Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mark Twain once famously said "Studying humor is like dissecting a frog--you may know a lot, but end up with a dead frog." With all due respects to Mr. Twain, wherever and whomever he may be, comedy is a difficult and tricky concept and we cannot expect just some guy like Mr. Twain to understand its delicate complexity. Comedy should be taught by a man who is accustomed to explaining complicated, difficult-to-grasp concepts. There's only one man I trust for that job: Science.
So, when I decided to try stand-up comedy for the first time, I knew I needed to attend a few classes at Science University. Luckily, I found three great scientific articles that dealt with dissecting, explaining and teaching comedy and humor. Once I applied the lessons taught in the following articles, there'd be no stopping me.
Science Explains the Gross-Out Comedy
My first lecture on How to Science Comedy came from a study conducted at The University of Colorado-Boulder on the subject of gross-out comedy, confirming my suspicion that everything has been discovered and no one knows what to do with grant money anymore.
The article starts off by reminding us that there are no absolutes, and comedy is indeed a tricky subject. At first it is explained that things that are "incongruous and release tension are funny," which seems straightforward. "But," Science points out, "unintentionally killing a loved one, while incongruous and an example of a release of aggressive tension, is unlikely to be funny." Good point, Science. I decided right then and there that I was no longer going to open my set by accidentally throwing a knife into my sister's heart.

kill maggie
pause for laughter

This scientific article about comedy isn't just about inadvertently murdering your spouse; there's also some bestiality.

In the scenario where the cat whined and was uncomfortable, almost everyone was not amused. (If you take nothing else from the study, you should at least be able to appreciate how even in this jaded, cynical day and age, most people are still not comfortable with over-the-pants cat rape. That's a victory, right?) However, the participants were much more likely to laugh if the cat enjoyed the crotch-rubbing, if there was no implied harm done to the cat. The conclusion the highly-paid and well-respected scientists reached was this:

The cat isn't harmed, so comedy happens. It's so simple: Comedy is about not harming cats.
The scientists have further condensed this experiment and, indeed, all gross-out comedy, to just three handy criteria: If something…

A) Violates a moral or social norm
B) Is benign
C) Is reconcilable
…then it's funny! You want your joke to be edgy and disrupt some kind of social more, but it also needs to be clear that everything is totally and completely fine. Just do that and you're funny!
Let's look at one more experiment the published scientists conducted:

Sort of feels unrelated to the study, but OK, Science is Science.
SCIENTIFIC COMEDY CONCLUSION: Your audience must be repulsed by a moral violation and also consider it benign. Also chicken-fucking.
19 Ways to Enhance Your Sense of Humor
Switching gears, I decided to turn to Reader's Digest, which had an article about the benefits comedy can have on your health. The article helpfully lists 19 ways a person can enhance their sense of humor. Just 19 steps? Who knew that was all it took to have a great sense of humor! It's honestly shocking that there aren't more comedians in the world.
The lessons were fairly easy and positively wicked.
Just think of the possibilities: Captions. Etc.
Running an airline! Perfect! A few more gems like that and I'd be the next Gallagher 2.

I can't think of a single unfunny thing about that idea.

It was almost unfair how scientifically hilarious I was going to be at this audience.
SCIENTIFIC COMEDY CONCLUSIONReader's Digest is the comedy Bible.
Cognitive Science of Humor
My final article came from the appropriately named ScienceBlogs, so you just know they've got their stuff together when it comes to comedy. The bulk of the article is about how the brain responds to good comedy (positively), and was largely irrelevant for my stand-up debut, but it did lead me to the hilarious Dr. Freud's unquestionable grip on what makes a joke funny.

So there you have it.
SCIENTIFIC COMEDY CONCLUSION: You don't really need me to spell it out for you, it's pretty clear.
My Stand-Up Debut!
Place: The Comedy Store.

