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Author Topic: Something Smells Funny in Here  (Read 5249 times)

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Offline kckolbeTopic starter

Something Smells Funny in Here
« on: June 18, 2015, 11:35:46 PM »
I love comedy, always have.  I love laughing and making others do the same.  Stand up, movies, musical, even sketch shows...if there is something that makes me so much as chuckle, I want to share it with everyone.  I even did stand up comedy for a couple of years.  This blog is intended for sharing some of the things that have brought me great joy and for talking about what makes them good. 

I welcome any discussion on comedy, but all I ask is that no one else post any jokes and/or videos in this thread.  I will try to keep from sounding too elitist or getting too technical when describing why I think something resonates.  I will start with a musical comedian from Australia (which has some amazing musical comedy) named Tim Minchin.  While not my favorite song of his, it does seem to have fairly broad appeal, especially for those who've had to care for newborns.

In my next post, I'll talk more about Tim Minchin, musical comedy, and this video.  For now, enjoy.

EDIT:  If any of you have a video you want analysed for the reason it is or isn't funny, please PM me.
« Last Edit: October 17, 2015, 05:49:14 PM by kckolbe »

Online Oniya

Re: Something Smells Funny in Here
« Reply #1 on: June 18, 2015, 11:55:13 PM »
Out of curiosity, what would you say you gained/learned from your experience as a stand-up comic?

Offline kckolbeTopic starter

Re: Something Smells Funny in Here
« Reply #2 on: June 19, 2015, 12:06:58 AM »
The biggest surprise was that a small town with a culture clash produces a greater number of talented comics than a large city with a healthy social environment.  I've frequented clubs in Houston (where I grew up), Omaha, Tucson, Hampton (Virginia), and now Denver, and Omaha destroys them all when it comes to locally-produced talent.  Not even close. 

Showing originality might (eventually) get you out of doing amateur nights and into hosting, but club managers don't want risk-takers as their hosts.  They want someone safe and likable, with consistent material that won't rustle any jimmies.  This was the lesson that made me eventually stop performing. 

Most amateur comedians have no appreciation for the craft, or for comedy in general.  They love the attention and just want to succeed.  They are assholes.

Most clubs, despite claiming a no heckle policy, don't throw hecklers out unless they really push it.  Comedians are everywhere; customers are valuable.

Amateur comics are expected to work for free (no surprise) with some clubs even *charging* amateurs to go on stage.  At my peak I was making 10 dollars a night plus 2 free drinks and an appetizer.  That was for hosting, and I wasn't allowed to use a large portion of my material, and had to mention drink specials during my set.  (I was active duty the whole time, so touring was never an option for me)

I suck at coming up with new material.
« Last Edit: June 19, 2015, 12:08:15 AM by kckolbe »

Offline kckolbeTopic starter

Re: Something Smells Funny in Here
« Reply #3 on: July 04, 2015, 11:38:36 PM »
Lullaby, by Tim Minchin (video in first post):

Really, there is nothing too surprising about the structure.  The first minute sets up what appears to a sincere, comforting song.  From there the tone shifts to one of exasperation, then desperation.  This is slightly different from the traditional "reveal" of comedy songs, in which a transition is made that fundamentally alters the tone and even meaning of the song.  In this, the initial sentiment is never abandoned (and is even returned to at the end).  Even during the most angry, desperate moments, the singer still admits love for his child.

That admission, while completely understandable, is almost against the rules for shock comedy (which most musical comedy, this included, relies on).  He's admitting that, deep down, he doesn't mean what he's saying, which softens the shock.  Normally, softening the blow means weakening the comedy, and this would be true here as well, except that the loss of shock is replaced by connection with the audience, counting on the majority of the audience to have personally had horrible thoughts regarding their own children in moments of stress.  Speaking of which, that stress is beautifully conveyed by the musical accompaniment, which both quickens and increases in volume throughout the song.

