Friday, February 5, 2016

Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy || part 7 - the nineties

1990 Paula Poundstone on Pop-TartsPaula Poundstone, Cats, Cops and Stuff “I actually eat a box of Pop-Tarts a day. I’m not proud of that.”
Everything about this 1990 bit from Paula Poundstone’s HBO special Cats, Cops and Stuff feels somehow joyous. It was spurred by a couple in the front row handing her a box of Pop-Tarts — “So you've been reading Tiger Beat?” she asks when they confess that they knew they’d brought her favorite flavor — but evolves into a meditation on her long-standing relationships with the pastry. It has the everyday feel of the observational comedy of the 1980s, but it hints at the alternative scene that would soon spring up — the bit started with her simply reading the box onstage to fill time. Unlike many female comedians of that time, Poundstone’s material had little to do with her gender, instead opting for relatable silliness for anyone. She would go on to be so associated with the brand that she produced a special video for them. It would’ve been hard to guess at the time, but the bit foreshadowed a lot of food-based humor to come: Jim Gaffigan on Hot Pockets, Patton Oswalt on KFC Famous Bowls, Paul F. Tompkins on cake vs. pie, Brian Regan on Pop-Tarts, and, oddly enough, an older Jerry Seinfeld on Pop-Tarts.

Homer Jumps the GorgeMatt Groening, James L. Brooks, Sam Simon, Jay Kogen, Wallace Wolodarsky, Dan Castellaneta, The Simpsons
When “Bart the Daredevil” aired in 1990, The Simpsons wasn’t yet the greatest sitcom on television — but the episode helped the show take a giant leap in that direction. That a sweet scene of good parenting and father-son bonding between Homer and Bart would lead to this string of perfect stupidity is an example of the show at its finest — a first-rate comedy with heart. But once Homer takes off on the skateboard, the relentlessness of the gag — the endless brutality, the stupid repetition — opened the show up to new levels of absurdism that would become its trademark. It wasn’t long after that we saw the emergence of the early 1990s alternative comedy scene, one that relished in silly, ridiculous, and often pointless comedy. It was a rejection of the more traditional stand-up that dominated in the ‘80s, and The Simpsons’ offbeat influence could be seen in shows like Late Night With Conan O’Brien, Mr. Show With Bob and DavidThe StateThe Ben Stiller ShowThe Upright Citizens BrigadeFamily Guy, and South Park, to say nothing of an entire generation of comedians.

1992 Benita ButrellKim Wayans, In Living Color Benita Butrell: [To police officer] Don’t you say nothing bad about Ms. Jenkins. She’s a fine woman, fine woman. Wouldn’t take nothing from nobody. That’s a fine woman, honey. Don’t you talk about Ms. Jenkins, or I'll turn into Ice-T on your ass. Don’t talk about Ms. Jenkins. She’s a fine woman, fine woman. [To camera] Just don’t turn your back on her. Woman’s fingers are stickier than a booger in a jar of honey. I ain’t one to gossip, so you didn’t hear that from me.Before In Living Color, you couldn’t find a comedy show where blackness was the default setting. On an episode of “WTF,” Chris Rock explained his desire to be on In Living Color instead of SNL: “I wanted to be in an environment where I didn’t have to translate the comedy I wanted to do.” It was the environment in which Kim Wayans was able to play Benita Butrell, an older, black neighborhood gossip, whose comic hook was not based on her being black nor femaleThis joke, which is set during the L.A. riots, ends with her famous catchphrase, and still crackles with a specificity of language and character. Even if the dearth of commonality of experiences, references, and cultural tropes created a chasm between what In Living Color was doing and what mainstream sketch-comedy audiences had come to expect, the show’s tenure and popularity narrowed the gap enough for creators of color to make art that is now, rightfully, considered universal.
A Show About NothingJerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Larry David, Seinfeld Jerry: So we go into NBC, and we say we have an idea for a show about nothing? George: Exactly.Jerry: They say, “What's your show about?” I say, “Nothing.”George: There you go.Jerry: I think you may have something here.In classic Seinfeld fashion, this joke is from the season-four episode “The Pitch,” which is built around a quotable line.  Despite it being used to define the show within the show, “a show about nothing” went on to define Seinfeld too. Yes, Seinfeld was about “nothing,” in that it focused on the minutiae of everyday, not unlike Seinfeld did in his stand-up. But Seinfeld was also about nothingness, it was about meaninglessness. As Larry David famously put it, “No hugging, no learning.” It's cynical comic tone, which was unlike anything at the time, went on to dominate much of the television comedy that would come after it.
