11.27.2006

comedy

As well documented on wmtc, Allan and I appear to be the only people in Canada who don't care for Rick Mercer**. Every time we happen to see a bit of him on TV, our opinions are re-confirmed. However, we do agree with the crowd when it comes to "Corner Gas". We both like it a lot, especially me.

I've come to think of "Corner Gas" as a rural "Seinfeld": a bunch of funny characters tackling everyday life in their little corner of the world, spending far too much time thinking about the appropriateness of everyday interactions. It's not a perfect one-to-one correspondence (thank goodness) but it strikes me as the same sort of show.

I was recently chatting with friend of wmtc M@ about "Seinfeld", and he remarked that New Yorkers must get a lot more out of the show than other viewers - more references, more layers of meaning. It's true. In the early and best seasons, there are scenes I wonder how anyone outside of New York can even understand. (It's similar, in that respect, to certain Woody Allen movies.) M@ mentioned that a friend of his who grew up in Saskatchewan feels the same way about "Corner Gas". I wonder what layers of meaning I'm not seeing?

So "Corner Gas" is a big hit in Canada, but do you think people in Iraq will like it?
Canada's contribution to the invasion of Iraq, the removal of Saddam Hussein and the attempted restoration of Iraq to normalcy has finally happened.

We're not sending troops. We're sending Corner Gas.

On Friday, CTV announced that Corner Gas had secured a distribution deal for syndication in the United States and internationally: "Corner Gas: Coming soon to 70-million U.S. homes and in countries across five continents including Australia, Iraq, Finland and more."

Yes, Iraq is on the list. We are amused. But will the Iraqis find it funny? Lord knows, they've got enough to deal with. Still, from the perspective of this great country of Canada, it is a fine and delicious irony.
The writer gives some analysis of the success of "Corner Gas," and dispels a few myths about the show. He mentions that the international broadcast will continue to run without a laugh track, thank goodness. Will US audiences know when to laugh?



** No need to discuss. We're all talked out about this. Update: see comments.

23 comments:

M@ said...

Actually, I don't find Rick Mercer that funny either, and his show is now nigh-unwatchable for me. Jus' sayin'.

One of the layers that I know exists for Corner Gas is the ingrained hatred for Woolerton (ptui). My friend assured me that this refers to an actual rivalry between the real Dog River, Tisdale, and a nearby town, Melford. Melford is about 3500 residents to Tisdale's 2000.

Not only were Tisdale residents annoyed at Melford for opening a mall (tragically small, of course, but it's there); they also were quite convinced that Melford only incorporated as a city in order to stick it to Tisdale.

My friend has a bunch of stories like that that really flesh out the attitudes in the show. I've never lived in a small town myself (not Dog River small, anyhow), so it definitely gives me some context and makes the show that much funnier.

L-girl said...

Actually, I don't find Rick Mercer that funny either, and his show is now nigh-unwatchable for me.

Do you know, I remembered this about you! I didn't think I should speak for you. What if you were just being polite, trying to make me feel less freakish. :)

So there are three of us then.

redsock said...

If an Iraqi wants to watch Corner Gas on his TV, wouldn't he need some, umm, electricity?

That's going to be a problem.

L-girl said...

Alright, alright, for everyone doing Google searches for the references to Rick Mercer on wmtc (there are about 20 of them in Statcounter so far), here you go.

Bottom of this entry, more explanation here, a bit more here, and a post that will attest to how often I get asked if I've seen Rick Mercer (answer: constantly).

There are other references, but this will give you the idea.

deang said...

I'm probably one of the few white people in the US who never found Seinfeld funny. To me, it didn't seem to be about anything. After reading your comments about Seinfeld and New York, I've wondered if that might have something to do with it, but then I notice that lots of (mostly white) people everywhere seem to love the show, no matter where they're from. I think on comedy I'm kinda like you've become with reading fiction, Laura (if I understood some of your earlier comments correctly); there has to be some important content or I just don't want to spend the time. To me, Seinfeld was lacking in content. Or maybe it was just too subtle for me to get.

M@ said...

