Discover more from Matt Levy's Comedy Stray Notes
Comedy Stray Notes December 13, 2021
On A/B testing sketches, roast battles, "Succession" parodies, Malcolm Gladwell on comedy podcasts and this week's SNL
• I’ve heard arguments that the short form nature of TikTok reduces our rapidly shrinking attention spans. To that I would say, it’s also forced creators to get better at grabbing viewers faster. As much as I’d like all my videos to be five minutes and take their time, it doesn’t take a genius to know that something a minute or less would perform much better (this thought brought to you by an unapologetically lengthy newsletter).
Anyhow, I tried out a little A/B testing this week for the first time and made two cuts of the same sketch with different lengths. The YouTube version of “The Movers” (starring me and Anna as a couple that bonded over moving- you should totally check it out) is 1:15 and breathes a bit more than the minute-long TikTok edit. YouTube has more jokes and flows better- it’s how the short was written and meant to be. However, I do believe that a shorter video on TikTok gets more eyeballs than anything on YouTube so I chopped this thing up, cutting jokes and employing jump cuts to get it to exactly 60 seconds. Which is better? Definitely the YouTube edit. The TikTok one has significantly more views though. I don’t think this is tied to my thesis that I’m grabbing viewers faster- it’s more tied to my second thesis which is that in 2021, it’s a lot easier to get people to watch your videos on TikTok than anywhere else. So, chopping stuff up to a minute is what I’ll have to do. Either way, give both of these a peep and tell me what you think of their minor differences- you may not even notice.
• In the middle of my weeklong “Succession” binge (nine episodes deep now), I occasionally hit pause on the remote to scroll the socials. It was a banner week for lol-worthy content and I figured I’d share the wealth here.
- Roast battles often culminate in “Main Events” between two heavyweights and the Dan Wickes v. Gianmarco Soresi contest was one for the ages. The two expert joke craftsmen went back and forth with insults that toed the line of edginess without tipping over at a quick clip. As always, there’s no value in my spoiling any of the jokes but I will say that this is worth watching not only for the A+ bits by these two but also for judges JP McDade and James Pontillo’s off-the-cuff riffs about Dan and Gianmarco. A running gag poking fun at Dan’s shirt got consistently funnier throughout the showdown. Check this out even if you don’t know these two- this 27-minute video is a blast and left the audience begging for overtime round after overtime round.
- My pal Fluke Human told me he was filming a sketch last Sunday. On Monday, he showed me the finished product. That kind of turnaround would impress the SNL staff. Better yet, it turned out great. Called “The Gig Economy,” the short takes place ten years in the future when Task Rabbit-types (they work for “Stuff Do-er” here) take on the world’s simplest tasks for inept tech bros. In the middle of the sketch, the premise blossoms when the “Stuff Do-er” watches a YouTube tutorial since he doesn’t know what’s he doing. It’s a piece of bravura satire, one that hints at a future where no one knows how to do anything at all. YouTube tutorials are our final hope.
- Dave Columbo’s minute-long press conference announcing he’s “changing all of his opinions” after having his eyes opened by trolls is the ultimate rebuttal to internet scum. This was all because he received the comment on one of his videos, “Nice try, but no.” He proceeds to unravel his logic for why he’s giving up his sound logic for pure idiocy. Sometimes the best way to shut down the haters is to simply repeat their arguments.
- As noted earlier, Anna and I are deep into a “Succession” binge and with the season three finale having taken place last night, there was a wealth of short-form parodies to be found online. My two favorite were Alex Dobrenko’s “Watching ‘Succession’ is definitely affecting my parenting” and “If ‘Succession’ were real life” by Taylor Graysen.
Dobrenko’s is a cruel yet hysterical take on how TV can have a negative impact on your daily life; in this case parenting a newborn. Peppering his real-life infant with insults like “I gave you a destination, I can’t walk you there” and then panning to a happy-go-lucky baby is excellent because it plays with our expectations so well. Just when you think this poor kid is going to start crying, we see he doesn’t mind at all. The jabs get harsher and the child becomes more and more blissfully oblivious in this short video making it funnier and funnier.
Graysen’s parody is more of a straightforward take on the show positing all of the characters played by Graysen and a few others in a kitchen setting up for Thanksgiving. Their impressions capture the essence of Kendall, Shiv, Roman, Tom, Cousin Greg and Logan in just 46 seconds so succinctly that it makes the entire show seem inconsequential. Anyhow, if you’re a fan of the show, this will either be hilarious to you because these characterizations are so spot-on or it may just ruin it for you. Watch with caution.
- Jim Tews is one of the best working comics in the country and yet he still goes above and beyond to produce exquisitely animated productions of his bits rather than just slapping them online without having done anything to spruce them up like he easily could have. In his recent epic two-minute chunk “Every Day Is Picture Day,” Tews runs down how he always feels unprepared for how he’s supposed to dress ever since his class picture days in elementary school. Accompanied by vintage elementary school photos, stock footage, animated stand up, this quickie goes above and beyond what the average TikTok clip does bringing us TV quality production value and writing on a vertical screen.
• In terms of longer form content, I listened to a podcast and watched SNL this week. Here are my slightly longer form thoughts about the two.