I looked out over the crowd. A sea of smiling faces, buzzing from either the alcohol or the comedy, or some warm combination of the two. The buzz created an energy that I was ready to feed off of with my guaranteed, Science-vetted comedy. I had five minutes.
"Hey folks," I said, adjusting the microphone stand to a comfortable level. They clapped politely. I decided to start with Rule 15 of the Reader's Digest article about exaggerating problems.
"So I was walking down the street today and I realized that the situation in Darfur is so bad…"
"How bad is it," someone in the audience eagerly offered.
"It's so bad," I continued, "that all of our attempts to remedy it are useless! I mean is it just me, or are several hundred thousand dead already? Even if the civil war ended, that won't culturally or economically stabilize Sudan. And how about the health situation over there, I mean, what are these, super diseases? Are these super diseases that are wiping everyone out? I think so. There is literally nothing that anyone can do to fix this problem, like, even if the whole world joined together it would do nothing. The tragedy is insurmountable. Or should I say 'insurgentmountable'? Ah, but it's great to be here folks, you all look nice."
They weren't exactly laughing, but I wasn't going to let that slow me down. It's not my fault that they're not Science enough to appreciate my comedy. I decided to dumb it up a little bit, and strip my routine down to the basics as determined by the gross-out comedy scientists.
"So the other day I was walking down the street and a guy got hit by a bus but he was totally fine after, no real damage done." The crowd stared at me, expressionless. "I said he was fine. And he either marinated or had sex with a dead chicken, depending on where you are with respect to the Cartesian plane. So you guys who are closer to me, you'd laugh a lot, and the rest of you I… I forget, you just want chicken I guess." That got a few nervous chuckles from the crowd, so I decided to turn it up a notch by delivering my next bit with a Swedish accent.
"I vas valking down the street the other day. There sure are a lot of differences between white people and black people, am I right? I bet you could make some sharp observations about those differences and highlight a couple of stereotypes if you really put your mind to it. Anyway, my parents just got the Internet for the first time. Can you believe it? They're like, 'email?' It's pretty nutty."
I could tell that the audience wasn't totally feeling my Science, which I attributed to the fact that I lost my Swedish accent almost immediately. I really should have practiced, or maybe spent just a few seconds confirming whether or not I'd ever actually heard a Swedish person before. ("No," turns out.) I needed to sneakily consult my notes, so I stalled for time by utilizing Reader's Digest's sixth step.

"Pass- just pass those around and... yeah. Those should be good for a pick-me-up. Meanwhile I'll continue making comedy here on this stage. Boy, folks, this economy, right? Can't make this stuff up."
Someone in the audience, evidently bored with my routine, started shouting a few things at me and calling me names, which I won't reprint here, because they were in no way scientific. But, hecklers are just a part of this business, and luckily Reader's Digest taught me how to deal with people who offend me or make me angry.
"You are a shithead," the heckler heckled.
"I sure am glad you're not running an airline," I deftly retorted, stunning him into silence. Clearly, I was the Zingmaster, and he was but a clown in my Three Zing Circus.
My heckler defanged and my confidence restored, I decided to take a page out of comedian Dr. Freud's book.
"So I was walking down the street early this morning on my way to a place, and guess what I saw? There was a turtle and, like... like a hat, I guess, or a clock. A turtle and a clock. And they're together. Those two things sure are incongruous and unsuitable for each other, right? Well about an hour ago they got united in one complex object or assemblage. You might say they acquired a sort of mutual relation from the peculiar manner in which your mind takes notice of them." Laughter never arose and I was absolutely shocked.
The house manager from the back of the Comedy Store started flashing the "get off the stage" light (I responded by remarking how lucky we all were that he wasn't running an airline). I was getting nervous. No one was laughing, regardless of how funny my Science was. This was going to be my last chance, so I decided to break out a few of the big guns. One of those guns is cat-shaped, and the other is my-genitals-shaped.
"Wow, you guys have really been a terrific audience," I said, surreptitiously sliding a kitten out of my Science/Comedy briefcase/fanny pack. "I mean it, I've seen a lot of terrific audiences, and you are absolutely one of them. Now, for my next and final trick, I'm going to need a volunteer from my hand. This cat I'm currently holding will do." I could see faces in the audience starting to perk up. Noses began twitching with excitement, or possibly cat allergies. I softly patted Perkins, the black-and-white kitten I'd purchased earlier that morning, and gave it a you-know-what-to-do wink. Cats can't wink, but Perkins responded with the appropriate cat-wink analogue, which oddly enough is indistinguishable from a standard cat expression.
I loosened up my shoulders a bit. We can do this. I broadly rubbed Perkins up and down the frontal region of my crotch. The audience was stone silent, so I raised and lowered my eyebrows a few times. Still nothing, but like an angry nothing, now. Believing that the stilted, possibly contrived, vertical genital-rubbing motion I was using with Perkins was the source of their disapproval, I decided to change things up and utilize a more advanced, circular, counter-clockwise genital wipe technique that you've probably read about.
Still nothing. I was about to completely abandon this joke, leaving it in the dumpster behind the Comedy Store, like an unwanted, nonrefundable cat, when I remembered what was perhaps the most important bit of advice the scientists had on the subject of cat-to-dick comedy robotics.