Do you know, I remembered this about you! I didn't think I should speak for you.

No worries. I didn't feel slighted or anything. I think our club is a little bigger than it seems sometimes too. (My wife's a member too.)


I'm probably one of the few white people in the US who never found Seinfeld funny.

Although I'm not among them, deang, I know others who didn't like Seinfeld either. Comedy is like that, though -- there's a tone or something that either hits you or it doesn't. My reaction to a lot of things is, I know this is supposed to be funny, and I can even identify why it's supposed to be funny, but it doesn't amuse me in the least. I can certainly understand that kind of reaction to Seinfeld.

Comedy is such a personal thing -- it hinges on such a deep personal reaction -- that I think the real miracle is that a phenomenon as widespread as Seinfeld could even exist.

L-girl said...

Dean, you did read my earlier comment about fiction correctly. I've gotten so discriminating that very few novels do it for me anymore.

Comedy is like that, though -- there's a tone or something that either hits you or it doesn't. My reaction to a lot of things is, I know this is supposed to be funny, and I can even identify why it's supposed to be funny, but it doesn't amuse me in the least.

I relate to this to a T. Tons of stuff that many people think is hilarious doesn't strike me as even slightly funny. But the comedy that I like, I love. And there's not a lot of rhyme or reason to it.

I think the real miracle is that a phenomenon as widespread as Seinfeld could even exist.

It's true. And - not be purposely contrarian here, just a fact - when Seinfeld became a hugely popular international phenomenon is when I think it started to tank. Many of the episodes that are most popular are abominations to me - true jumped-the-shark material.

I think this has something to do with pandering to a more mass and less specialized audience, and losing the character-driven quality of the show.

As people connected to the earliest seasons and episodes, Allan and I have discussed and dissected this a lot.

Anyway, I can understand Dean's reaction, too. I also know other people who don't like Seinfeld and can't understand its popularity.

M@ said...

When Seinfeld became a hugely popular international phenomenon is when I think it started to tank. Many of the episodes that are most popular are abominations to me - true jumped-the-shark material.

It's true that Seinfeld's real value was in the characters it was about, rather than in the catch-phrases that inevitably became the focus. (I wonder if they were satirizing this with the "because he's my butler!" line in the sitcom.)

But I'm interested to know which popular episodes you hated. (I actually find it a little hard to place Seinfeld episodes in order because I didn't actually see much of the show in the first few years of its run -- I always happened to be working on Thursday nights, so I saw most of the show in syndication. I can sometimes identify early or later episodes when I'm watching them but that's about it.)

Personally, I think the Susan and the sitcom story arcs were pretty weak. I don't really like the Susan-focused episodes, unless there's a good side-plot.

L-girl said...

(I wonder if they were satirizing this with the "because he's my butler!" line in the sitcom.)

They absolutely were.

If you ever have the opportunity to re-watch the first four seasons in order - on DVD, so they are complete - I highly recommend it. I have come to think of those seasons as among the best comedy of all time. They are completely character-driven, and the characters have a naturalness that is seldom seen in a sitcom. (And not seen at all in later episodes.)

For me the death of Seinfeld came with the death of Susan. Everything after that sucks IMO. The last seasons, in which Larry David was no longer involved, are dreck. They are no better than any other crap sitcom.

I had stopped watching several seasons before the end, but occasionally I run into a latter-day episode in re-runs, and I can hardly believe it's the same show. All the characters are gone. I could go into detail about this...

So, because I gave up years before the show ended, I can't name the worst episodes, I don't know them well enough. Festivus is part of it, for sure.

One of the worst episodes while I was still watching was the set of the old Merv Griffin Show. Almost anything with Puddy is bad - although he may have a cameo or two in some good episodes.

More in a minute...

L-girl said...

I also have the Elaine Hair Theory.

I can judge how good a Seinfeld episode is - where it is on the arc of success to fade-out - by Elaine's hair.

When the show was funny, the character of Elaine was a funky, hang-with-the-guys, strong woman who went to lesbian weddings, wore white socks and black shoes, made bets about masturbation, said "nice rack" about a half-naked female sunbather. She was her own self and she had a big mass of slightly unruly hair.