- The pod I caught was Malcolm Gladwell’s appearance on “You Made It Weird” with Pete Holmes. This was an especially interesting listen because the two are such an odd pair. Holmes is gregarious and really goes for any laugh he can while Gladwell is soulful, introspective and almost fragile. They start rockily after it’s insinuated that this guest booking came as a favor from Mike Birbiglia. There are funny lines like, “Zoom comedy is like having sex with the mattress in the middle,” but the chemistry isn’t there until Gladwell starts messing with Holmes telling him just how much he enjoys Birbiglia’s comedy. The author of “Blink” then proceeds to gush about Birbiglia for a good ten minutes. Pete tries to come across as a good friend praising his pal back until he can’t stand it anymore. After this hilarious interlude, the two found a groove. Gladwell dished brilliant observations and anecdotes effortlessly about how he’s a “maker, not a consumer,” turned down meeting U2 backstage because concerts aren’t his thing, and best of all, hates live sports because the “officiating ruins the storytelling.” If you’re a fan of either of these two, I’d highly recommend this episode- both are operating at the top of their game here once they fall into a shared rhythm.
- SNL hosted by Billie Eilish (who was born in freaking 2001) was a bit all over the place this week. The highs were crazy high and although the lows weren’t all that low, they were there. A few truly baffling sketches made the air and I’m here to tell you my official baseball-themed rankings.
Christmas cards- My favorite of the night. Every year, I see Christmas cards and I never thought to make fun of them. Love when an unturned stone opens up a well of possibilities. By having the cards come to life from the overly religious family and well-manicured older gay couple talk down to the recipient (as well as others) made for a really well-realized game. These cards are speaking to us- I just never noticed.
TikTok- By miming the endless stream of scrolling through the app, this abstract sketch finds a game in letting short clips build into vignettes like nurses dancing with bed-ridden patients and excited “Spider Man” reviews rather than focusing on just one single idea. It’s a bold and simple experiment that paid off.
Business Garden Inn and Suites and Hotel Room Inn- I was a bit shocked when I saw this rapid-fire sketch make quick observations about generic hotels. The shock was mostly due to the fact that I made a very similar vid this summer in terms of content and style. I’ll be honest that SNL’s is superior- the sheer density of jokes on their end is unmatched (seriously this is very good) but the similarities are definitely there. You can compare the two and tell me if I’m crazy for thinking that my take is close to theirs.
Kyle’s holiday- Another entry in a long line of “Kyle is weird around other cast members” that seems about as standard as can be with his trademark uncomfortable remarks. That is, until he gushes about which of his fellow cast members he loves and then one that he hates. It’s a weird, brave turn that feels too personal and as a result, the sketch differentiates from all other entries.
Eilish monologue- The 19-year-old was more than serviceable here poking fun at her acting skills. The heighten that her mom didn’t even cast her daughter in an independently produced movie starring her and her son and then came out wearing a shirt pronouncing how proud she was of her Eilish’s sibling Finneas was a great touch. Originally had this down as a single- just bumped it up to a double.
Weekend Update- One joke got an actual spontaneous full-on LOL from me about how difficult it would be to transcribe Sylvester Stallone on his new show where he’s doing an accent. The rest of Update had to cover nearly a month’s worth of material as the show’s taken a long hiatus. I especially liked 1) NBC censoring the two once they started talking about China, 2) calling January 7 the “day after Trump’s big anniversary” and 3) sympathy toward the AnimeCon attendees who were exposed to Omicron. The correspondents were hit and miss for me though. Punkie Johnson’s stand up about going home for the holidays didn’t quite connect for me as it got into strange gender politics territory that felt more half baked than inspired. I did really dig Andrew Dismukes’ animal handler piece where an octopus with predictive powers tells him he has seven days to live instead of the score of an NFL game. Points for embracing the darkness.
Fauci return cold open- The episode began with a bang announcing the return of Kate McKinnon as Fauci. However, this sketch felt straight out of mid-2020 with vaccine card jokes, COVID protocol bits and yet another Ted Cruz trot out. There were a few fun moments (“Guns don’t kill people, people people people people” comes to mind) but the already out of touch talking points here didn’t do it any favors.
Lonely Christmas ad- Fans seemed to flock to this parody of heartwarming holiday ads where two neighbors (McKinnon and Eilish) communicate “Love Actually” style with posters from afar. Things take a turn when the elderly McKinnon reveals herself to be a racist, violent monster whose trapped her son. It was all a little too queasy for me to enjoy although the writers do make a good point- don’t invite strangers into your home.
Santa Song- Didn’t quite get this one. A trio of singers croon about “the night they met Santa.” The banter where they explain the song (“Have you ever met someone who dreamed of meeting your whole entire life and when you got the chance it didn’t go as planned?” “Yes, but sing about it anyway”) hits but once the singing begins I got lost. Maybe the packaging was incorrect here- Eilish’s voice is so good that it made it difficult to see where the comedy is- at least for me.
Hip Hop Nativity scene- Oof. Felt like an attempt to get 14-year-olds watching just for Eilish onboard. It’s just what it sounds like. Clueless white church ladies try to inject a bit of pizzazz
into a classical Nativity scene with pimp walks, twerking, stripping, it’s a mess.
Cut for Time
Angelo- Aristotle Athari’s original character came back to sing his little songs based on one-word suggestions from the audience that have nothing to do with the suggestion. It’s fine. You get the joke and then it keeps going. Definitely elevated by Athari’s strangely hypnotic singing and Mikey Day’s incredulity that “people are into this.”
Please Don’t Destroy- No idea why this was cut. The three dudes meet their future selves, a fun well-worn springboard for comedy but put their own twist on it. They made the bizarre choice to bring in three unknowns to play their elderly selves and while I would have preferred their actual dads (SNL writers Tim Herlihy and Steve Higgins are two of them) this left field idea might have worked even better. Worth a watch.
• As for me, you can catch me doing stand up for the first time since pre-Thanskgiving at Todd Montesi’s Wednesday 8:30 show at 287 Hudson Street. Yep. I even got that address ready for you. Hopefully, I prep a bit or two as well.