November 16, 2006

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Vaginas Make Me Laugh There's an inherent prejudice against women that often labels them as inferior to men in their ability to make us laugh. It's a sentiment that will likely never go away. That being said, it's also common knowledge that the comedic female lead is seldom one that sees the light of day in most mainstream fare (and when it does, it's usually not very funny unless you think Whoopi Goldberg dressed up as a Caucasian man is HI-larious). Perhaps it's a result of empathy on my part, but I especially enjoy witnessing a woman who can make me laugh without remembering the unfortunate "handicap" that shadows so many female comedians and actresses. There's a reason that so many female stand-up comedians generally aren't funny. Despite the fact that I've been raised in a unusually fresh time of comedic awareness - one that relies heavily on meta-irony and complex satire - women who have gladly accepted the term "comedienne" or [the possibly even less flattering] "funny lady" often deliver material that comes off stale, contrived, and regurgitated. In other words, Caroline Rhea is as boorish as Richard Jeni, Rita Rudner is as tragic as Joe Rogan, Lisa Lampanelli is as predictable as Dane Cook, and so forth. However, when Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman, Jackie Clarke, Amy Poehler, or the girls from Variety Shac perform, it's not only enjoyable because they're naturally funny. Rather, these women are, in a sense, acting subversively and - in the smartest of instances - taking advantage of the fact that they are, by default, facing a greater challenge than their male colleagues. Therein lies the extra ounce of enjoyment. When they regard the fact that they do, indeed, have vaginas and incorporate a level of self-satire, nothing could be funnier. The joke then merges physical humor with societal commentary. Veering away from the gray, scientific breakdown of why ladies are funny, I should also note that some women, whether or not they're thinking about it, are naturally hilarious. The underused, underrated Jan Hooks, a former SNL cast member during its cultural resurgence in the late eighties (and then wasted on Designing Women and Third Rock From The Sun), is a woman so natural, so flexible and comedically gifted, that she often outshined her male counterparts. Below is a clip from the short-lived where, as Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford, respectively, Carvey and Hooks spark an undeniable chemistry not seen since...Regis and Kathie Lee. Carvey, naturally, tries to steal as much face time as possible (he's moderately funny, but am I the only person who finds constant manic behavior somewhat of a ploy?), but Hooks really steals the scene. Between her whispered pronunciation of Peabo Bryson's name and the exaggerated vibrato she utilizes while singing to a monkey, she is flawless. But nothing - NOTHING - makes me happier than watching a fake Kathie Lee Gifford grow unabashedly abrasive toward her producer, so much that she chokes up with WASPy-voiced fury while yelling at him like a misbehaved dog ("Gelman, DON'T YOU START!"). And, yes, the guy playing Gelman is exactly who you think it is.
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'Rock' Out I bumped into Jack McBrayer and Rachel Dratch in the Village on Friday night and was pleased to be remembered fondly by both, despite the fact that I was a mere intern when we'd met, respectively, at Late Night and Saturday Night Live. McBrayer and Dratch are both current cast members of 30 Rock, the best new TV show you aren't watching. When I relayed to them how much I enjoy the show, a worried Jack expressed that the low ratings do not guarantee a bright future. Naturally, the show needs time to grow, as did The Office, which NBC brilliantly let cultivate into what is now one of the funniest, well-crafted shows ever aired on American television. Luckily, NBC has re-shuffled its Thursday night schedule into a two-hour comedy block with the hopes that by placing 30 Rock alongside solid performers My Name Is Earl and The Office, the show will then find its audience. 30 Rock isn't a major departure for creator Tina Fey, whose character, Liz Lemon, is the head writer of a late night sketch comedy show on NBC. Alec Baldwin plays her new boss, Jack Donaghy, a stuffy yet playful executive whose business savvy and inappropriately corporate mindset never factors in well to the spontaneous and eccentric atmosphere that is the studio halls of the fictional Girlie Show. Jane Krakowski and Tracy Morgan are the tempermental stars of TGS, Jack McBrayer is dim NBC Page Kenneth, and Rachel Dratch plays different eccentric characters throughout 30 Rock, although she has appeared in very few scenes thus far (here's hoping to a reappearance by her Cat Wrangler Lady). The most innovative aspect of 30 Rock is how it plays with meta-humor (for example, when Lemon and writers are instructed by upper management to incorporate product placement into The Girlie Show, they stubbornly begin to refuse, only before getting distracted into a long conversation about their adoration of Snapple products, Snapple naturally being a major sponsor of the actual 30 Rock). However, an interesting aspect about the program is that its main source of humor doesn't come from a "quirky angle" that often accompanies some of the best shows in recent years (the circular narratives of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Arrested Development, the mockumentary cinema verite of The Office and The Comeback, the constant irony that proved too threatening to the stupid, stupid masses on the short-lived Stella). Rather, 30 Rock is sincerely funny. The dialog is bright, the acting is stellar and even the physical comedy is executed flawlessly (often performed surprisingly well by Fey, especially in a scene of the series' third episode, "Blind Date," where Fey's Liz trips in her apartment and, while out of frame, wheezes and groans in what I'm positive is an homage to a famous viral video). Alec Baldwin is outstanding as Jack Donaghy, wearing his ego on his sleeve as he slinks around the studios of The Girlie Show with an unshakable pride and impenetrable distaste for "creative types." However, it's Tracy Morgan and Jack McBrayer who are the show's breakouts. Morgan plays Tracy Jordan, a lazy and insane character based on Dave Chappelle, Martin Lawrence, and an exaggerated version (or not) of himself. After Brian Fellow and Astronaut Jones, one might not accept the idea that Morgan's savvy deadpan is equally hilarious as his outlandish creations from SNL, but it's true. And McBrayer's turn as Kenneth, an sexually ambiguous, flighty, ambitious NBC Page is thoroughly entertaining. One mustn't recognize McBrayer from his sketch work on Conan or from his improv training to admire the toothy smile that Kenneth employs when he bikes from Rockefeller Center to Yankee Stadium to fetch nachos for Tracy, singing "There's No Business Like Show Business" through the streets of midtown Manhattan. It's gold. "Write what you know" is a suggestion I heard often throughout college. Tina Fey - who proved herself as a solid writer of "outsider" material like Mean Girls - followed similar advice, it seems, and has crafted a TV show that truly stands on its own. Check out 30 Rock and then watch Studio 60. Compare notes, curse Amanda Peet, and re-watch 30 Rock. I never imagined that this would be ...something anyone would say, but I would be totally cool with the prospect of Tracy Morgan shitting all over Aaron Sorkin.

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