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Comedy Stray Notes November 28, 2021
On the comedy group I'm thankful for this year, alternate Beatles history and all the movies I saw on planes this past week
• Due to the little known holiday “Thanksgiving,” I took a “watching” and “doing” comedy break this past week. I mean, yeah, I saw some movies because it is the laziest seven-day stretch of the year but that was basically it.
So, for slow entries like this, I stockpile a few great videos from the past few months that were shared by friends and spotted on da web.
Without further ado, here are some small gems I’ve hoarded that are worth your time.
- Following the “Get Back” documentary chronicling The Beatles’ day to day production of “Let It Be” (full disclosure: I haven’t seen it yet), Fab Four Mania is back. If you feel like you’ve heard the story of Yoko and John and Paul a million times, might I suggest a palate cleanser that gets everything about the group wrong instead? Recommended by sketch connoisseur Sam Zelitch, “Beatles 3000” by Scott Gairdner is a spot-on parody about how history distorts and futzes the truth. In this nearly four-minute clip, “future historians” in the year 3000 discuss the contributions of “John Lennon, Paul McKenzie, Greg Hutchinson and Scottie Pippen” to future folks. Everything this video gets wrong is so right and made Anna Paone and I laugh so much. Re-watching this months later, it’s even better the second time around.
- I loves me a conceptual late night set. So many comics play it safe doing tried and true “A” material but every so often, someone like a Nate Fernald throws all conventional wisdom out the window and goes for broke committing to a silly joke. In this case, Fernald walks onstage on James Corden’s Late Late Show as “Trey Wakeman” and does material from March 2020 because that was what “Corden approved and wanted him to do on the show.” Starting with shlocky Trump bits before hopping to heightened observations about COVID before we knew what it was, this is an excellent balancing act of smart and dumb comedy. I caught this one thanks to Amy Smith and I’m so glad I did- nice to know that offbeat late night sets that would feel at home on Conan in the 90s are still cutting up audiences. Stay until the end when it becomes a commentary on comedy in and of itself.
- I’m late to the party on TikTok personality Lubalin. A few weeks back, I saw his name on a list of “Best Online Comedians” and after clicking through each one, his stuff left the other “Best Comics” in the dust. The first time you see a Lubalin, it’s like a new comedy language. In the one-minute video shared below, Lubalin and Charlotte Cardin turn Yahoo Answers about pregnancy into lyrics for a catchy pop song. The dumber the lyrics get and the more high quality the song becomes, the more brilliant the idea becomes. Many of his other videos center around poorly written internet dramas reimagined as Weeknd-like jams and I’ll admit after awhile the shtick may run its course. However, don’t let that dissuade you from checking this guy’s stuff out. It’s truly unique and at times on par with The Lonely Island.
- Will Ferrell talk show appearances are comedy appointment viewing. Along with Rickles, he might be the GOAT of sitting on couches and chatting with hosts. Just when you think he’s done everything, the GOAT comes in and turns the standard guest appearance upside down showing up on Kimmel when Ryan Reynolds was booked but couldn’t make it. Conversely, on Fallon that night, Reynolds showed up in Ferrell’s spot. I’m not 100% sure the hosts were aware of the bit ahead of time or playing dumb (probably the latter) but what a simple, original idea. After the initial “confusion” where the flustered hosts try to make sense of what’s going on, the guests milk the premise both not knowing a thing about the project the other is promoting. Ferrell tries his damndest to set up a clip for “Red Notice” without ever having seen it and Reynolds crushes by using loopy logic to explain how “The Shrink Next Door” is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So clutch. That sly ol’ dog Ferrell still has tricks up his sleeve.
