Friday, February 5, 2016

Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy || part 8 - the new millennium

2001 Too SoonGilbert Gottfried, The Friars Club Roast of Hugh Hefner “I have a flight to California. I can’t get a direct flight — they said they have to stop at the Empire State Building first.”
In the wake of 9/11, there was no consensus on how to return to making fun of the world. New York–based late-night shows like LettermanThe Daily Show , and Saturday Night Live opted for sincere, gentle returns, while The Onion put out its finest paper to date. But only three weeks after the attacks, Gilbert Gottfried rejected the niceties at The Friars Club Roast of Hugh Hefner, where he told this joke and received a chorus of boos and “too soon” from the audience. (In response, Gottfried went into a legendary rendition of the backstage joke “The Aristocrats.”) It’s hard to say it was the first joke to get the “too soon” treatment, but it was definitely not the last (it wasn’t even the last for Gottfried), as the debate over how comedians respond to tragedies has been going ever since, especially with the rise of social media. With this joke, however, in hindsight, people yelled “too soon” too soon; his joke was doing what comedy should do: not mocking the victims or belittling legitimate suffering, but finding the honest humor in real-life horror during a sensitive time.

2002 The Foreigner BeltDave Willis, Matt Maiellaro, Aqua Teen Hunger Force Ignignokt: Well, how will you like the belt when you’re cold as ice? [The Mooninites freeze Carl and steal his porn.]To focus in on any one moment of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, the low-fi animated series about humanoid fast-food items, is to hit directly on the sort of full-throttle absurdism that has come to represent Turner’s entire Adult Swim programming block. In the first of its 11 seasons, ATHF set the tone of its mayhem with antagonists including the snotty 2-D delinquents the Mooninites. In the episode “Revenge of the Mooninites,” Ignignokt and Err acquire a miraculous belt that provides “all the superpowers of ’70s supergroup Foreigner,” and proceed to torture our heroes — evoking Foreigner’s song “Cold as Ice” to freeze one character stiff and giving another “Double Vision.” (Eventually, white-trash neighbor Carl turns his own head into a Connect Four board by invoking “Head Games.”) This bizarre twist on pop culture represented the network’s maximalist new take on late-night stoner comedy: clever rather than slack-jawed, and stuffed with so many jokes that missing one doesn’t matter. Without notions like the Foreigner Belt, there would be no frenetic Tim & Eric segments, no “Too Many Cooks,” and certainly no weird, random Old Spice and Skittles commercials on national TV.
2003 Black White SupremacistDave Chappelle, Neal Brennan, Chappelle’s Show [Clayton Bigsby removes his KKK hood to reveal he’s black. The white-supremacist rally attendees are stunned. One woman throws up. A man’s head explodes.]Before Chappelle's Show, the world had enjoyed sketch shows featuring predominantly black casts, but never before had the realities of race relations in America been presented so irreverently. Opposed to sketches like “Word Association,” which confronted racial tensions head on, Chappelle and his co-creator used ridiculous premises to underline the absurdity of the national environment. Take the show's best (though it will never match “I'm Rick James, Bitch” in popularity) sketch, which aired in the premiere episode. Chappelle plays a blind, black white supremacist. It's a concept that is equal parts silly and brilliant. By having the white supremacist be black, it underlines how insane the concept of racial prejudice is, considering what we think of as race is just a social construct. It will make your head explode. It instantly changed comedy about race in this country, as Key & Peele played with a few years later. The sketch, and the show, in general, also changed the public conversation about social responsibility and comedy. What kinds of jokes is it okay for which kinds of people to tell? And to repeat? Are the ones on comedians of color to ensure that their white fans don’t misinterpret their intentions? Chappelle set up the sketch by saying that the friend he had played it for said it would set back black people, foreshadowing a time when comedy was scrutinized like never before.

