I’m getting this out of the way right now — this week I have no comics to talk about. I have been thoroughly underwhelmed by the comics I’ve chosen to read this week, which is not to say that there aren’t good things out there, it’s just that I’ve chosen poorly. Outside of comics, though, I feel I’ve made some good choices, especially in the area of comedy and comedy-related works, and I come to you with three offerings that I feel have some excellent potential.
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Television: I have watched so many episodes of Parks and Recreation over the past few weeks that they are seeping into my subconscious and leaking into my dreams. (Seriously, earlier this week I had a less-than-pleasant dream, bordering on nightmare territory, that was interrupted by Leslie Knope and Chris Traeger yelling motivational and self-improvement slogans at me.) I’ve moved quickly through seasons four and five and into season six, and the speed at which I’m getting through episodes has helped me put my finger on why I feel the show lost a little of its punch after the fourth season. After the election at the end of season four, the show relied much less on jokes for its humour and much more on the characters. There are individual episodes that are veritable joke-fests, but the show’s overall shift is to one that is powered by a character-driven sense of humour. Ultimately, this later incarnation of Parks and Recreation sacrifices quips for character beats, which makes for a different viewing experience, though not necessarily a bad one. In fact, I enjoy that the writers and actors have enough confidence in the characters to let the show breathe a little, allowing the funny moments to come from their interactions and their responses to bizarre situations. The show meanders a little bit after season four, which is a trap a lot of long-running sitcoms fall into, but at least in the case of Parks and Recreation, even when the creators don’t know where their storylines are going, the characters and performers are strong and versatile enough to carry the show.
Books: I am a third of the way through Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller, which is a quick and fun read (with a few rough edges). It’s an oral history of SNL, compiled from interviews from dozens of people who have been involved in the show over the past 40 years, including past and current writers, performers, hosts, network executives, and producers. It’s fascinating to hear stories,straight from the horses’ mouths, about how the show came together, and then how it was on the verge of falling apart for the next 10 years, so why am I frustrated? It has nothing to do with the subject matter or how the interviews conflict with each other. On the contrary, I find that reading subjective accounts of the same event from different people and trying to piece together what objectively happened is absolutely fascinating; when three people tell three different versions of the same troubling story, each of them making him or herself out to be blameless, it’s as though I’m a detective trying to decide on the most likely chain of events. No, my problems with the book are the authors themselves. Their interstitial comments that help to advance the story are full of either pompous windbaggery, awful attempts at jokes, or both. It’s very clear that Shales and Miller have put SNL on a pedestal, especially the early seasons with the original staff, and their pretentious and unfunny style is so at odds with the more conversational tone of the interviews that I get frustrated every time they start editorializing. Overall I am definitely enjoying the book, and would recommend it wholeheartedly if the authors could just get out of their own way and be a little more irreverent, like the version of the show they claim to love so much.
Comedy: On Kyle Kinane’s most recent special, I Liked His Old Stuff Better, he has the same gravelly voiced delivery and out-of-left-field punchlines, but as he says at the top of the show, he’s a little older and a little mellower. And while Kinane isn’t the fiery comedy meteor he is on his first two albums, Death of the Party and Whiskey Icarus, that’s actually a good thing. For one thing, he gets to touch on a wider range of topics than he’s done in the past, which gives the show a little more depth than I’d expected. For another, he’s more confident in taking his time with his bits and sacrificing a little of his frenetic energy to allow the audience to appreciate the material on its own terms. That’s not to say he’s abandoned his intensity entirely, he’s just reigned it in a little and uses it when it’s most effective. Whether he’s recalling a metaphysical conversation he had with a cat, being overcome by realizations about the nature of love thanks to listening to The Commodores while drinking in the shower, or exploring the folly of his youth through misadventures in therapy, Kinane is on point throughout the special, adeptly combining quick-fire jokes with long-form anecdotes. There’s one point towards the end of the special where he threatens to lose me entirely, but he manages to pull out of the tailspin and finish the show with a flourish, though he’s a little wobbly on the landing. The Kyle Kinane in I Liked His Old Stuff Better is slightly older and wiser and better for the experience, and this special points the way to a very interesting path for the comedian. It’s the most polished and consistent work I’ve ever seen him do, and would be a very good entry to the man’s work.
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That’s about it for me this week. Until next time, do something that makes you laugh. I’ll see you in seven days.