- Reading and listening to comedy analysis is a close second favorite pastime for me after watching good ol’ jokes. Right now, there’s no better straight-faced analyst and historian for me than “Kothtok” on TikTok who dissects topics like why Hank Hill says “dang it” to Bobby instead of his customary “dammit” or “why Lisa Simpson stayed a vegetarian.” It’s comfort food for both sides of my brain- there’s classic clips of favorite animated shows from my childhood blended with straight-faced rationale for why these shows made the choices they did. Kothtok’s Tok is essentially like a great podcast with tons of facts packed into less than a minute. There’s a lot more to 90s TV than met the eye.
Sat on a plane for a good 12 hours this week. Thanks to Delta’s healthy movie selection, here’s what I peeped:
“A Christmas Story” (1983): This movie walked so “Home Alone” could run. Often considered one of the all-time Christmas comedy classics, this was always a major gap in my movie-watching resume. Just never carved out 90 minutes for the story of Ralphie and his beloved Red Ryder BB gun. So, on Delta flight number three of four, I made the time. I liked it.
The movie is mostly a joyful trip down memory lane to childhood. Ralphie (played by Peter Billingsley who went on to direct “Couples Retreat,” yeah, really) is a determined nine-year-old after the gift of his dreams which happens to be a BB gun. Makes sense since it takes place in Indiana after all. A brief scene where young Ralphie is proud of his basic essay where he wrote, “I think everybody should have a red ryder BB gun. They’re very good for Christmas I don’t think a football is a very good present” is pure comic gold. Anyhow, the movie wisely addresses how ridiculous it is for a kid to get a gun that young and plays with audience expectations all the way up until the very end.
However, now that I’m a bit older I found myself identifying with Ralphie’s parents more than the lead himself. They were an oddly mismatched couple- a stodgy, fuddy duddy dad who feels an immense sense of pride winning a “fra-jee-lay” leg lamp and a free-spirited mom (Melinda Dillon, so good) who encourages her youngest child to eat by having him impersonate a pig. No idea how these two ended up together but they make for a bizarre pair that you can’t take your eyes off for the entire movie.
Although some jokes are painfully dated (see the restaurant scene that closes the movie), this movie mostly holds up evoking a sense of 20th century childhood nostalgia that anyone who has ever wanted a gift more than anything in the world can relate to.
“Nine Days” (2021): Edson Oda’s bizarro take on how a soul enters a new body somehow left me enchanted and bored. Essentially, a former living human being (Winston Duke, playing a waaay too serious human condition spectator) chooses the soul of a prospective person to inhabit a new human being’s body through a grueling nine-day series of interviews and challenges like the hypothetical “If your child tried to run away in a concentration camp and you were faced with either having them executed or everyone, what would you do?” Heavy stuff.
I was a) enchanted because each of the prospective candidates (most notably, a status-quo challenging Zazie Beetz, combative Bill Skaarsgard and an aww shucks, no point in taking anything seriously Tony Hale) represent the type of person that Duke’s character Will could bring into the world. It’s a big responsibility. What does the world need? A leader, a bully, a friendly face, a sensitive artist, a romantic? Basically, imagine “Soul” but with an arthouse indie streak featuring scenes of pure beauty where Will gives rejected candidates an opportunity to experience their idea of a perfect moment on Earth. Yes! This I could get onboard with.
However, like I said, I was b) bored a lot too. As creative as this film is, in its weighty non-reality, it was hard to buy into the ground rules set here. Plus, too many grandiloquent, poetic speeches went five beats too long dropping exuberant fun for pretension.
I wanted to love this movie but ended up merely liking it. It’s so close to being incredible but instead lives in a middle-ground purgatory like its characters.
“Space Jam II” (2021): On the last leg of my travel back home, I overheard a kid say, “I saw the new ‘Space Jam II’ and loved it.” That checks out. This is a movie for kids that has bursts of pure fun but leans a bit too heavy on the cheesiness even for hardcore apologists of the original ‘96 classic original with MJ and Bugs.
First of all, let’s be honest. LeBron can’t act. Sorry. I just didn’t buy a word he said. Now that that’s out of the way, we can talk about the movie.