Finally, the panic subsides, and the child falls asleep.  The accompaniment returns to the original tempo and tone, the high-pitched notes, possibly representing the shrill cries of the child, now gone.  All of the shock humor from the previous two and a half minutes of malicious intent is completely nullified.  None of it was even remotely acted on, after all, and we are now once again seeing the singer in the initial light as a doting parent.  The audience, much like a parent in this situation, finally relaxes, content in the knowledge that all is well.  And then, at three minutes and forty-five seconds, the actual shock is revealed.


Let me know what you think, especially if you'd like to see more of this.
« Last Edit: October 17, 2015, 05:41:53 PM by kckolbe »

Offline kckolbeTopic starter

Re: Something Smells Funny in Here
« Reply #4 on: July 17, 2015, 08:14:32 PM »

This is possibly the most common technique used in sketch comedy.  Something odd happens, and then, for reasons unknown, it escalates throughout the sketch, usually past the point of ridiculousness.  Monty Python's Flying Circus was really bad about this.  Take one of their best-known sketches, Spam.  For three minutes they run the same joke, the humor really coming from the exasperation of the audience, a disbelief that they are really going to keep going with it.  Unfortunately, after watching a few of their sketches, you realize that is exactly what they'll do.  It's predictable, which is probably the worst thing comedy can be.

Let's look at escalation done right.  This sketch, by Mitchell and Webb, is really cleverly done.  Despite knowing the technique being employed, there's still genuine surprise.  In addition, this sketch is actually longer than the previous one, showing that escalation can still keep a viewer's attention.

As always, I'll post later singing this video's praises.  For now, simply enjoy, and feel free to comment on it.

Offline AndyZ

Re: Something Smells Funny in Here
« Reply #5 on: July 18, 2015, 12:51:52 AM »
I kinda wonder if maybe being told what's coming spoils it a little bit.  Even if we don't know exactly what to expect, we get a general idea.

Offline kckolbeTopic starter

Re: Something Smells Funny in Here
« Reply #6 on: July 18, 2015, 02:18:09 PM »
It's a valid point, and I wouldn't have done it except a desire to compare executions.  Like I said, this technique is VERY common to sketch comedy.  Key and Peele, a VERY talented duo, do this in the majority of their sketches, and like the Monty Python sketch above, the premise is blatantly obvious and THEN escalates.  What I love about this sketch is how you don't see it coming.  You were warned of it, and it would be interesting to have seen how quickly you caught it had you not.

From Skype:
Figured out where it was going at 1:40
(got Andy's permission for this)

I would say that 1:45-1:55 would be where the viewer really catches on without having a clue in advance.  That's over halfway through the video, and by that point Mitchell is building into a signature rant.  Of course, once you know, there are clues prior to that.  From 1:18-1:34 there are several clues in Webb's expressions that hint that he was agreeing more out of politeness than an accurate appraisal.  That's really subtle.  However, there is a risk here.  Best case scenario, you are going almost a minute and a half with no comedy.  That's a long time for a sketch to have no payoff.

So why does this work so well?

The obvious answer is faith.  I love these guys, and am willing to wait for the joke because I'd already seen so many cleverly done sketches from them that I was willing to give them benefit of the doubt.  However, I've shown this clip to many unfamiliar with Mitchell and Webb, and it consistently goes over well, showing that such faith isn't needed.  So let's look at what else keeps the audience watching.  Warning, this review is MUCH longer than the video.

First off, look at the image at 0:00, the opening shot.  You see a man clearly troubled, reason unknown.  Footsteps, echoing throughout the chamber, approach, and the man turns, sees who it is, and pulls back, clearly uncomfortable.  He mainly keeps his gaze away from the man, only looking at him twice (at 00:16 and 00:18), both times peripherally and with a hint of fear.  Without so much as a greeting or request to join, he sits down right next to him. 

At this point, we have no clue what is going on, but we are supposed to feel sympathetic for the first man (Webb) and some sense of foreboding for the second man (Mitchell).  His presence isn't wanted, and given the emotional distress exhibited by Webb, one might even think that Mitchell is in some way to blame.  There's a story, a rich one, being hinted at, a serious emotional conflict, and the viewer wants to know what it is.

