They ain't that funny. More often than not, you're trying to expand on a joke that doesn't need to be expanded upon, and you end up stretching it out for SO LONG that it just gets tired. You know that episode of The Simpsons where Sideshow Bob keeps getting hit with rakes and grumbles each time? For, like, a full minute? And it's absolutely hilarious? Yeah, Family Guy's been co-opting that kind of a joke for pretty much their entire run.

The difference? The Simpsons did it within a conventional - but still very funny - structure. They've got well-developed characters, a compelling storyline, etc. So when you throw in a one-off joke like that, it's totally unexpected and unusual, in turn making it even funnier. When you make this kind of joke all the time - like Family Guy - it just doesn't work as well.

Okay, I'm tired of ripping on Family Guy. Honestly, the show has made me laugh loudly many times in the past. But because the writing is so all over the place, the show lacks any real kind of consistency. And it's starting to get to me.

Maybe I'm just growing up? I don't know. I can't stand novelty anymore. It feels hollow. I love humor when it's used in a powerful, honest way - which I guess is why I've started to love shows like The Simpsons, South Park, and Futurama even more than usual. I'm beginning to notice the subtleties in humor, the consistently intriguing characters and plot elements that make me laugh even harder and keep me watching year after year. It's the same thing with music - I love bands like the Flaming Lips and Ween for their great musical ability, not for their weirdness. It feels good, to have that kind of genuine love.

There's probably a lot more I could say on this subject - railing against the stupidity of other kinds of "random" college humor, some kind of rant about how the Dropkick Murphys ARE a novelty band and Ween ISN'T... oh, lots of stuff. But I'm tired, and I need to play Zelda. And read.

Have a nice night.


Daniel said...

Ha and I will post because I can. I have to agree with what you say though. I'm pretty sure we've had this discussion at some point.

I think for almost that same reason I don't find stand up comedy as funny as before. It is essentially random jokes. Long story jokes/observations.

Or maybe I've always been a humorless cold unfeeling robot human (read: cyborg) as you all like to think.

Paul said...

Interesting. I'm not sure I completely agree with you, but I definitley feel that Family Guy has lost something it used to have. Maybe it was becuase we were all younger, or maybe it was because the show was better, or maybe both.

Also, Futurama is a really amazing show, and I've just come to realize that recently.

Finally, I think we can all agree that the epitome of humor can be expressed in one word: "Dirk".