Comedy relieves us again from news: "You food-chilling m**%$* f*#$%**"

My brother and I don't have cable, but I subscribe to Netflix Instant, and he subscribes to Hulu Plus, so we get access to a truly massive amount of material for less than $20/month between the both of us, via the PS3. So, for the first time in about five years, I've been able to watch The Daily Show a bit more often than, well, never. As has been the case forevermore, once comedians began making fun of politics for the viewing pleasure of millions, it can be extremely relieving to come home after two commutes' worth of NPR news to shake off the depressing facts of the news each day, with a little Stewart comedy. A week or so ago he took on Fox News's claims of "class warfare," in response to Warren Buffet's claims that the "super-rich" are "coddled" with their low levels of taxes. Stewart's response is fantastic, hilarious, and with many underlying nuggets of truth. "All we have to do to raise $700 billion is cut 700,000 NPRs. It's almost too easy!" Stewart joked.

Watch both parts, I swear you won't be disappointed.

Part 2:

 

Bossy lady

I loved Tina Fey's memoir Bossypants. Her thoughts on being a woman in society, laughing at her own childhood, recounting the sagas of SNL writing days and Sarah Palin sketches, talk of her father, 30 Rock writing and development, motherhood, and in the intersection of all these things, was fantastic. I laughed all the way through it, especially because I listened to the audiobook, read by Ms. Fey herself! (The fact that I used an exclamation point means I'm serious. Those are rare.) It was like spending nine or so hours with her, laughing about life and being very real. Wanted to share one funny little quip, in which she is reflecting on her several-month escapade back in the fall of 2008, when she made a series of guest appearances on Saturday Night Live as Sarah Palin during the months leading up to the election. She's talking about how the vice presidential debates sketch was her favorite, and why.

 

One, I felt like I contributed a lot of jokes to this one, so my writer ego likes it best.

Two, Queen Latifah was there.

Three, I thought the speeches that Jim Downey wrote for Jason Sudeikis as Joe Biden were brilliant. Especially the stuff where Biden is trying to prove that he's not some Washington elite by talking about how he's from Scranton, Pennsylvania, "the most godforsaken place on earth." I thought that was ingenious, becuase not only was the ad hominem attack on Scranton a hilarious comedy left turn, it also exemplified what the election had become. Instead of talking about issues, everybody was trying to prove how "down-home" they were. "I'm just like you" was the subtext of every speech.

Politics and prostitution have to be the only jobs where inexperience is considered a virtue. In what other profession would you brag about not knowing stuff? "I'm not one of those fancy Harvard heart surgeons. I'm just an unlicensed plumber with a dream and I'd like to cut your chest open." The crowd cheers.

That continues to strike a cord these days...

I recommend her book highly--mostly to women, I might add, but many men will get some laughs as well. You can skip over the parts about stages of being fat and skinny in her life, and some of the motherhood bits--although those are some of the very best bits.

 

"Jimmy Fallon’s late-night house of joy," and why he's the best on TV

The other day on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy performed a Christmas tune with Dee Snider (of Twisted Sister fame) and his Late Night band, which just happens to be the fabulous Roots. He sang and played his guitar alongside some amazing talent, and did just what he seems to do flawlessly every night: have a genuinely good time with his guests, his show crew, and his audience. I've been watching for about six or eight months, around the time I decided he deserved a second chance. When his show debuted in March of 2009, I watched intermittently for a few weeks, and the poor guy was just getting into the role. He was, well, nervous. Still in the experimental phase. Barely in the existence phase, so I don't blame him, but I just couldn't watch. Give the guy a year, and he has revolutionized what I expect from a late night talk show.

Jimmy performing music numbers and stand-alone skits has done far more than give him a niche with the younger, Youtube-watching crowd who can tune in to those nuggets days and weeks later; he has made Late Night a place for his larger collection of talents. Jay Leno singing the "original lyrics" to "Yesterday" by the Beatles with Paul McCartney himself? Never. Jimmy pulled it off with giddiness and pure joy in his performance.