"So I was walking down the street today. What is the deal with how into this my cat is? Am I right?"
The audience let out wave after wave of hearty guffaws in the form of muted gasps of horror. Some even walked out in approval. It all meant one thing: I was killing it. I'd finally found the perfect framing device for my jokes.
"And how about this Barack Obama, huh? What a character. [Wipe Wipe Wipe.] I suppose a solid impression of him would go over well, right about now. [Rub Rub.] The funny thing about Barack Obama is Sarah Palin, am I right? [Smmmmeeeeaaaarrrr.] Nah, but she seems nice. Perkins sure is having a blast down there. Take everybody's wife!"

We don't need no more sequels

Every time a prequel craps all over movie goers' expectations from high atop a pile of money, there seems to be a common refrain among disappointed fans: How could they waste all that potential?! Afterall, a franchise loses its luster with each passing sequel. But the prequels should reverse the aging process, since they rewind the storyline to back before the original movie was ruined. The brainless jack offs in Hollywood must be trying to ruin these franchises. One thing you rarely hear people bring up is that it might be literally impossible to make a good movie prequel. After all ...
The Past Was Better Before We Saw It Happen

When a magician hears the audience gasp and say, "How'd he do that?" he does not turn around and loudly announce, "Oh, the rabbit's in my assistant's ass." Similarly, professional writers know that there are some questions that their audience doesn't want answered, even though they think they do. Like a magician, a writer wants his audience to live in that space between knowing and wanting to know. That's what keeps them coming back for more. Unfortunately, when Hollywood studio executives hear the audience asking questions, they hire someone to start writing a prequel.

Questions invite thought, and audiences hate that.

Hannibal Lecter became a pop culture icon in part because he was gleefully engaged in the taboo act of cannibalism without any specific reason motivating him to be such an evil bastard. 2007 brought us Hannibal Rising, which explained that Lecter was a tortured youth during WWII who got tricked into eating his dead sister.
If we're going to call the young Vito Corleone scenes in The Godfather Part II a prequel, we'll go ahead and bestow the same status on the first 30 or so minutes of Rob Zombie's remake of John Carpenter's Halloween. The film delves into the childhood of Michael Myers, making crystal clear exactly how a young boy could commit such brutal murders. The short version is "He grew up in an abusive environment surrounded by a bunch of shitty rednecks."

Queue the tune from Deliverance.