‘I Ain’t Scared of You Motherfuckers.’Bernie Mac, Def Comedy JamLike some other examples on this list, the story of this joke has become a sort of legend shared among comedians. When Russell Simmons created Def Comedy Jam, black comics who’d spent as much as decades toiling in obscurity knew they could be very publicly made or broken. Backstage tensions were understandably high. And during this taping of the show, the audience was rough, booing the comedian who went on before Mac. Bill Bellamy warned Mac before his set, “Be careful out there — this audience is tough.” To which Mac replied, “I've been going at this too long — I've worked too hard — I ain't scared of 'em!” What did Mac do? He goes onstage, picks up the mic, and tells the audience exactly that. Instantly, the audience explodes in laughter. The moment captured so much about what was exciting about black comedy at the time. There was this urgency, this bravado, a bigness that demanded attention. Zoom out from this joke, and you get Martin Lawrence; you get the rest of the Original Kings of Comedy, Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, and Cedric the Entertainer, who, along with Mac, released a tremendously popular Spike Lee–directed stand-up feature film in 2000 (and the subsequently released Queens of Comedy, featuring Laura Hayes, Adele Givens, Sommore, and Mo'Nique); you get BET's Comic View, of which Kevin Hart was the host of in 2008 — you get the entire ’90s black comedy boom. There's a reason over 3 million have watched the clip on YouTube.
1993 ‘You Might Be a Redneck.’Jeff Foxworthy, You Might Be a Redneck If ... “If you go to the family reunion to meet women, you might be a redneck.”This is one of many jokes that ends with the same punch line — “you might be a redneck” — on Jeff Foxworthy's giant debut record, entitled You Might Be a Redneck If ... The joke, like all the jokes, is a perfect, weightless object — a comedic disco ball that looks great but is totally hollow inside. The economy of language and the vividness of the pictures Foxworthy paints are quite astounding. Other examples from the same record include, “If you’ve ever been too drunk to fish, you might be a redneck,” and, “If your dad walks you to school because you’re in the same grade, you might be a redneck.” Foxworthy plays with the same rural-Southerner stereotypes, but to an audience of rural Southerners, it's not satire but an opportunity to laugh at oneself. This one joke broke Foxworthy into the mainstream, launched a merchandising bonanza, and spawned the Blue Collar Comedy Tour – not to mention the chicken-fried, low-brow comedic aesthetic associated with the troupe. In fact, culturally homogenous stand-up tours blossomed thanks to Foxworthy. You might equate this with a kind of Gulf of Tonkin incident for comedy, but just like a corny pop song, this joke can never be dislodged from our consciousness.
‘By the Way, If Anyone Here Is in Advertising or Marketing … Kill Yourself.’Bill Hicks, RevelationsIn his 1993 special Revelations, released not long before his tragically early death, Bill Hicks had a lot to get off his chest. Having spent 15 years looking for an audience, he had found some success in Britain, decrying the evils of American culture to a receptive audience. And the subjects of his current bugaboo were advertisers and marketers. With his constant assurances that “there’s no joke here,” Hicks’s bit is pure, calm loathing, slowly building into an expression of impotent rage at the state of the world. It’s a great bit that hints at all the brilliant ideas he could have explored if he had lived; for one, his Über-liberal politics and disdain for the traditional stand-up could have placed him well in the alternative comedy scene that was just developing. His most direct comedic descendant is probably Doug Stanhope, but his attitude of fury inspired a generation of satirists of all stripes.
1994 Ace Ventura Butt DetectiveJim Carrey,Tom Shadyac, Jack Bernstein, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective Ace Ventura [turned around, bent over, and holding his butt cheeks]: Excuse me, I’d like to ass you a few questions.
In one of many gleefully dismissive reviews of Jim Carrey's first wildly successful star vehicle, Owen Gleiberman wrote, “Carrey suggests an escaped mental patient impersonating a game-show host — and, what's worse, his hyperbolically obnoxious shtick is the whole damned show.” The next decade of studio comedies, however, came to be defined by this particular brand of outrageously broad, lunatic lead character whom you either loved unconditionally or deeply despised (see: Tommy Boy, Austin Powers, Zoolander, basically every Adam Sandler movie). These movies were also noteworthy for being PG-13, an MPAA film rating that studios really started figuring out how to take advantage of in the ’90s. Talking out of your butt isn’t edgy to the adults who reviewed the film (or films like it), but it was exhilarating for the teens who went to these movies in droves, thanks to their PG-13 rating.