Bush vs. BushJon Stewart, The Daily Show Stewart: “Tonight it all changes. We’re gonna have an honest, open debate between the president of the United States and the one man we believe has the insight and the cojones to stand up to him. So, first, joining us tonight, George W. Bush, 43rd president of the United States. Welcome, Mr. President.” Clip of President Bush: “Good evening, I’m pleased to take your questions tonight.”Stewart: “Well, thank you very much, sir. I’m pleased to ask them. Taking the other side, joining us from the year 2000, Texas governor and presidential candidate, George W. Bush.”When Jon Stewart took over The Daily Show in 2000, he couldn’t have known that one of history’s most ridiculous presidential elections was only months away, or that his election-coverage name, “Indecision 2000,” would turn out to be so prescient. In the following years, the slow-moving train wreck of the Bush administration gave Stewart and his team an amazing opportunity to build their fledgling late-night show into an institution, one that would eventually host presidents and prime ministers. This segment was one of the show’s earliest and finest moments of righteous indignation, using a format that would become a staple of the show: employing contrasting video clips to highlight someone’s hypocrisy. Digging through the archives of Governor Bush’s 2000 presidential election and comparing his statements with 2003’s President Bush in the run-up to the Iraq War, The Daily Show was cleverly using resources available to any news organization to provide the sort of accountability journalism that the media was failing to do.

2004 ‘Boy, That Escalated Quickly!’Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron BurgundyThe Adam McKay comedy that helped set the tone for an era of Will Ferrell blockbuster comedies is also a touchstone of millennial culture. For a movie that was endlessly quotable, one scene’s staying power has lingered on in particular: after the epic fight scene, the discussion back at the newsroom. The self-referential scene is the epitome of what would come to be defined over the next decade as an ironic, new-wave of comedy, in which doing something absurd must immediately be followed by pointing out its absurdity. It's a nifty trick you'll see basically every night at any of the Upright Citizens Brigade's four theatres. Where early eras of improv rewarded commitment to the scene, UCB, which McKay was part of in its early stages, allows for a have-it-both-ways detachment: You're in the scene, but you're also outside the scene. You murder someone with a trident; you point out that you murdered someone with a trident. Outside of improv, or real life for that matter, the line also reflects the internet’s love of pointing out things. “That escalated quickly” became another way to say “that happened.”

2005 ‘Nooooooo, Kelly Clarkson!’Steve Carell, Judd Apatow, Miki Mia, Seth Rogen, Romany Malco, and Paul Rudd, The 40-Year-Old VirginIt’s hard to credit anything other than the scene in which Steve Carell actually has his incredibly hairy chest waxed as the catalyst that super-=charged the Judd Apatow empire of heartfelt R-rated comedies. It’s a one-take, expletive-fueled tour de force, punctuated by almost “adorable” outbursts, like the one mentioning American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson. Carell sacrificing his body for the bit was the ultimate move for his character: a good-natured guy falling victim to hypermasculine peer pressure, especially at a time when “metrosexuality” had emerged and disrupted gender politics on a broad, pop-culture level. As for Carell’s counterparts, including his waxer, their genuine reactions of hilarity and horror give it that blooper-reel feel, like you’re already watching the even-funnier deleted scenes, a technique that seeped into just about every partially improvised movie to follow.