Years later, they started playing up Julia Louis-Dreyfus's looks, making her character slicker and meaner. And they started toning down her funky hair.

In the worst of it, Elaine's hair is straight and shiny. Nothing funky or unruly in sight.

I swear, I can turn on the TV, check Elaine's hair, and instantly know whether the episode is funny or not.

Woti-woti said...

I must have missed (thankfully) the Mercer debate, but I can't stand the whiny little suck.

Yeah, comedy is very personal. My standard seems to be 'if I can see it coming, it ain't funny.' I stopped watching Corner Gas after the first 1/2 dozen or so episodes because of this. How will it translate into Iraqi? Maybe the question should be why it is allowed in. Probably for the same reason it won't make it in the US. It's not obsessed with puerile, titilating sex.
Re: Seinfeld, interesting take on Elaine's hair and the humour index. You're on to something. Certainly, the later episodes were crap. It might be strictly a function of having to churn it out week after week. The creative well has to dry up. One of the funniest series I've ever seen is John Cleese's Fawlty Towers. He stopped after 2 seasons of 6 episodes each because he said he'd simply run out of good stuff and didn't want to cheapen what they they'd already done. 30-year-old advice, but still relevant.

L-girl said...

I must have missed (thankfully) the Mercer debate, but I can't stand the whiny little suck.

Whoo-hoo! That makes four - wait, M@'s wife makes 5. It's a movement.

My standard seems to be 'if I can see it coming, it ain't funny.' I stopped watching Corner Gas after the first 1/2 dozen or so episodes because of this.

It is definitely predictable. I don't always find that a deal-breaker for comedy. If you've ever seen the old Honeymooners (Jackie Gleason and Art Carney sitcom) they are utterly predictable, but still hilarious. (I've seen them all dozens of times.)

But I can understand feeling CG is too predictable, even though I enjoy it.

The creative well has to dry up.

Very true.

One of the funniest series I've ever seen is John Cleese's Fawlty Towers. He stopped after 2 seasons of 6 episodes each because he said he'd simply run out of good stuff and didn't want to cheapen what they they'd already done.

I think Fawlty Towers is the funniest sitcom of all time. Allan and I both adore them - and John Cleese was positively, utterly brilliant for pulling the plug. If only more people could resist the lure of more, more, more and follow his example. Some people think Jerry Seinfeld did that, but it came too late.

Woti-woti said...

Yes, you're right, predictability is not the deal-breaker, it's how the principals pull it off. The Honeymooners is classic. I still catch it the odd Sunday morning at 11., I think, on the Comedy channel. Hummanahummana.
Glad you caught the Cleese experience.

L-girl said...

Yay! So glad you know the 'Mooners. I didn't know if they were shown in Canada. Anyone else know the Honeymooners?

There are actually several Honeymooners homages in Seinfeld. In fact, I saw one just last night. George is in bed with his g/f - who he cannot make feel like she does after the risotto - and he's making Kramdenesque hand gestures, like when Ralph wants to apologize but can't get started. I'm sure Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld were well aware of that.

[We kind of used to know them, y'know. Allan played softball on Larry David's team for a time. He's a good friend of the husband of one of my closest friends.]

redsock said...

Looking at the scripts and overviews of all the episodes, I'm surprised that stuff I like is so late in the run.

Everything in Seasons 1-4 is gold, and 5-6 are also top notch, with a few missteps.

Season 6: Poppy peeing on the couch, Jon Voight's car, Banion's suit, regifting, Jon Lovitz faking cancer and ASSMAN.

That's 110 shows to that point.

Season 7 is still good: The Pact, the blabbermouth cableshow rabbi, the marathon runner who oversleeps, Soup Nazi, sponge-worthy, beef-a-reeno, Jerry buys his dad a Cadillac, Marisa Tomei, and Susan's death.

After that, there's only 2 seasons. And while there is some decent stuff, it's all pretty dreadful. Larry David left after Season 8.

Still, I'll bet Laura will be surprised to see that we like all but seasons 8 and 9.

Woti-woti said...