Ass MasterMargaret Cho, HBO Comedy Half-Hour “My parents are very conservative, but surprisingly gay-positive. In the late ’70s we owned a bookstore in San Francisco on Polk Street, which then was a huge gay mecca. And my mother, for some reason, was in charge of the gay pornography section. So every day she’d walk over there: ’I don’t know why we have this book! Moran, what is an ‘ass master?’’ ‘Mom, I have no idea what an ass master is. Is it like a Thigh Master?’ ‘I don’t know, is it a master of the ass? What is it? What is ass master?’”After opening for Seinfeld, appearing on The Arsenio Hall Show, and developing All-American Girl for ABC, Margaret Cho was riding high when she recorded her HBO comedy half-hour in 1994. All-American Girl would subsequently flop, in part due to the network’s mishandling of its Asian and Asian-American characters, but in retrospect it's amazing to think a network tried to package Cho's comedy into a traditional sitcom at all. In both her early sets and her later, edgier material, Cho explores a cross-section of life (being a child of immigrants, Asians’ and Asian-Americans’ lives, racism, LGBTQ issues, women’s rights, and a ton of sex) no one else was serving up at the time (if ever), and definitely not with Cho's signature honesty. Listening to her special over 20 years later, Cho's voice is both genuine and outrageous, and confessional without feeling self-deprecating — a mix that feels novel even in today's comedy world, and one that explains her huge following in the late ’90s into the 2000s. The calling card of Cho's earlier work? A joke entitled “Ass Master,” in which her Korean-American mother asks questions about the gay porn sold at their family's San Francisco bookshop. In this one joke, Cho includes confessional storytelling, impressions, queer life, family, and sex. This ability to be all things within one bit, now common in the post-alternative comedy scene with stand-ups like Chelsea Peretti, James Adomian, and Kyle Kinane, was Cho's mark on the early '90s.

Margaret Cho - Comedy Half Hour (1994) - Stand... by comedy-movie
1995 Janeane Garofalo’s NotesJaneane Garofalo, HBO Comedy Half-Hour “I have a piece of paper, don't mind me. I am a professional, but I have a lot of Nutrasweet in my system and I don’t have a good short-term memory. I have, you know, a lot of things I want to discuss with you and I don’t even remember what they are. I have them on a piece of paper. Don’t mind me. If I glance over, it’s not because I don’t care, it’s because I can't remember anything.”Before 1995, thanks to appearances on The Ben Stiller Show and the movie Reality Bites, Janeane Garofalo was already an alternative-comedy staple. But with her HBO special, for which she brought notes onstage with her, she was responsible for delivering alternative comedy to the masses. It was the move that swiftly removed the showbiz-ness from stand-up and whatever residual Las Vegas glamour it once had. Stand-up was free to be messy, loose, and, most important, honest. Thanks to Garofalo (and some of her peers, like Marc Maron) truth — not stage presence or sharp writing — became stand-up's most prized asset. Comedy changed, and in turn comedy audiences changed. No longer did people want to see a polished act; they wanted to see whatever's new, whatever's currently happening in the comedian’s life. Whom did she influence? Everyone.
‘I’m Gonna Get You High Today’Chris Tucker, Ice Cube, F. Gary Gray, DJ Pooh, Friday Smokey: I know you don’t smoke weed, I know this, but I’m gonna get you high today, ’cause it's Friday, you ain’t got no job, and you ain’t got shit to do.That line, said by Chris Tucker's Smokey, and Ice Cube's character Craig getting fired on his day off set the stage for the events that take place in Friday. On the surface, it's one of many weed jokes made throughout the movie (most of which was filmed on the street where director F. Gary Gray grew up, with actors told not to wear red clothing like Bloods gang members because this was Crips territory), but it also reveals more about these two best friends living in South Central L.A. It's the sort of joke people make when they can't talk honestly about how hard they have it. That's what makes Friday so singular: Not only did it find a way of communicating what life was like in the neighborhood while keeping things fun, it paved the way for a certain tone of comedy that is simultaneously grounded and broad. You don't have Barbershop without Friday; you don't have essentially every Seth Rogen movie without Friday.
1996 Black People vs. NiggasChris Rock, Bring the Pain “Who’s more racist, black people or white people? It’s black people! You know why? Because we hate black people, too!”Chris Rock’s 1996 special Bring the Pain cemented the SNL and In Living Color alum’s status as a necessary voice on race in the United States, and this joke in particular was a revelation. It articulated complex, largely unspoken ideas about race that moved beyond the black-white dichotomy and challenged audience members of all races. Exploring such a sensitive matter with controversial language was a high-wire act — consider: “There’s some shit going on with black people right now. There’s like a civil war going on with black people, and there's two sides: There's black people, there’s niggas. The niggas have got to go” — and Rock has talked about the months he put into making it work. While Rock’s forceful delivery and restless pacing help sell it, the joke works because of its classic, unimpeachable structure: It’s simply a relatable, culturally savvy joke about one of the most contentious subjects in modern America, and its legacy looms over any comic who discusses race.