‘I Was Raped by a Doctor … Which Is So Bittersweet for a Jewish Girl.’Sarah Silverman, Jesus Is MagicBy 2005 Sarah Silverman was a well-known comedian without a full-length stand-up special. Famous for her controversial, off-color jokes, she kicked off her concert film, Jesus Is Magic, with this provocative line, which embodied everything that made her a groundbreaking comic: her willingness to play with stereotypes while challenging the boundaries of taste via her cutesy, ditzy alter ego. Though, for better or worse (oft for worse), the joke did kick off a trend where it seemed every comedian needed to have a rape joke. Still, her provocative persona always had more depth and vulnerability than most shock-jock types, and in this perfectly formed one-liner is the seed of her later, more infuriated material about rape. Without Silverman, who had previously bounced between clubs, alt scenes, and sketch comedy, there would be no Amy Schumer or Anthony Jeselnik, though her influence can be felt across the entire comedy spectrum.
Lazy SundayAndy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, Chris Parnell, Saturday Night Live Parnell: But first my hunger pains are stickin’ like duct tape / Samberg: Let’s hit up Magnolia and mack on some cupcakes /Parnell: No doubt that bakery’s got all da bomb frostings /Samberg: I love those cupcakes like McAdams loves GoslingThe Lonely Island didn't create the “viral video” or the SNL Digital Short, but it brought the former into the mainstream and the latter into the 21st century. The first of their silly sing-along videos, “Lazy Sunday” couldn’t have been timed better: It premiered literally two days after the official launch of YouTube. Granted, NBC didn’t quite understand the power of virality at that point — the network removed “Lazy Sunday” from the video-sharing site and restricted it to iTunes (albeit for free) — but the video spread around the internet nonetheless. (Years later, it rightfully found a permanent home on YouTube.) While “Dick in a Box” may have been the best video, and “YOLO” arguably their best song, the perfect blend of catchy tune, simple video, and goofy idea in “Lazy Sunday” spawned, for better or worse, a sea of imitators.

2006 White House Correspondents’ DinnerStephen Colbert “Now, I know there are some polls out there saying that this man has a 32 percent approval rating. But guys like us, we don’t pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in ‘reality.’ And reality has a well-known liberal bias.”Showing up to hear Stephen Colbert, or Colbert’s bloviating right-wing pundit character “Stephen Colbert,” at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2006 must have been one of the biggest missteps of George W. Bush’s presidency — minus his signature policy decisions, of course. Never did the former Colbert Report and current Late Show host Colbert prove his fearlessness more than during this jaw-dropping 20-minute set. Heedless of Bush’s grim visage or the stunned discomfort of those in the audience, Colbert continued his comedic assault just feet away from the POTUS. Directly addressing Bush throughout, Colbert mocked the president’s penchant for hollow photo ops and likened the flailing administration to the Hindenburg. The joke above exemplifies Colbert’s set, ironically linking the conservative Colbert character with Bush to poke at the POTUS’s longstanding beef with the media and disinterest in public opinion. The up-close-and-personal delivery of this barb, among others, refreshed political satire by making it feel immediate, dangerous, and necessary.

2007 Louis C.K. on His KidsLouis C.K., Shameless “The other kid we have, she’s a girl, and she’s 4, and she’s also a fucking asshole.”In an alternate universe, Louis C.K. could have easily remained a very good, underappreciated New York stand-up, another middle-aged white dude performing at the Comedy Cellar every night. But in his 2007 HBO special Shameless, he called his 4-year-old daughter an asshole, and things shifted. The honesty of his perspective as a father genuinely trying to engage with his kids, while still seeing the world through the eyes of a cynical comic, was cathartic for parents and eye-opening for nonparents, and shone a light on the darker corners of that intimate, fundamental parent-child dynamic that is rarely explored. It would inspire legions of stand-ups to pick apart their own relationships and biases, and upped the ante for soul-baring onstage.
2010 Marc Maron on His Adam Sandler JokeMarc Maron, Robin Williams, “WTF” Williams: It’s also when you do jokes about famous people or anybody and then you run into them. Maron: Well, Sandler never forgave me for something.Williams: Are you serious?Maron: Kinda. I did this joke where I used as a descriptive, you know, I mocked Adam Sandler fans. And then I run into him at the Improv one night, and he was like, “I hear you're talking about me.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I did it on television.”

