Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Anatomy of Comedy...

I was disappointed to see that "Children of Men" was not recognized by the Academy this morning at the nominations announcement. (Although certainly Emmanuel Lubezki should take home the Oscar for cinematography). Disappointed but not surprised. I agree with the New York Times - the voting body of the Academy is decidedly "prim."

I was happy to see Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" make the cut. I feel that somehow, that film could factor into our country's presidential future. It's a shame to make global warming a political issue. But policy matters with regards to the environment are too importantly different to ignore. Something to pay attention to in Bush's State of the Union address tonight.

Speaking of comedy, I was sad to see that "Borat" got the snub. As I see it, comedy is the most difficult of the performing arts for two reasons. The first is that some overly-associative function of the human brain says that while drama should be taken seriously, comedy can not. The perception that comedy is more frivolous and dismissable than drama is an unfortunate illusion. The second reason is that the way we experience comedy is cumulative. It can not borrow from its own material the way drama can. What made us laugh yesterday won't work today. In order for a comedy to truly inspire new and deep laughter, it is culturally obligated to surpass its previous high-water marks.

Fearing this challenge, most comedy either avoids this by going instead for the heartstrings (i.e. "Little Miss Sunshine") or running blindly into the realm of taboos ("American Pie" a million others). Crossing into the forbidden zones is the easiest way to up the ante, but of course it's what you do when you get there that counts. Cutting-edge comedy understands this - it's not about childishly summoning a taboo, it's about making all of us confront it. Doing that intelligently requires a dose of divine madness and a confident understanding of human folly. It is an art that few can muster. (I'll hand Best in Show for this ability to the British, hands down.)

Because good comedy is so hard to make, and because it has been reduced to simply chiselling away at the paradoxical underpinnings of society, our comedy reserves are being seriously depleted at the hands of amateurs. It is hard to say what this will mean in the future. Which will get us first? Global warming or a drought of new laughs?

("Fore!" by the devilishly outdated Art Frahm)


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