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Why can't something funny be good?

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This post is a follow-up to this one, about why there's no comedy training for actors.

This whole business is a symptom of a broader culture in which things that are funny can't possibly be good, and vice-versa. Think of this year's Oscars. "The Squid and the Whale," Noah Baumbach's wonderful serio-comic film, received the only comedy nomination in any of the major categories. The only one! Out of like 30! If you want to find any other comedy at all, you have to look at the animation category. I guess if it's funny, it isn't art.

Of course, this is self-reinforcing. If a funny prestige film gets no prestige, then why try to make funny prestige films? And if you're not making a prestige film, why not just aim for the bottom of the barrel?

Even the best comedies of the last few years, films like "School of Rock," "Rushmore," and "High Fidelity," are ignored. "Sideways" slipped through, but it was about hoity-toity stuff, which pretty much gives it a pass. I remember watching the good-but-not-great "In Good Company," and being shocked. Not because it was a shocking film, but simply because I realized I was watching a comedy that was trying to be a good film.

When no one's trying to make something good, the cream of the comedy crop ends up being semi-improvised mish-mashes like "The Wedding Crashers." There's a place for movies like that, don't get me wrong, but the pile-of-jokes thing gets old after a while. I mean, I liked "Old School," too, but I feel like I've been watching it over and over for five years.

"The 40-Year-Old Virgin" was a problematic film, but at least they gave it a shot. The main character had some dignity, the romance was somewhat credible. It was a bit bloated and a bit formulaic, but at least it didn't abandon all hope of being a story, with characters we care about.

At this year's SF Sketchfest, David Cross & Bob Odenkirk of Mr. Show pointed to the sketch-iness trend in recent comedies. Why bother with story, the asked, when people just want to see a bunch of jokes? Why not just make a sketch movie?

Ways to make America a better place...

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A) Eliminate Poverty
B) Understanding between the races
C) Give Chris Elliott a family sitcom.

Would You Rather Answer: Dino Vs. Brunch

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Last week, we posed a Would You Rather from the Master Of Would You Rather, Jim Real. Jim asked: Would You Rather be a crime-fighting dinosaur, or have free brunch for life?

Debate in the comments thread was hot and heavy, with many important points being made. Andrey set the tone with a thoughtful essay which began “This set of choices is deceptive, at first. One one hand, you have a choice that incorporates both dinosaurs (awesome) and crime-fighting (if not awesome, then certainly b'dass.)”

Jeff T asked an important question: does this dino have a dino brain, or the brain of a man? The answer was the brain of a man. His crimefighting is as effective as Batman.

An anonymous poster and David Lifton agreed that while free brunch was tempting, let’s face it, a dino can get whatever it wants.

It was a compelling debate. Now, it’s time for the answer.

FREE BRUNCH

Why? Jim explains it thusly:

…the most critical downside of dino crime fighter is this: you're a dino living in a man's world. Although bringing the heavily padded/clawed foot of justice to wrong doers will make you generally well loved and respected, as the only dino you may also (probably inevitably) become lonely and feel alienated, leading to depression and detachment, and not to mention you'd be generally illsuited at every other aspect of daily life (besides crime fighting).

There would you find friendship and love? The life of a crime-fighter is lonely, and the closest friends you could hope to have are the irrascible commissioner of police and the government scientists. All you have is the dino-cave and your work, and when it comes down to it, that’s just not enough.

Or as Matt put it eloquently: "Which comes with melon? Once you answer that, there's really no question at all."

Tony Robbins puts Al Gore in his place...

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...and Al Gore loves every minute of it.

Is Tony Robbins New Sincerity? Something worth considering.

Elaine V. Christine

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Julia Louis-Dreyfuss is starring in a new CBS series called "The New Adventures of Old Christine."

I'll save you the usual rigamaroll about sitcom actors breaking out of typecasting and all that jibber-jabber. It's true that if millions and millions of people come to know you as one character, it's tough to do something else. This piece in the Times, though, gives me some hope for the new series.