1998 David Duchovny’s Crush on LarryGarry Shandling, David Duchovny, The Larry Sanders Show Larry: So, we have this big final show tonight and Kevin Costner drops out. David: Oh, shit.Larry: And, you know, it’s the last night of the show, so would it be imposing to ask you if you would do the show?[David, who is wearing a bathrobe, uncrosses his legs.]Arguably the best backstage comedy of all time, The Larry Sanders Show is certainly the best “onstage-backstage” comedy of all time. Tonally, we had never seen anything like it before, and the show paved the way for other dry, awkward single-camera comedies to come, like The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Many of the best Sanders episodes built a conflict behind the scenes and then let it play out under the bright lights of Larry's nightly talk show (see: almost every subplot involving Jeffrey Tambor's unhinged sidekick, Hank). The show also allowed its celebrity guests to stretch unpredictable muscles and undercut their public personas (remember John Ritter and Gene Siskel almost beating the crap out of each other? ) — a tactic that also did wonders for Ricky Gervais's Extras years later. David Duchovny's recurring appearances were a true highlight, as his sexuality and possible “crush” on Larry was a source of confusion and discomfort. Duchovny confirmed to Huff Post a few years ago that the whole thing was actually his idea, explaining that it preceded all the “bromance baloney” that came after. The tension was real! The saga culminated in the finale when he flashed Larry his junk, Basic Instinct–style.
The Story of EverestDavid Cross, Bob Odenkirk, Jay Johnston, Jill Talley, Mr. Show With Bob and David “Nobody takes me seriously. I, who conquered Everest, am portrayed as a bumbling fool …” [He trips and gets his hands run over by a car]“The Story of Everest” is not a sketch about Everest; it’s a sketch about a man brought low by a collection of 200 glass thimbles. It’s also an exquisite mix of smart and stupid, comedy and anti-comedy: the combination that made Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’s Mr. Show the ’90s touchstone of hip comedy. Producing network HBO was smaller then, so Mr. Show still managed to feel underground, and stuck in the minds of many comedy nerds (some of whom went on to make sketch shows of their own, i.e. Human Giant and Portlandia). In the sketch, proud climber Jay Johnston attempts to tell his family about summiting the Himalayan peak but repeatedly whacks into said thimble collection on his way to the floor instead. As with most Mr. Show scenes, the pratfall at the center of “Everest” comes in a dazzlingly ornate frame. The climber soon finds his living room folly, not his amazing deed, has been immortalized in film. Distraught, he wanders from the cinema and performs one final fall on the street as onlookers jeer; thus, the sketch’s true title is revealed as one last over-the-top gag, “The Story of the Story of the Story of Everest.”
Anal-Sex ConversationSarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Darren Star, Michael Patrick King, Sex and the City Samantha: All I’m saying that this is — this is a physical expression that the body was, well, it was designed to experience. And P.S., it's fabulous. Charlotte: What are you talking about?! I went to Smith!Samantha: Look, I’m just saying ... the right guy, and the right lubricant ...[Carrie, Miranda, and Samantha start laughing. The cab driver starts laughing. The car hits a pothole.]Charlotte: What was that?!Carrie, Miranda, Samantha: A preview!While many critics fault Sex and the City for failing to offer realistic, fully fleshed-out female characters (and lapsing into couture porn on more than one occasion), its fans appreciate it for what it was: a slapstick female-centric comedy that ushered in a new and refreshing way to talk about sex. While SATC’s sexual quandaries ranged widely from the filthy to the absurd, sex jokes were never throwaway, serving instead as a jumping-off point for a larger cultural conversation about love and dating. Season one’s anal-sex cab-ride conversation is a hallmark of the series’ ideas about comedy: jokes as both a language between female friends and a virtual necessity when negotiating the ridiculous world of dating. (Only a few weeks?!?!) That a show could essentially be a years-long conversation between four women and an undeniable runaway hit changed the game for the comedy of Amy Schumer, Girls, and basically any show in which ladies talk frankly, and hilariously, about sex.
‘Is That … Hair Gel?’The Farrelly Brothers, Cameron Diaz, Ben Stiller, There's Something About MaryThe Farrelly Brothers had already established themselves with Dumb and Dumber and Kingpin, but then there was There's Something About Mary and the “hair gel.” If Cameron Diaz putting a wad of Ben Stiller's semen in her hair pushed gross-out comedy to a point never before seen (seriously, until Girls, can you think of how many other times you've seen semen in film or TV?). The crazy thing is the film, with this joke prominently featured in its advertising, made nearly $370 million worldwide, which was the most ever made by an R-rated comedy (and currently is only surpassed by The Hangover and The Hangover II). It established what is now known as the hard-R comedy, a phenomenon that would really take hold in the ’00s. MPAA-pushing comedic set pieces are now unavoidable, but it was There's Something About Mary that stuck its flag in the genre of joke. To this day, that flag sticks right up like Mary's hair.

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