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March 2024
Vol. 23, No. 6

Hosing Down

Let ‘Em Laugh

by José SinatraJanuary 2015

I guess the one thing we really know about Kim Jong Un is that he doesn’t seem to have a sense of humor. If nothing else, he certainly proves the notion that looks can be deceiving.

On the other hand, if I were some country’s leader (as opposed to my actual station as role model for the world’s youth) I too might get just a little bit pissed off if somebody made a comedy film about me being assassinated. I mean, I wouldn’t want to give any ideas to the idiot masses, especially the American kind.

I don’t want to hear anymore that we “caved” when faced with cyber threats that likely originated in North Korea. The people who “caved” were nervous theater companies and, most important, the foreign owners of a huge corporation; not you and certainly not me. Credit ultimately lands in the lap of Kazuo Hirai, head of Sony. Hell, I’m upset most of all by the fact that an already-completed piece of art (which could be fabulous or even just a fabulous piece of you-know-what) is being forcibly withheld from my eyes.

The thought of unfettered freedom is intoxicating until we grasp the fact that it does not exist, at which point we spend the rest of our lives managing Truth’s lingering hangover. While I believe artists need to be free to create whatever they want, the idea behind The Interview was intriguing and provocative and downright rude. When the original Red Dawn came out, I similarly thought that, during the Cold War, it was both rude and irresponsible to portray a vicious Russian invasion of the United States (even though it was great to see William Smith of the original The Losers and Ron O’Neal of the original Superfly back on the screen.) Still, I nearly laughed my head off as it unspooled in the old cathedral of Cinema 21 and didn’t stop laughing until I exited into the parking lot and noticed that my vehicle seemed to be the only one not sporting some sort of NRA sticker. I laugh about that today…

Also quite rude and quite hilarious was Trey Parker’s majestic Team America — World Police. Kim Jong II (Un’s pop) was portrayed as a murderous psychopath who suffers an exceedingly gruesome demise (or does he?!) Parker has claimed that Team America was the most excruciatingly difficult project he’s ever undertaken — and I believe he is owed our eternal thanks. The film is nasty and vile and revolting and hilarious, and was made while the madman it so entertainingly portrays was still among the living. That the actor portraying him happened to be a puppet only made things funnier, and I am unaware of any noteworthy international incidents that were occasioned by the film’s release. And unlike The Interview, I can watch Team America — World Police again and again, whenever I want to, right at home on my DVD player. No one can take it away from me or forbid me to watch it and laugh myself silly. At least, not yet.

So is all this supposed to mean that Kim Jong Un is even meaner than his dad, more diabolical? Are we to henceforth watch our Ps and Qs and tremble before his bloated wrath? Part of me wants to keep the peace and part of me wants to flip him off for further diminishing my freedom.

Both parts of me want desperately to laugh and it hurts tremendously when a trusted jester is increasingly unable to make me do so. Case in point is Saturday Night Live, which I’ll refer to by its common abbreviation, SNL.

No, this isn’t another “it’s just not funny anymore” complaint; there’s something tangibly wrong with the show — something that diminishes whatever laughs it is able to provide (and it is still able to provide many) — something that should and can be fixed. I remember the sense of pride I felt several years ago when I was finally able to pinpoint what was so damned annoying to me about the presentations of one local television weatherman. I must have been hypnotized or stupified for years, and suddenly, it hit me — the guy just would not stand still! A stroll toward the camera would be followed by a stroll away from it, then repeated again and again, all while he’s looking at you and talking. Forward, backward, forward, backward, while he himself grows and diminishes in size. Well, the problem with SNL is similar in that it’s been there a long time and I only caught on to it recently. Yeah, I can sure be what they call slow.

It all boils down to a maddening laziness concerning the positioning of teleprompters and cue-cards during the sketches. Envision, if you will, two characters who are carrying on a conversation. They are both within a single shot — one on the left of the screen and one on the right. In the old, better days, the actors would be pretty much facing each other, reading their lines from cards held behind and to the side of their fellow actor. The cards (or teleprompter) were positioned out of the camera’s range and the dialogue seemed natural enough, delivered to its proper target.

Somewhere along the line, somebody decided that all that positioning and camera blocking took too much artistry to properly accomplish, and that it would be much easier to have maybe just a single teleprompter located somewhere near the freaking camera itself.

The result is further removal from the “pretend reality” of the sketch. You get an actor on the left of the screen and an actor on the right of the screen who are supposed to be talking to each other but they’re not even looking at each other! No, they’re looking more toward the audience (the teleprompter near the camera) and the result is something we’ve been lulled into getting used to but still something that is entirely ludicrous. In drawing attention to the artificiality of the situation the “fourth wall” is cracked and the humor diminishes as it leaks out and away.

And what’s with the bands? (Think back to the Beatles and how they’d smile and bow.) SNL can still sign on the most happening groups of the moment, and it’s great to be able to see them do their thing “live” and all, but when most of these groups have finished a song and the audience starts going crazy, you’d think that, by the looks on the band members’ faces, they’d just learned that The Interview’s theatrical release was being cancelled. I guess being perceived as “laid back” is more important these days than exhibiting any sense of humility or happiness. To me, watching these very fortunate musicians greet the applause with their studied nonchalance is both the saddest and the funniest thing on television.

Even when laughs are bitter, it’s comforting to have them within reach. To try to stifle them is enemy action.

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