Of course, this completely undermines exactly what was so scary about Michael Meyers. Carpenter went to great lengths to make Meyers straddle the line between inhuman nightmare cipher, and guy next door. He grounds everything in the real world by giving him a name, and putting him in a mental institution. But then he gives him a mask and motives that are intentionally vague. Carpenter knew that the blank mask allowed us to project whatever we wanted onto the character and that this is what we found scary. Rob Zombie apparently knew a few things he picked up about human psychology while watching Law and Order: SVU.
But the grand prize for supplying information that the audience doesn't need or want goes to the Star Wars prequels. The very thing that made the original films cool was that they combined Eastern mysticism with the typically dry sci-fi genre. Well, it turns out that all that mysticism was an accident. As the prequels explain, the Force was grounded in science, not mysticism. It's a bacterial infection.

This is what makes telekinesis possible.

Characters Need to Be Less Interesting to Make Sense

The natural inclination of a film franchise is to show the main character progressing and changing. If the movie works, the character is a little different at the end. Writers want the characters to evolve and so do we. A prequel hits "reset" on this process. You're starting with a character that is either the same one we wanted to see change when the original movie started, or one that's worse, and had to become more interesting to become that less interesting version the franchise started with.

Badass murder cyborgs > Whiny little shits.

In the Star Wars prequels, Anakin spends three movies whining about the inevitable change we all know is coming. It's the opposite of suspense. It's like listening to a joke that you already know the punch line to being stretched out over six hours. Unfortunately, that's what's needed to make Vaders bad ass nature in episodes IV-VI an act of progress.

Man's inhumanity to man is a terrible thing to behold.

The other problem here is that casting is borderline impossible. Despite giving a much better performance as Sabertooth, Liev Schreiber seems like he's pretending to be someone we've already seen played by Tyler Mane. The problem isn't Schreiber, who can act circles around Mane. It's that his character by nature has to be less interesting. Otherwise, he makes no damn sense.

Speaking of which ...
... Or They Can Just Make No Sense

The other option is to go ahead and ignore everything we know about what the character becomes in the future, which is what the Star Wars prequels did to Yoda. When we meet him for the first time in The Empire Strikes Back, he's a wise old Muppet who tells Luke that war and battle do not bring glory and that a person shouldn't be judged by his size or fighting abilities.

"Size matters not..."

Unfortunately, the second movie, which took place several decades before he dispenses his wise advice, needed an awesome sword fight for its climax. So we get Star Wars' answer to Gandhi hopping around like a coked up-circus monkey, flailing his lightsaber around before leading clone troopers into a glorious battle against a droid army.

" long as you have a laser sword and super powers."

Comparing his actions to what he tells Luke in Episode V gives the impression that Yoda has either:
A) Turned into a bitter old hypocrite who is conveniently neglecting to mention that he didn't always live up to the standard that he's setting for others
B) Conveniently forgotten everything that happened a couple decades ago, making him more deserving of his cultural reputation as a stoner than previously suspected.
C) Is sabotaging Luke by steering him away from the violent tactics he knows get results.
The Star Wars prequels are so excessively guilty of abandoning logic to shoe horn characters in that fans had to make up a bunch of wild theories to try to make a couple of characters fit better. The absolute silliest excuse was when they brought in C3PO so that viewers could enjoy more of his witty banter with R2D2. Turns out that Luke's dad built him when he was a little kid. Fans had to put up with that little gem of WTF so Lucas could have more of his beloved robot comedy duo taking up screen time. But this means that the characters know way too much for any of the subsequent movies that everyone loved to make sense. Are they pretending to be in the dark with everyone else about who Vader really is? Are they secretly pulling the strings behind the scenes?


What's the Opposite of Suspense?

Even if film makers can avoid all of the pitfalls mentioned above, there's one problem that's almost guaranteed to sink a prequel before it even sets sail. It's called suspense, or rather the lack thereof. The vast majority of movies that get prequels are action films, a genre that's driven by the conceit that death is around every corner.

No matter HOW cool your costume looks.