Set in a reality where LeBron’s fictional two children live in a gaudy mansion, one aspires to hoop like his old man while the younger sibling dreams of creating video games. King James can’t handle this nonsense and insists he go to basketball camp even though he has a video game playing past himself. After a meeting where the former Heat and Cavs star turns down a partnership with Warner Bros. with a wasted Sarah Silverman and Steven Yeun, James and his son end up in a virtual reality multiverse where the younger James has to play his dad in a game masterminded by (sigh) Al G. Rithm (Don Cheadle?). The toons are there as are all characters from the Warner Bros. canon. Somehow, though, rebooting the “let’s round up the whole gang for a wacky basketball game” just felt like a weightless cash grab this time around.
I did find some good with the bad- the film is a visual stunner and a running gag where characters say “ball” and a ball appears really works. There’s even some pointed commentary poking fun at the ridiculousness of LeBron’s weird, storied NBA career. That’s about all that really clicked for me if I’m being honest.
I’m glad the kid on the flight liked the movie though. That’s who it was really made for.
“King Richard” (2021): Tennis is a great sport. However, it doesn’t translate to cinema quite the way baseball, basketball (maybe not “Space Jam II”) and football do. Something about watching a great rally doesn’t feel as urgent as a bottom of the ninth homer or last-second half courter/Hail Mary. No matter here though- the tennis scenes are secondary to this true story of the stubborn Richard Williams (Will Smith doing an accurate but slightly distracting voice here), father of Venus and Serena (as well as three other girls who never became household names). He spends his days begging professional coaches to take a chance on teaching his daughters for free but they all pass. Little do they know, they’re missing out on coaching the greatest prodigies the game has ever seen.
Since 99.99% of people who see this movie will be familiar with the Williams’ sisters success, a lot of the dramatic tension is sapped from the film. Venus and Serena will be fine even if their dad makes unorthodox decisions like refusing to let his daughters compete in their early teens so they can have a childhood and dumping Pete Sampras’ coach over petty disagreements. So, we as an audience, just have to go with what we don’t know about the story to give it narrative juice.
The director Reinaldo Marcus Green ends up getting a lot of mileage from parental disputes between Smith’s Williams character and the mother (Aunjanue Ellis, a standout) who volley insults harder at each other than young Venus and Serena’s strokes. Scenes with Jon Bernthal’s befuddled coach trying to parse together Richard Williams’ logic are fun. The kids playing the young Williams sisters are real finds too simultaneously injecting warmth into their characters while also believably playing tennis at a very high level. The whole thing is a lot like tennis- great in spurts but doesn’t quite translate to cinema. A documentary might serve this engaging material better.
• Due to it being Thanksgiving week and all, I wanted to throw out how thankful I am for my Sunday Zoom writer’s group with regulars Steph Mark, Tom Scudamore, Jake Kaye and Jess Dungan along with a rotating cast of characters that show up. For anyone reading looking to join a no strings attached writer’s group, I’ve never been part of one that has been as long-running and fun. It’s a low stakes, no-pressure environment where we read stuff that’s five pages or less every week at 1 p.m. EST. If you want to ever join in for a week to share a sketch, short story, jokes you wrote, anything at all (as long as it’s roughly five minutes or less), drop me a line and we’ll send you that Zoom link. You can come by and just act if you want too. There’s really no rules here. That’s why I’m so thankful for it and all.
• Sad to say I donated a lot of my old books and DVDs that were living rent-free in my parent’s garage for the past decade this week. If you’re a comedy nerd in the greater Phoenix area, there’s a ton more “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Seinfeld” and “SNL” DVDs at the Goodwill on 7th Avenue and Indian School than there were before. Someone who loves special features is in luck.
Also, gave away quite a few “How to filmmaking” books. I probably should have read more of those.
Gotta go now. Gonna go celebrate the little known holiday “Hanukkah”