Monday, November 19, 2007

"More Comedy Jokes!"

Before I get back to this England thing, let me ask:

What happened to Steve Martin?

How do you go from being the world's funniest guy, to being one of the world's most embarrassingly unfunny B-movie actors? I'm sure the money's fantastic, but...why can't he just be funny, like, once a decade, just for old times sake? Robin Williams does that; he makes millions doing crap B-movies, but then, like every ten years, he does some high-profile stand-up and everyone laughs again - and forgives him for all the maudlin celluloid garbage he's done for the previous ten years (e.g., "Toys").

I know, I know - people move on, people mature. In fairness, it would probably be even more embarrassing for Steve Martin to come out, at the age of sixty, playing a banjo with an arrow through his head singing "put a live chicken in your underwear", than doing another one of his lousy movies, but that's the thing: he wouldn't have to do the insane stuff. He could just do....funny stuff. We could call it mature madcap: still rude and surreal, but not self-abasing. A lot of comedians have done it...but alas, Steve seems to feel more strongly about his novellas these days. Pity.

Pity, because no one could really touch Steve Martin in his 70's comedy heyday. Each television appearance seemed legendary (that there was no video recording at the time helped that sense, of course), the gags in "The Jerk" immediately saturated popular consciousness ("he hates these cans!" "You mean I'm gonna stay this color?!", "MA-RIE!!!", etc.), and the routines on his records were memorized, word-for-word, by millions of pubescent males ("got home from tour the other day...found out my cat had been embezzling from me..."...even to this day, I can recall entire passages from those records).

So, we had like six totally hilarious years from Steve - and then 25 plus years, and counting, of general mediocrity, some of which Steve helped write himself. And it makes you wonder how people can go from hilarious to...just okay, in so short a time...

One killer I think is when comedians stop doing what they did, and start trying to imbue their "work" with "importance", with "larger significance" - once what they do becomes didactic in some way. I think this is why the post-9/11 Phil Hendrie, for example (see was never quite as funny as the pre-. It's like once comedians become self-conscious, once they begin worrying about the weight of their legacy, and being taken seriously, things go awry.

And what's really crazy is that if they'd only just stuck to what they did best - going for the comedy jugular regardless of any concern for "social significance" or "the underlying message" - they'd actually wind up with far more weight to their legacies. They would actually BE heroes. After all, the "underlying message" of any comedy is always the same: life is absurd, the end. And people who can describe that absurdity, show us even that it is far more absurd than we normally notice, skewer our pretensions and get us thinking in whole new ways, deserve all the praise we can give them - it ain't easy. It's a special gift, being able to make people laugh, and laugh loud and long. And there is something profound in itself about taking a step back and laughing with others about the strange farce that is life; in a weird sort of way, it helps make life seem all that more worthy and special and wonderful.

So, if there are any would-be comedians out there, do the human race a favour and your thing. Make us all laugh together and stop trying to "teach" us or whatever.

And if, by some chance, Steve Martin ever reads this - could you just be funny, just once, again - for old times's sake, like in the good old days, before we all die? Maybe in return, we could promise to read one of your recent short stories...

That's fair, isn't it?


Guinevere said...

Wow... um... strangely I was just looking into getting tickets for this show before I came to your blog. It's getting really good reviews.

Amy said...

The problem with entertainers in this day and age is that most are determined to impact rather than entertain.
Take Rosie O'D for example. She was funny, entertaining, a JOY in her hey-day. Then she got all politcal and angry. She lost the spark. Her fan base crashed to the ocean and were fed to the waiting sharks below.
She complains about 'us' now. Our beliefs, our views, because they don't agree with her new agenda. WE HIRED you...bought the cack and junk you hocked on your show. You were there to entertain us. We didn't watch you to enlighten and politicize us. We have others that fill that gap.
But I digress...Steve Martin likens himself to an enlightened writer, poet, philosopher. However, even the whole concept of his play "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" sounds like some stand up joke: "So, Einstein and Picasso were sitting in a pub one day and in walks Elvis..." [insert proverbial *sigh* here]

Tal said...

Addendum added Dec. 9:

I was in the bookshop the other day and saw a new book by Steve Martin - an autobio. On the flyleaf it said that Martin explained inside why he stopped stand-up, but I didn't buy it. If anyone reads it and can report what happened, post here and let us know!