The tone suddenly changes as Mitchell offers a soft, friendly greeting and Webb asks if *he* is imposing, with Mitchell insisting he is not.  Suddenly, the story becomes one of a troubled young man and a wise, caring samaritan.  A full 20 seconds is spent just establishing Mitchell as kind, empathetic, and genuinely interested in helping before whatever is troubling Webb is revealed.  You see the concern on his face, and it is very convincing.  Much like Webb, the viewer is charmed by this character, made more comfortable in his presence.  If you are actively looking for comedy at this point, you are probably expecting it to come from Webb, seeing the kind, patient vicar's kindness tested by some ridiculous confession.  Personally, though, I'm still looking for the story, wanting to know why Webb is so troubled.

We soon find out.  Webb, it seems, has feelings for a girl-Mitchell stops him from giving her name, once again demonstrating his wisdom.  He then speaks Webb's name, showing that this is someone he knows.  The video, at this point, has given us 40 seconds now portraying this character as I'v described, really reinforcing it.  None of it, however, seems forced.  This character is believable.  In addition, Webb is confessing a problem that all of us can sympathize with, and we want to hear what the wise, kind man has to say about it.  We want to hear it so badly that we miss the first hint that Mitchell *might* not be as insightful as we think. 

At 1:06, Mitchell makes his first assumption, with Webb confirming it.  Was he right, though?  Look at Webb's eyes at 1:09.  Is he looking away because he's ashamed, or because Mitchell was wrong but he, like us, so wanted the guidance that he was willing to overlook it?  Watch his eyes, inflection, and general body language from there until 1:18.  Is this a man relieved to have a great weight off of his chest or someone just reluctantly agreeing because he wants to keep the conversation going?  Notice how he immediately follows with the word "but," another clue that Mitchell might be a bit off the mark.  Mitchell cuts in, though, with another assumption, a rather aggressive one, and at 1:26 we again see Webb look away briefly.  At 1:33, we get our last clue, as Webb vocalizes his difficulty confirming Mitchell's latest assumption (the third one thus far).  Did he do it because he is uncomfortable admitting how much it bothers him?  Given that he was sitting alone when the clip began, it is easy to perceive him as the strong, silent type.  Of course, by this point, many are starting to come around to the possibility that Mitchell is wrong.

1:45-1:55 is the confirmation.  If you suspected the game prior to that, then your suspicions are confirmed.  If you hadn't, then you likely view this scene as something of a turning point.  This is actually the boat I was in.  Despite all the clues I referenced earlier, I rationalized them all away.  From here, there isn't as much to talk about (much to your relief, I'm sure).  Mitchell's claims become bolder, and Webb becomes more detached.  At 2:17 Webb corrects him with mild assertiveness, for the first time conveying that he isn't interested in hearing more, but the camera rapidly pans to Mitchell, and he is lit more brightly, illustrating that it is truly about him now, and Webb is just his unfortunate audience.  Like Webb, we have a morbid curiosity for hearing the rest, and Mitchell doesn't disappoint.  It is dark and disturbing and beautifully paced. 

Finally, at the end, there is one last gift, with Mitchell offering some parting advice, his tone and eyes having reverted back to those we were introduced to just three minutes ago.

Sorry to be so wordy, but I wanted to show how much is being done in this video.  This is how a visual medium is supposed to be used, conveying emotions and even information without having to come out and say it. 

Offline AndyZ

Re: Something Smells Funny in Here
« Reply #7 on: July 18, 2015, 02:21:57 PM »
*nodnod*  I see what you mean, and there's a lot of good tips and tricks in here ^_^ Most don't think of things like changing the lighting.

Offline kckolbeTopic starter

Re: Something Smells Funny in Here
« Reply #8 on: October 17, 2015, 05:38:23 PM »

Below is a lovely video by Rob Paravonian (you may know him from his "Pachebel Rant").  It's silly, clever, and mixes tones pretty well.  There's only one major flaw with the execution.  Feel free to post here if you think you caught it.

As usual, a way-too-detailed breakdown will follow later.  For now, enjoy a lovable band nerd.

