I loved this short film up on NoBudge this week, written and directed by Anthony Oberbeck. It’s only eight minutes long so there’s no point in me saying too much about it. Just that I really admire its patience. A lot of short-form video comedy these days is unrelentingly energetic, with heightened performances and brisk direction and editing hurrying the viewer from beat to beat, joke to joke. It feels rare for something to go so forcefully in the other direction: to move slowly between a few inherently funny images, letting their potency grow as the viewer comes to apprehend them fully. The fly in a glass of milk. The corpse in a shimmering pool. The pool walled by evergreens, the man staring bleakly into a row of sunlit flowers. Pieces like this remind me that funny is not just a matter of jokes or game or character or plot, although it has all of those. Funny is also atmosphere, tone, mood, the manipulation of time, every little thing combining into a state of heightened consciousness toward the absurd—a whole infinitely greater than the sum of its parts.
If you’re ever trying to figure out why a work of comedy left you unsatisfied, I think a good first question to ask is: did it put you in that heightened state? Or did it just gesture in the general direction? You can always tell on some intuitive level when you’re circling the thing, whatever the thing is, rather than experiencing it. This works the other way too. Often I find myself wondering why I feel so transformed by something that only made me laugh sparingly; or, why something that did crack me up still feels so transformative on rewatch, when I’m not laughing anymore because the surprise is gone. I’m thinking of this song from Reggie Watts’ special Spatial—
—or so much of Joe Pera Talks With You—
—both of which are so precisely imagined and executed that they seem beamed-in from another reality. And that’s, I guess, one reason I come to art: to enter that reality, to spend a little time in someone else’s mind, to interpret the world through someone else’s peculiar way of thinking, and to then return to my reality and find it just a little bit reshaped by theirs. I think of the French surrealist poet Paul Éluard: “There is another world, and it is this one.” Or the American playwright Will Eno:
As for the idea of narrative, I think it’s ancient and crucial, but I think we have to include in our sense of narrative, this: earliest Man and Woman are naked and standing under the stars, enjoying the Stone Age air, and suddenly, a large dark shape, just over there, moves, or they think it moves, and that’s it, that’s all. Somewhere therein is, to me, the best and simplest sense of narrative-- something just happened, we’re not sure what it was, but probably it was what we thought it was, and it means that something else is going to happen, to us, and we are filled with real feelings, and we know that somehow our lives depend on what happens next, somehow our lives are what happens next, and we wonder what that will be.
To detect suddenly the presence of something huge and hitherto unseen—and whose totality is still unseen—and to feel with it the imminence of irreversible change—and whatever joy or terror or loss or comfort that change will bring—all these things perceptible but not quite definable, not quite describable—well, I think that’s a pretty good feeling. And if there’s jokes involved too? Mmmm, baby.
Ominous news out of Studio 8H.
Colin Jost has become famous by delivering fake news on the venerable “Weekend Update” segment on “Saturday Night Live.” But he may be poised to deliver real headlines about his future with the program.
Jost’s new memoir, “A Very Punchable Face,” is due out April 14 from Penguin Random House’s Crown imprint. In uncorrected galley proofs of the book reviewed by Variety, Jost mulls the possibility that he may leave “SNL,” where he has held forth for 15 years as a writer, head writer and member of the show’s cast. It’s possible the language and remarks used in the galley may change before the book’s final publication date.
In the book, Jost says he is “preparing mentally” to leave the program sometime in the near future, suggesting he would like to continue co-anchoring “Weekend Update” with Michael Che at least through the 2020 election. Jost cites a desire to try his hand at developing bigger, broader ideas, compared with the sketches on the show that sometimes result from 24 hours of feverish idea-hatching.
I owe you all an apology. It did not occur to me that Colin Jost speculating about his departure in his boring-ass memoir, of which Humorism has also reviewed uncorrected galley proofs, might merit a big boldface exclusive story. Allow me to make up for this by sharing a few other notable tidbits from A Very Punchable Face.
Why Lorne was worried about booking Donald Trump:
In Lorne’s defense, at the time he booked Donald Trump, no one thought he could possibly get the nomination, let alone get elected president. In fact, I remember that Lorne was worried about booking Trump because he might have already flamed out and disappeared from the race by the time the show happened. He was way more worried about Trump being irrelevant than he was about Trump being a legitimate candidate.
Also, anyone who had even a passing knowledge of Donald Trump knew that he was a Democrat! No one thought he would actually do any of the things he was saying. No one thought he would even keep saying the things he was saying.
Don’t forget: Hillary Clinton went to Donald Trump’s wedding! It seemed to a lot of people at the time, especially among New Yorkers, that he and Hillary weren’t all that dissimilar and that Trump’s “conservative” agenda was all a facade. (This was, of course, very naive.)
I do remember wondering: Will anyone in the audience boo Trump when he walks onstage? But not a single person did. I think the audience (like a lot of America) still liked Trump as a person and didn’t think he was an existential threat to democracy…
(Ed. note: I have been told by a source close to the show during Season 41 that producers deliberately filled the Trump episode’s audience with family and friends of staffers, such that there would be an implicit threat hanging over anyone who dared to boo. But, sure, maybe Colin wasn’t in the loop.)