Around 2009 and 2010, a second comedy boom exploded, during which fans developed a different relationship with comedy: Self-proclaimed “comedy nerds” were as interested (if not more interested) in comedians' backstage life as they were in their crafted jokes. And Marc Maron's conversation with Robin Williams, on the 67th episode of “WTF,” was its breakthrough. Here was a legend having the sort of frank conversation about comedy and being a comedian that was previously relegated to green rooms and road gigs. Maron and Williams trade stories, and Maron brings up an old joke and the beef he has with another comedian (a theme of early “WTF”s) that resulted from it. It was conversational, it was inside-baseball, and hundreds of thousands of people heard it.
2011 Wedding-Dress Food PoisoningKristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Jessica St. Clair, Ellie Kemper, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Annie Mumolo, Paul Feig, Judd Apatow, Bridesmaids Lillian: It’s happening. It's happening. It’s happening. [She kneels in the middle of the street.] It happened. It happened. Whitney: Oh, no. Don’t you dare ruin that dress.Annie: You’re doing it, aren’t you? You’re shitting in the street.Four years after Christopher Hitchens penned a Vanity Fair essay arguing that women aren’t funny, out came a film that would change the conversation about women in comedy for the next decade. Its success proved that an all-female cast could make an R-rated, Judd Apatow–sized hit comedy for all genders to enjoy. And nothing said that louder than the scene in which they all collectively shat their dresses. Despite being an outrageous sequence of events, it has subtlety as well: You never actually see poop (although you do see plenty of vomit) and they don’t try to make scatological humor somehow seem “sexy” just because it’s coming from a woman (think: Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle). Instead, there is something almost punk rock about Maya Rudolph kneeling in the street in her pristine, white wedding dress.

2012 Voice of My GenerationLena Dunham, Girls Hannah: I think I may be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice. Of a generation.Girls, more than any other piece of comedy of its generation, illustrates the young person’s never-ending battle between irrational confidence and extreme self-loathing — something this joke typifies. When the show premiered, this quote was used by critics to hammer the show’s navel-gazing, yet it deftly made light of and satirized the art of personal mythologizing. We have to assume Dunham knew that her show would stand for an entire demographic, and, in a way, it has. Through her narcissism, emotional sensitivity, confusion, and desperate need for belonging, Hannah really is the voice of her generation. That voice has inspired comedies like You’re the Worst and Master of None to continue mining the same complex, fraught landscape of depression, ambition, and identity, without blinking.

‘Hello, I Have Cancer.’Tig Notaro, LiveBefore 2012, Tig Notaro was an alternative-comedy darling whose performances relied heavily on goofy nonsense. But with one unforgettable set at L.A.’s Largo, she changed the trajectory of her career and raised the bar for onstage honesty. The months preceding her performance had seen her suffer from life-threatening C. diff, break up with a partner, and lose her mother in a tragic accident; then, just before the show, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. This one heartbreaking line kicked off one of the most important stand-up sets of all time and immediately became the stuff of folklore, as comics and audience members described the stunning show.
2013 Maria Bamford on How People Talk About Mental IllnessMaria Bamford, Ask Me About My New God! “People don’t talk about mental illnesses the way they do other illnesses. If I was like, 'Wow, apparently Steve has cancer. It’s like, ‘Fuck off! We all have cancer, right?'“Ever since Richard Pryor, comedy has been open to the confessional; stand-ups have been free to talk about the darker parts of their minds. But what if those darker thoughts aren't quirky or comically weird or “what everyone's thinking,” but something seriously wrong? Over the last decade, Bamford has been pushing comedy in this direction. She tackles the twists and tangles of her mind as a really smart, funny cat would a ball of yarn, batting at it in wonderment to the delight of all who are fortunate enough to witness. And she is battling the stigma around mental illness, and comedy about it, by writing the above perfect joke, taking aim directly at the stigma. The good news is it seems to be working, if the rise of sadcoms and shows with depression and mental-illness story lines like BoJack HorsemanYou're the Worst, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are any indication.
Tina and Amy Host the GlobesTina Fey, Amy Poehler, the 70th Golden Globe Awards Poehler: I haven’t been following the controversy surrounding Zero Dark Thirty, but when it comes to torture, I trust the woman who spent three years married to James Cameron.Tina Fey and Amy Poehler weren't an unknown quantity when they were tapped to host the Golden Globes in 2013, but history has shown that not all great comedians make for great award-show hosts. Fey and Poehler started off with relatively safe monologue jokes, and it was with this line, halfway through, that they sharpened their focus. Drawing attention to Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow, Poehler attacked not her controversial film but her less-than-beloved ex-husband. The result was an almost-perfect joke; tightly constructed, perfectly paced, funny even if you really didn't know the details and funnier still if you did. Its impact was instant. Listen to how the room reacts: After the initial wave of shock echoes through the room, a genuine laugh follows. Much more than a celebrity roast gag, the joke set up the pair’s perspective as truth-telling, unabashedly pro-women joke-slingers with no fear.