Offline kckolbeTopic starter

Re: Something Smells Funny in Here
« Reply #9 on: October 28, 2015, 11:41:20 PM »

Okay, no one guessed.  I'm so glad views are tracked, otherwise I wouldn't know if anyone read these.  At any rate, here we go with PART ONE.  Yeah, that's right.  I go a bit long on these break downs, so I'll kick this off, talk about it a bit, and post more later.  That way it isn't as overwhelming.  If you prefer the analysis all done together, let me know.   

It's about a band nerd protagonist; it's a rap song.  That juxtaposition alone warrants a listen. 

Despite "teasing" by mentioning a major execution flaw, I'm not going to bash this song.  It's a LOT of fun.  Comedy or not, I love any song that tells a compelling story.  It's not easy to do, after all.  Not only does this song tell a story, it's a damn funny one, and I bet we've all scene comedy movies with less developed stories and humor.  If I worked at a studio, and this song got submitted as a screenplay, I'd approve it.  Hell, I'd probably call up Michael Cera to play the lead.  I wonder if he has enough range to play an awkward nerd who gets in over his head in a zany plot.  What's that?  It's every role he's ever fucking played?  LUCKY US!

Sorry.  Back to the song.

All right, so let's talk about the story.  After some patter to the audience and a little fooling around, the song starts at 33 seconds.  You have a band department that faces a constant threat of being closed due to lack of funds.  Our main character, Rob, needs this department to stay open.  It's his only sanctuary.  By 43 seconds, just 10 seconds of verse, we've established a main character, a conflict, and a reason to care about it.  In another nine seconds, we get a summary of the multiple failed attempts to save the department (gummy bears, a car wash), as well as the first big joke of the song.  That's the entire first act of the movie in NINETEEN SECONDS.  By the way, when he mentions the lack of cheerleader booty dooming the car wash, does anyone else think of this? 

Stay tuned for part two!

Offline kckolbeTopic starter

Re: Something Smells Funny in Here
« Reply #10 on: November 04, 2015, 10:35:01 PM »
Intermission!  While you wait for Part 2, here's another Rob Paravonian song that I've been enjoying a lot lately.  Nothing really special to break down, just some solid facial expressions, a simple melody, and a lovely falsetto. 

Offline kckolbeTopic starter

Re: Something Smells Funny in Here
« Reply #11 on: November 25, 2015, 06:13:55 PM »
PART TWO!  Time to finish this.

The first verse ends at 1:10, bringing us into the first chorus.  The second verse is actually pretty useless in terms of story arc.  There are brags about his ability as a salesman, but mainly it comes off as dreams of grandeur, but it isn't until the 3rd verse that he talks results, starting with his first year success.  Minor flaw here after such an efficient intro, but pretty forgivable, and the story works pretty well after that, presenting the protagonist with hurdles to overcome, a fall from grace, and resolution.  Again, it's a pretty well-told story.

At 2:14, we get the failed joke.  Misdirection based on expected rhymes is a common source of humor in musical comedy.  Set up an easily recognizable rhyme structure, use a word rhyming with a common inappropriate word, but when the time comes to bring out the word, use something innocuous that doesn't at all rhyme, using either an awkward pause or avuncular grin to let the audience know their expectations were completely valid.  This technique is explained pretty well by Bo Burnham in his intro song "What's Funny?"

Now, at 2:14, Rob brags about making "six figures," a difficult enough rhyme.  In the next line, he says he bought new uniforms for all his bandmates, the text displaying the word faintly.  The audience is silent, though faint laughs can be heard a few seconds later.  The joke itself is a pretty reliable one.  If you imagine "figures" pronounced "figgers" it becomes clearer what the setup word was, one that a white band geek would definitely want to avoid.  So why didn't it work?

1) He didn't stress the different pronunciation, depriving the audience of the clue as to what to expect.

2) There was no pause, special inflection, or facial cue that something odd was happening. 

Number 2, in my mind, is the big one.  With a quick clear of the throat, maybe a sheepish look, the joke would have hit home.  Like I said, the premise of the joke was simple and proven.  White guilt is pretty reliable for awkward humor.  Given that the video was a band nerd rapping, I think the audience was in the right mood to appreciate it.  And again, there aren't any boos.  The audience doesn't reject the joke so much as just seem oblivious to it.