Saturday, July 30, 2011

Epic Funny FTW, LOLz0r... NOT!

Yes, I get it. It's ugly. It's
not dead or magical, it's
just an ugly little toy.
On the BBS I frequent, someone produced this link: Would You Like To Buy A Monkey, and it sparked something unpleasant in my heart. I don't mean it scared me, not at all: it's just a worn monkey doll. Bleh. The writer's making a big deal about it but it's just an ugly doll made of synthetic materials.

The style humor in that piece is what I wrestle with.

She uses a lot of overused popular catchphrases, like many people do, mixing them up and pulling them out at intervals. They were interesting once but now people just love them because they're familiar. The use of "made of awesome" now refers to other times that phrase was used, so people get these huge memory tie-ins to other events, and when they get to use that phrase it's akin to being admitted to a larger group they'd only admired from a distance previously.

When we laugh at "Worst... (noun)... ever," it's only because it takes us back to Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons. It's an "OMG! You saw that episode? So did I!" spark of connection... which is really asinine if you examine it. It meant more in the '80s when Dennis Miller honed it to an art (long before he turned into a conservative Shar Pei) because he really was culling from obscure cultural references. But we've all seen The Simpsons, we've all seen that episode, and swapping out nouns in that heavily borrowed phrase is beyond tired. Now I have to wonder whether its popularity is only a symptom of some astounding disconnection people feel with society, a vacuum of community, and bonding over a popular TV show's catchphrase momentarily assuages the pain, like why zombies eat brains.

And that's fine. Much of entertainment is loved only because it's familiar, not clever. Like yelling "Freebird!" at a concert. We've passed the generation of concert-goers that have no freakin' clue what that references--they just think it's something you yell at a live show, and for some reason it's funny.

That's a totally valid school of humor--not my preferred school, but valid--and when I look at my own writing I think I'm unable to break free of it.

We chooses our muses. (Image: Memphis Flyer)
This concerns me because of the humorists I admire: Eugene Mirman, Paul F. Tompkins, Tina Fey, Dave Atell, Maria Bamford, Kirsten Wiig, Amy Sedaris, Zack Galifianakis, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Colbert. Their humor is not characterized as "derivative." They have their inspiration, sure, but they're innovative, they come up with new ways to tickle and provoke hilarity. They don't fall back on "(noun) of doom" or "failed miserably" or other threadbare phrases. They come up with new concepts to make people laugh.

I don't feel I have that ability, but it's to what I aspire. I want to get out of the "taquitos!" camp and into the blown-mind campus. I don't know how. The closest I come is when riffing at a party with certain other luminaries in my esteem, but when I sit down to write, I feel like I'm pulling touch-worn phrases out of a paper bag and rearranging them on my screen.

So when I read something like that woman's copy, buying the old monkey doll, it makes me self-conscious. It makes me angry... but angry at myself. It's like copyediting: before I was an editor, I was obsessed with every mistyped "teh" and I'd freak out over "their/they're/there" like every freshman grammarian trying to prove his worth. Now I'm concerned with much larger issues, more subtle nuances. I'm beyond even grinning appreciably at those elemental, basic errors.

What I'm saying is, if I were very good at humor and could generate The Funny on the fly (see, even appending The to a concept, that's trite and reliable), then I would be more confident in my position and her tawdry spiel wouldn't ruffle me at all. And I know that if any of the comedians I mentioned were in conversation with me and I brought up my concern, bringing up the "made of awesome" writer, they'd nod and wince and look away with a "Yeah, but," and explain to me that even though those jokes characterize a certain level of humor, it still has its value. Like the Buddhist monk to spent so much time impressing upon me the value of every human life, how people I perceive as suffering and troubled are every bit as valuable and meriting as healthy, indolent, successful business leaders. I should have no pity for the suffering (wow, that sounds bad) but recognize their existence, their perspective has important value.

That's how the comedians I admire would (essentially) justify these poorer, derivative soi dissant comedy writers to me. They'd remind me I'm not so great and they're not so bad. I'm already very clear on that first point, is my point; I want to get better but I don't know what muscles to flex to even begin this workout.

How do you practice startling, original thought?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Broken Images

I apologize for the sudden disappearance of all the images in this blog. I was tooling around on Google+ and saw that all my Picasaweb albums manifested in the Photos section of my new account. Not wanting them to appear in my profile--they wouldn't make sense outside of their blogging context--I deleted them in Google+.

Today I discovered that also deletes them in Picasaweb, where all my online albums are stored. Now I have to go through my backed-up archives, dig out all the photos, re-upload them and re-link them to each individual post. I'm very upset about this hassle and embarrassed about the inconvenience, but at least I learned something and therefore grew as a person.

Images will be restored in the next week or so.