Saturday, 17 December 2011

The Stench of Regimented Fun

Stand-up comedy is traditionally where someone stands on a stage and says stuff that makes you laugh, and it has become a massive industry over the last decade, leading unfortunately to a reduction in the quality of chuckles one can expect when attending whichever one of the four million comedy clubs you've picked out by stabbing a random pin into a page of the comedy guide. In England (at least during the late 1990s) this aforementioned downward turn made the practice of popping out to see a comedian of a Saturday night an increasingly haphazard experience, and often a surprisingly miserable one  - particularly if you happened to live in East Dulwich and had the misfortune to stand next to someone as they opened a packet of crisps, an event which would almost certainly draw the attention of local "funnyman" Stephen Frost. This encrappening process seems to have arisen due to the increased general popularity of stand-up comedy in turn leading to a million mildly amusing blokes in works canteens across the land finding themselves surrounded by howling mates all crying out nahahahahahah stoppit Kevin, I'm pissing meself, you should be on stage you should you stupid bleedah!

I'm guessing that's what happened. Just before I gave up on live comedy, I saw one hell of a lot of deeply unamusing middle-aged blokes standing around in jeans and sweat shirt whining about girlfriends not understanding them, hilarious occurrences transpiring whilst smoking jazz cigarettes, timeless hangover anecdotes, general self-conscious efforts towards appearing to be a Cockney Barrow Boy and not, for example, the upper middle class child of award winning artist Sir Terrance Frost. Because we all love a bit of dope don't we... we all love a spliff as we jingle our car keys in a back pocket and ponder upon how great it is to be just this bloke, just some geezer who AIN'T FANCY...

Anyway. There's too much comedy around, and not enough of it is funny. Now that I'm resident in the United States and no longer able to look to funeral warm up acts like Stephen Frost, Andy Smart, or Ed Byrne for my jollies, I occasionally scan Netflix for something that might raise a smile. So far I've found the mighty Bill Hicks and not a whole lot else. There are a lot of Jams, and a lot of Roasts, and many pictures of chaps in casual dress doing that face to the camera, the one that says hey... you don't have to be crazy to work here, BUT IT HELPS!!!, the one that usually accompanies a failed joke cracked by someone who has just spent ten minutes telling you how much they earn.

Jam is a fruit preserve that one spreads upon either toast or scones (and if you have no idea what scones may be, please feel free to go right ahead and develop civilisation); or a weirdly amusing TV series written by Chris Morris; or a memorable 1970s punk band formed by Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton, and Rick Buckler; or, at a stretch, what happens when a bunch of musicians get together to improvise a piece of music that will never be enjoyed by anyone other than those involved, excepting perhaps drug-addled friends who tend to like anything. Apparently Jam is also something that happens when stand-up comedians get together, although I don't really understand how that works, but it has the stench of regimented fun about it, so it's probably not for me. Anything which induces Hiroshima volume levels of hootin' and a-hollerin' before the Bringer of Hilarity has even said his first word inspires my distrust

Roast is the other term which confuses me, given that it only makes real sense when applied to something one takes out of the oven at Christmas. In comedy terms I gather a Roast is similar to a Jam. One prefixes a Roast by high-fiving one's buddies, rolling one's eyes, and a-hollering hoo boy, Sherman Bingley sho' am gon' git hi'self a roastin' when he see what them guys got in sto' fo' his ass yesireebob. It presupposes gut-busting hilarity, and I have a sinking feeling that said gut-busting hilarity in this case tends to range from how fat yo' mama be to asking bagels... man, what is up with those things, that little bitty hole in the middle and all made of bread 'n' shit, and what few points exist between the two.

Today's handy hint is therefore directed at the next generation of America's comedians: calling something either a Roast or a Jam does not make it inherently amusing. That's what jokes are for. And whilst you think on that, here's some PROPER music:

Ah Paul... how did it all go so terribly wrong?

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Garfield = Jeremy Clarkson

Ah the broad new horizons to which one is exposed through the joys of handing control of the TV over to a small boy, Garfield for example. I never warmed to the famed pizza scoffing feline in his newspaper strip incarnation, so it seemed a safe bet that it wasn't going to happen with twenty or so minutes of bog standard, clunky CGI animation the production of which almost seems to be saying fuck it, that'll do...

For starters, the voice is weird. I know this is a common hazard with animated translations of popular cartoon characters (see also Asterix the Gaul which, for my money, they screwed up big time), but it is perhaps inevitable that whatever voice is used, it will never come close to whatever was in your head when you first read the thing to yourself. I'm not sure quite how I imagined Garfield to sound, but probably not like someone from Insane Clown Posse on horse tranquilisers.