A prequel crushes this tension right from the get go. In Star Wars Episodes I through III we know that Anakin, Yoda, Obi-Wan, Palpatine, R2-D2 and C-3PO all have to be alive at the end. Same thing goes for Wolverine, Cyclops, Sabertooth and Stryker in Origins.
But you don't need it to be a movie with sword fights for a prequel to suck. Once the question of "Where's this going? Is this character going to make it?" has been eliminated, the question at the back of our mind becomes "How are we going to get there? Is it going to live up to the vague versions of events I've already supplied in my mind?" Instead of getting swallowed up by the film, the audience is passively judging it. It's the same reason people who have read the book always say they liked it better. The version you had in your head was made specifically for you by your brain. Instead of getting involved in the story, you're sitting back judging how the movie version is different from the choices you made.

We would have given Hannibal a 'fro.

This is probably what tricks us into thinking that prequels are easy to make. We're seeing someone tell a story that we've already told ourselves. This leads us to believe that telling the story our way would have been better. And it would have been. For you. But the rest of the audience would hate your answers just as much as you hated George Lucas'.
There Are Only Two Good Movie Prequels (And They Weren't Really Prequels)

Of course, it can't be impossible to make a good prequel. Right? Cinephiles generally point to two films for proof that the concept can work. The first one is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Wait, you didn't know it was a prequel? That's because the only signal that we've gone back in time to before the events of Raiders is the title card at the beginning that mentions that it takes place in 1935 (Raiders took place in 1936).
In fact, according to Lucas and Spielberg, the only reason it took place before Raiders was because Lucas didn't want the Nazis to be the villains again. If he set the film after Raiders, it would have to have taken place during WWII. They just made another movie with the same central character and called it a prequel so Indiana Jones would be remembered as an adventurer instead of that guy who fights Nazis with a bullwhip. It was a prequel in as much as an episode of Seinfeld from Season 4 was a prequel to an episode from Season 5.
Of course, there's no way to discredit Godfather Part II which, according to prequel defenders, invented and perfected the idea of the movie prequel at the same time by showing how Vito Corleone rose to power.

And provided fodder for this comedy classic.

Except the second Godfather was even less of a prequel than Temple of Doom. Almost exactly one hour, or way less than a third, of the movie takes place in the past. Michael Bay puts more of his movies in slow motion. The idea of setting so many scenes in the past worked brilliantly alongside the story that was unfolding in the present, just like it did in Lost when it was called a flashback.

This was back before his wine years.

Hollywood seized on the flashback part, and over thirty terrible prequels later, they still haven't learned what Coppola knew when he "invented" the convention. And unless Hollywood starts hating money, Ridley Scott's upcoming Alien prequel isn't going to slow the onslaught. We'll all probably go see it, even though we know we'll be disappointed. At least now we'll all know why.

As long as they go over Hicks' past as a college foosball champion.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Not mine, I am lazy. WWI in a nutshell.

Germany, Austria and Italy are standing together in the middle of a pub when Serbia bumps into Austria and spills Austria’s pint.
Austria demands Serbia buy it a complete new suit because there are splashes on its trouser leg.
Germany expresses its support for Austria’s point of view.
Britain recommends that everyone calm down a bit.
Serbia points out that it can’t afford a whole suit, but offers to pay for the cleaning of Austria’s trousers.
Russia and Serbia look at Austria.
Austria asks Serbia who it’s looking at.
Russia suggests that Austria should leave its little brother alone.
Austria inquires as to whose army will assist Russia in compelling it to do so.
Germany appeals to Britain that France has been looking at it, and that this is sufficiently out of order that Britain should not intervene.
Britain replies that France can look at who it wants to, that Britain is looking at Germany too, and what is Germany going to do about it?
Germany tells Russia to stop looking at Austria, or Germany will render Russia incapable of such action.
Britain and France ask Germany whether it’s looking at Belgium.
Turkey and Germany go off into a corner and whisper. When they come back, Turkey makes a show of not looking at anyone.
Germany rolls up its sleeves, looks at France, and punches Belgium.
France and Britain punch Germany. Austria punches Russia. Germany punches Britain and France with one hand and Russia with the other.
Russia throws a punch at Germany, but misses and nearly falls over. Japan calls over from the other side of the room that it’s on Britain’s side, but stays there. Italy surprises everyone by punching Austria.
Australia punches Turkey, and gets punched back. There are no hard feelings because Britain made Australia do it.
France gets thrown through a plate glass window, but gets back up and carries on fighting. Russia gets thrown through another one, gets knocked out, suffers brain damage, and wakes up with a complete personality change.
Italy throws a punch at Austria and misses, but Austria falls over anyway. Italy raises both fists in the air and runs round the room chanting.
America waits till Germany is about to fall over from sustained punching from Britain and France, then walks over and smashes it with a barstool, then pretends it won the fight all by itself.
By now all the chairs are broken and the big mirror over the bar is shattered. Britain, France and America agree that Germany threw the first punch, so the whole thing is Germany’s fault . While Germany is still unconscious, they go through its pockets, steal its wallet, and buy drinks for all their friends.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Part two of last post, i made it more better for all you grammar nazis out there.