Nothing like a little research to uncover the facts. But yeah, the last 2 seasons stinking is about how I remember it. In fact, I remember marvelling at how they kept the standards up for so long. Didn't realize it coincided with the departure of Larry David.
I couldn't get into the Larry David Show at first, mainly because I'd only watch it sporadically on cable. Then I found the last season in sequence on cable's 'Movie on Demand' channel and couldn't get enough of it. Too bad it's run seems to be over.

L-girl said...

Still, I'll bet Laura will be surprised to see that we like all but seasons 8 and 9.

I am! Very. Then they had a much longer run than I remembered.

Too bad it's run seems to be over.

You mean Curb Your Enthusiasm? And do you mean over as in it's not going to be on anymore, or over as in you're sick of it?

I love the show - but only in small dosages. In large doses, he is just too ANNOYING! :)

Hey Redsock, great icon. :)

redsock said...

Ah-ha!

Larry David left after Season 7.

So the last 2 seasons were done without him -- and they sucked.

He did return for the final episode, though.

(I could watch Curbs all day long!)

Woti-woti said...

Yes, Curb Your Enthusiam. And sure, he's annoying, but that's why he deserves all the crap that comes his way. I meant that the CYE run is finished on the Movie Channel. Don't know what its future status is since I'm not much of an 'Entertainment Tonight' guy. (L-girl, notice how I clean up my language when I come over here?)

M@ said...

Ah, perfect example. I don't get CYE at all. And it bugs me because pretty much every comedy writer I like (Gervais and Merchant, Mitch Hurwitz, etc) cites CYE as a major influence. My brother tried to get me into it, and I tried watching a few episodes on my own, but it never caught.

Incidentally, I think Jerry Stiller was funnier than anyone on that show. I think he appeared more and more as the show went on, possibly because he was easier to make funny than, you know, writing some new stuff.

Oh, another show that rivals Fawlty Towers for getting while the getting was good is Blackadder. And it actually got better as time went on -- definitely a rarity. Blackadder Goes Forth was an amazing three hours of TV.

L-girl said...

Yup, comedy follows no "shoulds". You "should" like CYE; Allan thinks I should like South Park, but I can't tolerate being in the same room with it on.

Incidentally, I think Jerry Stiller was funnier than anyone on that show. I think he appeared more and more as the show went on, possibly because he was easier to make funny than, you know, writing some new stuff.

You're probably right. His character is hilarious, and he's a very talented comic actor - but they also allowed his character to deteriorate into a screaming maniac, a la George, IMO.

Oh, another show that rivals Fawlty Towers for getting while the getting was good is Blackadder. And it actually got better as time went on -- definitely a rarity. Blackadder Goes Forth was an amazing three hours of TV.

So true. How many comedies can be hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time?

The very first Blackadder isn't even funny, but I love the rest of them. I am very partial to Hugh Laurie as the Price Regen, your highness your highness.

M@ said...

Ah, well, Blackadder the First wasn't much of a show. It was a tired reusing of the old premise that the hero was an idiot who blundered through with the unacknowledged help of his much smarter servants. There were funny bits (Witchsmeller Pursuivant), but it wasn't really much of a show.

It was in the second season that they hit on the magic: Blackadder became the only person, in a sea of imbeciles and nutjobs, to see things clearly. People both above and below him in the pecking order were insane or stupid. It's far easier to sympathise with him.

But that's why Goes Forth is so astoundingly good. WWI was the perfect storm of smart people willingly being led by childishly foolish morons. It wasn't much of a stretch to see the reality -- the tragic reality -- in the situation.

Now I'm just turning into a fanboy, here. But it was a real revelation to me to understand how and why that show worked, and I think I understand comedy in general much better for it.

L-girl said...

I love thinking about what makes comedy work. And a show like Blackadder has so many different types of comedy going on at the same time - slapstick, social satire, "group of funny people" sitcom humour... many more that I can't think of right now...

But still, it's so intangible, as we've been discussing. Timing, tone of voice, facial expressions. If you read a script of Blackadder without knowing any of the actors, it wouldn't have half the impact.