Monday, February 9, 2009

comedy ain't for just anyone

Far be it from me to pronounce myself as any sort of comic genius. I am reminded of Eugene Levy's Dr. Pearl from Guffman who professed not being the class clown, but sitting next to him. And studying him. So take my critique and analysis with a grain of salt.

Today I watched "Francesco Vezzoli's project Greed, a faux ad campaign for an imagined perfume." This is meant to be a satire, thumbing its nose at the idea of promotions in the luxury product world. But it's terrible. Just terrible. I tweeted as such and my friend's response was enough to get my engines running. He wondered how this could have been avoided. His snarkiness aside, there's something to this line of questioning. He wondered if a different director or fight ch
oreographer might have helped the end result.

The whole experience actually made me consider two things:
1) Broad, self-aware slapstick comedy will never lead to laughter.
2) Comedy is hard. It is an art form that aught to be respected on the level of intense drama.

First part first. Think about Will Ferrell. I know, the last thing he needs is promotion. But he's widely considered one of the funnier people in the universe. He excels at both nuanced, life-or-death stakes realism as well as ridiculously over the top, fully-committed humor.
When the men enters a room in an electric wheelchair and opens a 2-inch cell phone, he just enters the reality of that physicality. The women in the Greed spot look like they've been told not to worry about what it all means, just roll on the floor and try to grab the perfume bottle. What surprises me is that both Portman and Williams have proven themselves to be gifted nuanced actors. And I wish I'd had the chance to see something more carefully performed, which I hypothesize, would have ended up significantly more biting and halfway amusing.

Which leads me to the second point. There's a reason some "comedy" stars are bankable. It's that they're funny and they're aware that comedy takes work. They know timing, commitment, delivery, and subtlety can make or break a moment. Which is interesting. Because I'll bet if you asked Steve Carrell and Ralph Fiennes how to make a single moment work they'd have similar answers. I'm just saying, being put in a wacky situation and making some faces doesn't make something funny in the same way that asking Jack Black to play the priest in Doubt would have probably have been the undoing of that movie (please see: King Kong).

I guess the bottom line is I think much as we'd like to believe that making people laugh is as easy as having a clever idea. But it's hard work that requires a good amount of talent and understanding of process. And it does help to just be funny.

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the thoughts and opinions expressed below are entirely my own, and are not necessarily shared by my friends, family, or employer. (though they very well might be...)