He does country music, he does classic Neil Young, he does Canadian soap operas. He has brought simple things like charades and other silly games onto the set, as well as newer things like Twitter hashtags (that often trend nationally and sometimes worldwide when he starts them) and "Slow Jammin' the News" with the Roots, in which the news is done, yes, slow-jam style. Brilliant.

Besides Jimmy's wide array of comedic, musical, and acting talents that he uses to infuse the show with his personality, he is refreshingly candid and relaxed with guests. And most of all, he laughs, so much that it is clear he is just darn enjoying himself. He knows his time slot, he knows its late, and he enjoys giving people irreverent and fresh stuff. He's also the first to admit that if people want to see the show, they'll watch it online or TiVo it (which gave him a neutral position in the feud that erupted at NBC when Conan was given the ultimatum to push the Tonight Show to 12:05 or leave it). With the things he's doing on Late Night, I rarely miss an episode now, especially in an era when I am tired of the same stale acts on other late night television, with the predictable victims who take it on the chin for the sake of comedy.

With my addiction in fairly advanced stages, New York magazine published an article on Jimmy Fallon and the show he has molded into his own, whose title summed up much of my sentiment on the whole late night matter: "Mr. Sunshine: Jimmy Fallon's Good Humor," by Adam Sternbergh (November 7, 2010). What Sternbergh points out is that Fallon's humor doesn't have the victims that even bits like Jaywalking have on the Tonight Show. He's not snarky, and doesn't harp on the negative or tell jokes  condescendingly. He takes a sillier approach, and that has made all the difference.

[Michael] Shoemaker [Late Night's producer] remembers an early struggle, in the first months, to figure out exactly how to joke about the then-ubiquitous Susan Boyle. “Everyone else was talking about how she looked or her fifteen minutes of fame,” he says. Letterman, for example, did a top-ten list of “Worst Summer Jobs,” which included “Susan Boyle’s groomer.” Jon Stewart joked that Boyle looked like Labour’s Gordon Brown in drag. “But I really liked her video,” says Fallon, and Shoemaker points out, “People were watching it in our office with tears in their eyes.” So instead, they wrote a sketch in which watching Boyle’s video could salve any affliction, including Fallon’s grumpy mood, a cancellation by Brangelina, news of an unwanted pregnancy, a zombie attack, roaches, snakes, and a bloody arm amputated by a broken copy machine. It was funny, inventive, and left Boyle unscathed. “We watched it and said, That’s it,” Shoemaker says. “That’s what our show is about.”

This is exactly what I have been craving in my late night television companion, a person who spends weeknights with me as I'm finishing homework or working on a project or heading off to bed. It's important that I giggle, and I can only laugh at crude sex jokes a few times before I turn the channel. (And I only have about ten to chose from.) Jimmy's show takes cues from many comedic inspirations, coming together in totally its own marvelous concoction, not only keeping it victimless but keeping the viewer guessing each night what will happen on the show. And the Roots is by far the best late night band out there, just classic. Perfect combination, all around. Says the article:

Late Night owes as much to the antic energy of The Muppet Show as it does to Johnny Carson. A lot of Fallon’s in-studio bits—like one called “Models & Buckets,” in which audience members have mystery substances poured onto their heads by models—wouldn’t feel out of place on Nickelodeon. “I’m on so late I’m definitely the last seconds of anyone’s attention,” says Fallon. “So I just want to give them something dumb to laugh at, so they go, ‘That’s funny,’ then fall asleep.”

Sternbergh's article brought home for me how many things Fallon is doing right, and while he was a surprise choice for the chair back in 2008, he's adapted brilliantly to the position and continues to impress me, and give me those deep-belly outbursts. I, for one, would absolutely love to see him take over Leno's chair someday, the sooner the better. I cannot begin to describe how many more ways he is plugged into the twenty-somthings than anyone else. (Well, Craig Ferguson is another great one. Shame they're on at the same time.) And really, what age group isn't in the mood for some light-hearted comedy and games and musical performances these days? Yes, please, Jimmy.

Update: In 2013, GQ published this article, giving Fallon the title of "King of Late Night Television." I totally agreed, back in 2010. I still agree, in March 2013.