Comedy is such a peculiar thing. I was reading an article about David Denby’s new book, “Snark.”
Here’s how he describes snark:
As David Denby writes in his impassioned eponymous diatribe, “Snark is hostile as spit … hazing on the page. It prides itself on wit, but it’s closer to a leg stuck out in a school corridor that sends some kid flying.”
His argument is that the eternal quest to be clever– a very particular, very nasty kind of clever– is ruining public discourse. I’m going to have to read his book before I come to a complete opinion about it, but on the surface anyway, I think he has a point. Being mean does not automatically make you funny; sometimes, especially when you’re dealing with satire, it is critical and maybe even a little mean, but it has a point to make, and comedy is just the form.
I love satire and I love wit and cleverness. But sometimes? I am in the mood for comedy that is just unapologetically silly. Physical comedy, slightly juvenile jokes, the absurd, the ridiculous. It’s easy to do this type of comedy badly (for example, much of SNL and, more horrifyingly: Epic Movie, Date Movie, whatever the hell else those film-makers do), but it can also be incredibly funny and clever.
Here are a few of my favorite “silly” shows right now.
Pysch— This show thrives on silly. James Roday, as Shawn, obviously has a lot of fun with physical comedy, not just in terms of his “pyschic visions,” but also with his disguises and characters. Dule Hill’s Gus also has a silly side, that usually comes out in his competitiveness with his best friend (for example, this).
Best example: Lights, Cameras, Homicidio. This entire show is ridiculously silly (which is why I love it so much– it does silly about as well as any show on television), which made it difficult to choose just one episode of silliness, but this always kills me. “American Duos” may actually be the silliest episode ever, but Lights, Camera, Homicidio is better executed, I think. James Roday’s ridiculous spanish accent, over the top Telenovela acting… even the theme song is silly the episode. Plus there’s Lassiter’s incredibly limited Spanish coming back to haunt him when he must interrupt a live broadcast. Even the closing credits are silly. (Yes, that’s Dule Hill’s voice).
How I met your mother— This show thrives on the silly quirks of its characters. There’s Marshall’s random singing (“Studying law… making a responsible choice for my future. Being a lawyer had better be awwwwesome”), Lily use of her kindergarten techniques in her adult relationships, Robin’s love of guns and cigars, Pretentious!Ted, and Barney? Oh Barney. An epic comedic creation (and Neil Patrick Harris is such a remarkable physical comedian). I think I fell in love with this show when Marshall and Ted (“The Knights of the poorly constructed round table,” Lily calls them later) have an actual, physical duel in their apartment, with their tacky decorative swords. Their complete joy at the awesomeness of their duel is contagious.
Best example: Slap Bet. I wanted to pick a less obvious example, because the show is really great at spreading the silly around, but honestly, Slap Bet is such an especially awesome episode. The entire concept of the slap bet, complete with Slap Bet Commissioner, produces some kick-ass moments of physical comedy, and seeing Cobie Smulders dressed up like an 80s pop-star will never stop being funny.
30 rock— The whole show is surrealist, full of ridiculous zany characters. There’s Tracy Morgan, complete with his list of bizarre career achievements (ex. “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah”). There’s Jenna, with her ridiculous attention seeking behavior, Kenneth, a television savont, and his stories of the Hill People. Liz Lemon herself is a strange, quirky person who only looks “sane” by comparison.
Best example: Believe in the Stars. I know there were some mixed opinions about this episode, “The Oprah episode,” but personally, it killed me. From Liz’s Princess Leia outfit, to her string of confessions to “Oprah” (“This one time, at camp, I kissed a girl on a dare, and then she died”), to the “contest” between Tracy and Jenna, ending with some hilarious awkward costume choices, to the fake Olympic sports like “synchronized running,” this episode kills with the silly.
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the Colbert Report— Obviously, the Report falls, quite more often than not, into the “satire” category. But the nature of the “Colbert” character also means he can create moments of complete absurdity and silliness, much more so than the Daily Show can get away with.
Best example: This is a rough one. Korean pop song music video and dance off? Check. Eating his stage manager, Bobby? Check. Epic, completely bizarre feuds (with the Decemberists, Rain, Barry Manilow, etc)? Check. Star Wars Green screen challenge? Check.
Oh, just watch this.
Honorable mention, classic addition
Frasier— This is technically off the air, obviously, but I love the reruns on Lifetime, so I’m including it. Look, I know Frasier seems like it is all intellectual, but it’s basically a modern-day Shakespearean comedy/comedy of manners. It is profoundly, profoundly silly.
Best example: Ham Radio. This one was on TV the other day, and I had almost forgotten how silly it is. Such a small concept– putting on a radio mystery– but it turns into this farsical comedy of errors, from Roz’ emergency dental work, to Gil’s insistance on performing his big monologue, even as his character is killed off, to Niles final, angry revenge.