2014 Hannibal Buress on Bill CosbyHannibal Buress “He gets on TV, ‘Pull your pants up, black people. I was on TV in the ‘80s. I can talk down to people because I had a successful sitcom.’ Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby, so that brings you down a couple notches.”Hannibal Buress probably didn’t set out to bring justice to dozens of women or spark a national dialogue about sexual predation when he started explicitly referring to Bill Cosby as a rapist in his stand-up. This joke wasn't even ready for wide release — it became public via a grainy cell-phone video. But its impact was monumental, getting people talking about accusations that had dogged the venerable Cosby for years. And the context matters: Buress, one of today's most successful young black comics, took aim at perhaps the most iconic black comedian in history; the joke itself is about getting out from under his glaring disapproval. In doing so, he did what so many comedians claim to do but rarely deliver on: busting taboos, speaking the unspeakable, making enemies. Whether or not it was his intention, Buress’s words brought results: There’s almost certainly a direct line from his joke to Cosby’s recent indictment, and it’s in this new environment that comedian Beth Stelling recently came forward with her own story of abuse in the comedy community. As influence goes, it’s hard to think of many jokes that had more impact.
2015 Bitch Better Have My MoneyEllen DeGeneres, Jimmy Fallon, Justin Timberlake, The Tonight Show
The night after Stephen Colbert debuted as the host of The Late ShowTonight Show host Jimmy Fallon reportedly wanted to assert the dominance of his show and sensibility. He did so with the sight of Ellen DeGeneres doing her best Rihanna impression, waving her hand around like a gun, and mouthing the words to “Bitch Better Have My Money” while Justin Timberlake looked on. Was it funny? Nope. But it sure was fun! And it makes sense, as during his time in late night Fallon pushed a style of comedy that equated fun and funny. Better yet, DeGeneres, who after a career as a respected stand-up arguably pioneered that style with her daytime show, was at the center of the act. Of course, it went viral: This style of populist comedy goes down easy, and spreads even easier.

12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer
Amy Schumer, Jessi Klein, Daniel Powell, Ryan McFaul, Inside Amy Schumer “I don’t think she’s protagonist-hot …” “But Kevin James is?”

In many ways, 2015 was Amy Schumer’s year, in large part because her Comedy Central show, Inside Amy Schumer, cemented its place in the comedy canon. With this episode-long sketch, a perfect re-creation of the 1957 film 12 Angry Men, Schumer put the audience in her shoes — that is, as a very funny person judged more by some for her looks than her talent — and produced one of the funniest, sharpest half-hours of television in recent memory. There are too many lines to choose the most perfect (“Oh, Amy. I didn't see you there. I thought you were a garden gnome”) but the heart of the piece — that 12 men must decide if Schumer is “hot enough” to appear on television — is the type of brutally hilarious idea that rarely makes it on television. Along with her pitch-perfect Friday Night Lights parodythe memorable “Last Fuckable Day,” and the Emmy-winning “Girl, You Don’t Need Makeup,” Schumer found herself leading the way in 2015 as such excellent feminist comedy as Broad City and Sisters took over the landscape.

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