I've been to many churches, I've quoted many verses
I've dealt with my base self I controlled my many urges
I used to study my lessons
That was a blessing not a curse
I found out that heaven and hell exist right here on earth, word
Studied with Rastafarian's, found out from the dreads that hell is called Babylon
And that's where the crazy boarheads dwell
They got us thinking that muslims like to make bombs
But real muslims believe in paradise and resisting Shaitan

So it all sound the same to me
But when they say one's right and the other is wrong it just sound like game to me
It's like god skipped past the church and came to me
No that ain't vein to me
It's just a particular way that I came to see
The difference between those that claim to be
Religious and those that say they spiritual
And recognize that life is full of miracles
You can the flow is divine
I glow when I rhyme
Cause it coincide with a grow in tide of those
looking for god that know to go inside

Looking for absolution
Livin in mass confusion
The gas inducing psychopath created a last solution
Based on his interpretation of what the words are saying
Lookin for god but ended up doing the work of satan
Religion create division
Make the muslim hate the christian
Make the christian hate the jew
Make up rules of faith
That you condition to and gotta follow
god forbid you go to hell
But if you ever been to any ghetto then you know it well

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Every Sunday dressin' up, catchin' gossip at its worst
Couldn't see the difference in the Baptist and the Catholic Church
Caught up in the rapture of the First Chapter and Second Verse
If we all God's children then what's the word of the reverend worth

Taught early that faith is blind like justice when you facin' time
If we all made in God's image then that means his face is mine
Wait or it's that blasphemy, it's logical it has to be
If I don't look like my father then the way I live is bastardly

Naturally that's confusion to a young'n tryin' to follow Christ
Taught that if you don't know Jesus then you lead a hollow life
Never question the fact that Jesus was Jewish not a Christian
Or that Christianity was law accordin' to politicians

Who was King James, and why did he think it was so vital
To remove chapters and make his own version of the Bible?
They say Hell is underground and Heaven is in the sky
And they say that's where you go when you die
But how they know?

We know that what we reap we sow
But we forget how low we can go
You think it's bad here on Earth
Every Sunday dressin' up, catchin' gossip at its worst
Couldn't see the difference in the Baptist and the Catholic Church
Caught up in the rapture of the First Chapter and Second Verse
If we all God's children then what's the word of the reverend worth

Taught early that faith is blind like justice when you facin' time
If we all made in God's image then that means his face is mine
Wait or it's that blasphemy, it's logical it has to be
If I don't look like my father then the way I live is bastardly

Naturally that's confusion to a young'n tryin' to follow Christ
Taught that if you don't know Jesus then you lead a hollow life
Never question the fact that Jesus was Jewish not a Christian
Or that Christianity was law accordin' to politicians

Who was King James, and why did he think it was so vital
To remove chapters and make his own version of the Bible?
They say Hell is underground and Heaven is in the sky
And they say that's where you go when you die
But how they know?

We know that what we reap we sow
But we forget how low we can go
You think it's bad here on Earth,But if we don't get to heaven, it's hell.