The episode we watched as a family this evening, as apparently you are supposed to do in order to promote something or other, kicked off with legal proceedings taken against Jon (Garfield's hapless owner) in order to (unless I misread the situation) reclaim a substantial unpaid debt accrued by the cat's heavy pizza habit. As if to add insult to injury, even as Jon is discussing this matter with the prosecuting lawyer, Garfield walks past carrying a stack of fifteen or so pizza boxes, grinning in that characteristic fashion which seems to say I could have you killed if I so desired. Jon, rather than insist that his cat adopt a more traditional (and less financially demanding) feline diet, elects to have a yard sale so as to raise funds which will, I presume, go towards the cost of mounting legal defense. Of course Garfield decides to help in his own "inimitable" fashion. He does this by selling Odie (the family dog) at the yard sale, although the point of this sale seems to be more in order of providing amusement by forcing Odie to confront his own worthlessness as perceived by Garfield - achieved by insisting the dog is worth a mere two cents, and then insisting that the buyer pay only half that, all the while rolling around upon the path, beating a paw upon the lawn as tears of mirth stream down his whiskers: the worthlessness of others is hilarious you see.

So at this point Garfield is not only directly responsible for his owner's financial ruination, but is wilfully compounding it by prioritising his own callous sense of humour over all else. Jon is ultimately saved from bankruptcy due to some obscure deal involving the lawyer's puppyholic son (who has purchased Odie for one cent) melting his father's black, litigious heart whilst Garfield (apparently either unaware or unconcerned that he is himself the architect of all this suffering, and who has spent the last twenty minutes grinning his arse off at the raw hilarity of the situation) rather sanctimoniously reminds us that one cannot put a price on true friendship.

Clearly Garfield considers himself a great wit, although his actions are those of the worst sort of sociopath. He is Jeremy Clarkson on four legs, chuckling at the stench of his own farts, belching pizza into a human face forever. And filming himself doing it.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Don't do the Mario, please...

Having been born in 1965, my generation grew up to be at the cusp of that whole thing with computers, information technology, and so on. Computer science wasn't an option at my high school, although it became so by the time I attended sixth form college; but as it worked out, I went in one direction, whilst my friends went in another, specifically towards the room with the computers with their formidable 2KB of processing power programmed by cassette tapes of noise that would prove popular with amateur Throbbing Gristle enthusiasts. The first game I played was called, I believe, Pong, which the internet describes as a tennis sports game featuring simple two-dimensional graphics. It was this game which provided the big grand slam finale of BBC TV's Crackerjack every Friday towards the end of the 1970s, with two lucky tousle haired raggamuffins batting a black square slowly back and forth across a screen in order to win a pencil. I could never really see the point.

Games developed, with programmers attempting to give their creations personality in, I suppose, an effort to help persons such as myself see the point. And so we come to the Mario Brothers. I never played the game, or indeed any game (this being due to my remaining unable to see the point), but so far as I can tell, Mario Brothers had some vague sort of narrative, something about a Princess, sentient mushrooms, reptile people, and Italian-American plumbing contractors. If it was all in aid of jazzing up various bleeping things chasing each other around a screen, fair enough I guess, but sadly it went some way further. There were animated cartoons based on the game, a TV show, even a film with Bob Hoskins. Whilst I may have been something of a moron back in those days, even then I knew it just didn't add up. Mario Brothers was a poor title for any form of narrative, and Super Mario Brothers made even less sense whilst being as aesthetically pleasing as Doctor Who retitled Really Good Time Travel Man; furthermore, forcing this shit into the shape of a story was just ridiculous, like making a film out of Chess, Snakes & Ladders, or Monopoly with Kate Winslett playing the little scottie dog.

None of which would really trouble me were it not for stepfatherhood bringing me into close and alarming proximity to something called the Super Mario Brothers Super Show which may possibly be the most headachey bit of children's TV I think I've ever had the misfortune to encounter; which is why I've chosen to moan about it here.

The Super Mario Brothers Super Show was made in 1989 or thereabouts, or at least I suspect that would turn out to be the case if I could be bothered to look it up. It features two actors, one skinny, one more generously built, magically transformed into the brothers of the title by virtue of unconvincing moustaches and-a talking-a like-a this-a, because-a if-a television-a has-a taught-a us-a anything-a, it-a is-a that-a Italian-a-Americans-a speak-a that-a way-a. I'm not sure quite what these actors get up to in their allotted twenty or so minutes of show, but some of it almost certainly involves terrible quality CSO effects, and an animated segment involving a Princess, sentient mushrooms, reptile people, and Italian-American plumbing contractors. I've seen it once, but appear to have blocked the memory. However, the feature which has incurred wrath sufficient for my actually bothering to sit down and write this, is the closing credits, and specifically the song, Do the Mario.

Doing the Mario seemingly entails swinging ones arms from side to side which, as one YouTube subscriber notes, is actually very similar to walking. Worse still, it purports to be rap, but the sort of rap which existed in the wake of Grandmaster Flash splitting from the Furious Five and prior to Eazy-E getting disappointing exam results, in other words rap of the wilderness years which, aside from Public Enemy and Whodini, was for the most part at least as pointless as Pong. Presumably someone somewhere thought this was what the kids wanted. And maybe it was.

Maybe I'm too old to understand, but I don't think so. Saying that something is really intended for children does not excuse one from producing a steaming great pile of multicoloured shite, because shite is shite no matter how many ringtones one may be able to download from it. Winnie the Pooh, Fungus the Bogeyman, and Asterix the Gaul were all produced with children in mind, and it is not difficult to see why these represent quality and craftsmanship.

That is all.