Like everyone else, I loved Seinfeld. Everyone's got a favorite character, and I was usually on the fence. Some days, George, some Kramer, many days Jerry (really!). In all honesty, I never really considered Elaine. My girlfriend of many years, though, told me one day about Elaine being her favorite, and the last few re-runs I've caught, I've taken the opportunity to appreciate the character and Louis-Drefuss' great work.

Women on sitcoms tend to fall into a few broad categories... accessory, ditz, bitch. Elaine was something else entirely. For one thing, among the central characters of Seinfeld, she was the driving force. You put those four in a room together, and while Jerry's the protagonist, Elaine's running things. And it's not through bitchiness, either. The only analogue I can think of to her power in that group is Rosanne, though she obviously struggled with Dan.

The piece describes her certain something as "plucky," but I would call it "gutsy" or perhaps, in less civil company, "ballsy." She's fearless in the same way that Lucille Ball is, but she isn't a clown or a fool. She's very physical, but in kind of an odd way (think of that terrible dance). She's very smart, but she often makes odd decisions that sink her.

The new series is from one of the creators of "Will & Grace," which was at it's peak a witty and well-crafted show. She says that she's trying to bring out Louis-Drefuss' softer side, and we'll see how it comes out. Hopefully she won't lose her, uhm, balls.

Scientology is growing in San Francisco...

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Working downtown in San Francisco, I've noticed a proliferation of Scientologists, with their Free Stress Test tables and creepy smiles. Downtown, they seem strangely appropriate, ministering to German tourists, who can't learn about Scientology because in their home country it's an illegal cult.

Turns out, Cruise & Co. are in the process of trying to acquire a landmark building in San Francisco's North Beach. Aaron Peskin, one of the SF Board of Supervisors' more extreme lefties (the Board ranges from about Clinton left to about Marx)

Man, Stephen Colbert is very funny.

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Thanks, Martin.

What's wrong with public broadcasting in this country?

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Wooooah. Hold on. What the heck... the CBC has a MAIL ROBOT?? A mail robot capable of DESTROYING THINGS?

Waaaay no fairsies. I don't even have one of those vacuum robots.

Via ILoveRadio.org

Live in NY? See Tina Fey's new pilot...

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Tina Fey has a new pilot, a behind-the-scenes at SNL sitcom starring Alec Baldwin. It also features Fey and Tracy Morgan, among others. If you live in NYC, you can go see the taping...
Greetings from NBC Studios!

Next Friday, March 17th, Tina Fey will be shooting her television pilot in Studio 8H at Rockefeller Center. Tina Fey stars in a workplace comedy behind the scenes of a television show. The pilot also stars Alec Baldwin and more details are to follow.
We would LOVE to have you as a part of our audience! Shooting will take place from about 1:00pm until 5:00pm . Arrival time of audience will be no later than 11:45am. If interested in attending, please email: Kathleen.Tula@nbcuni.com with "TINA FEY PILOT" in the subject line. Please include all names, numbers, and email addresses of those that would like to come.

**ALL CALL TIMES ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE**

SHOW DESCRIPTION:
When Liz Lemon was hired to write for her best friend's show on NBC, she was living every lady comedy writer's dream. But her life gets a jolt when a brash new network president bullies Liz into hiring a wild and unpredictable African-American movie star to join the cast. If she doesn't, her little show is history. Now Liz must manage the unmanageable and appease the unappeasable so that her dream can go on.

Interestingly, NBC is planning two sketch comedy behind-the-scenes shows for the fall. The other was created by Sportsnight/West Wing/A Few Good Men scribe Aaron Sorkin, and is an hour long drama. A little birdy let us check out the scripts of the two shows, and we're coming down on Aaron Sorkin's side (not that Sportsnight didn't predispose us to that outcome already). That said, both shows have a lot of potential, and with performers as winning as Morgan and Baldwin on board for Fey's, we hope both succeed, creatively and audience-wise.

Via The Apiary

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