Why Trump liked Colin:
The first thing that Donald Trump said to me when he walked into my office was: “I like you. You got that good face.”
Say what you will about the man, but he knows how to make an entrance.
I had never heard the term “good face” before, but it was a uniquely Trumpian compliment: an overly simple adjective that made no sense with the noun in described. Like “tall car” or “long Pope.”
The thing that anyone who’s actually met Donald Trump will tell you is that he’s incredibly charming and fun to talk to, unless he thinks you’re unattractive, in which case he’ll ignore you, or he thinks you’re very attractive, in which case he’ll try to touch or kiss you (allegedly). He’s basically like my German grandpa, where he’s fun and endearing when he’s in your living room, but if you gave him a microphone and had him speak at a rally for two hours straight, he’d probably say some weird stuff.
(Ed. note to self: follow up on whether Colin’s grandfather = Nazi.)
How Colin learned to live large:
This was after my first two seasons writing at SNL, so I had saved a little money, but I never liked spending it because I was always terrified it would disappear. When I met up with everyone, they were killing time in this high-end men’s clothing store near the hotel. Seth and Andy were looking at these fancy European shirts and they were like, “You should get one!”
Now, up until this point, I had never truly spent more than 40 dollars on a shirt. I just didn’t believe in spending money on clothing because a 40-dollar shirt served the same practical function as an 80-dollar shirt (it covered your torso and the top of your pants). This store sold 250-dollar shirts.
I tried on a slim-cut, white button-down shirt and a really thin black tie, and Seth and Andy were like, “That looks great! Get them both!” And they gave me an earnest talk about how it would be okay and how I could spent 250 dollars on a shirt and it wouldn’t be the end of the world or derail my life or prevent my future children from going to college, so why not get the shirt! (And the tie!)
So the first thing I did in Copenhagen was blow 400 dollars on a white button-down shirt and a really thin black tie that I still had to wear with my 29-dollar American Eagle jeans from college.
On the private high school he went to:
Like many of the kids at Regis, I was book-smart and street-gatarded.
(Ed. note: ???)
Why he was drawn to the Harvard Lampoon:
Everyone who got on staff was the funny/weird/awkward/out-of-place kid at their high school, and suddenly you found a dozen other people just like you and thought, Why would I go anywhere else? It would be like if you were the only person in your high school who owned a ferret. And then you got to college and found a whole group dedicated to owning ferrets. You’d think, Wow. I finally belong… on an FBI watch list.
And for me, the Lampoon was an oasis at Harvard, where so many students were cloying faux-intellectuals who heard I was from Staten Island and said things like “Is your dad a garbageman?” Whereas the Lampoon was filled with all the “alternative nerds” you knew growing up who read a hundred books that weren’t on the syllabus and got really into some weird hobby like philately because they truly cared about it. We were the nerds who felt like outcasts even at a school full of nerds. And we liked it that way. Because within the Lampoon, a nerd could feel like a king.
The introductory meeting was in an old circular library full of smoke. Maybe it was the cigarettes, or the day drinking, but everyone seemed extremely cool. Many of the upperclassmen I saw in that room have since become writers for The Office, The Simpsons, 30 Rock, Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, Veep, Black-is, Master of None, The Mindy Project, and The Good Place. But back then, they were just the most intimidating nerds I had ever met. And they were really, really funny. I immediately thought, This is the only thing I care about doing in college.
Let’s button that with a passage from a recent Boston Magazine feature on the Lampoon:
The club’s outlandish initiation rites, called “Phools Week,” offer a window into that culture, which in turn informs the group’s comedic sensibility. An internal Lampoon document, for instance, offers upperclassmen instructions on “mind-fucking” new recruits, including depriving them of sleep and subjecting them to public humiliation by superiors. Among the many bizarre rituals are performances that include plenty of nudity—and, according to multiple members, at least one instance of “full-on sex”—and a skit that involves a play-acted ritual beating of a man in drag. When a recruit remarked that the latter looked a lot like domestic violence, “they were immediately shot down,” a Poonie tells me. “One of the cool guys said something like, ‘Well this is funny, and that’s what matters.’ That’s how it works.”
What Colin fears:
I have a recurring, almost constant fear of being mediocre. I grew up average in so many ways—sports, height, the size of my breasts—and I worry that I’ll end up average, which will feel like a complete failure.
Here’s to bigger and broader ideas.
Kay Ryan, “Gravity”:
Weight is a gift
you can’t simulate.
It is useless if
you take it on too late.
butterfly looks stupid
walking with her wings.
Some are, some are not,
What else, what else?
A comic friend forwarded me this GoFundMe for a DIY space in New Brunswick shut down after an unnamed party complained about it to the city, which then determined the venue was not zoned properly. You didn’t hear this from me but allegedly, according to allegations, there is a comedy club owner in or around New Brunswick with a long alleged history of starving the city’s DIY scene through various alleged means such as this. It looks like the fundraiser hit its goal last night, but I have just tossed in a few bucks because my experience covering comedy suggests that municipal codes and petty businessmen will fuck you over in more ways than can be anticipated. If you want and have the means to help out, here’s the link again.
The New York comedy community lost Steve Whalen this week. I did not know Steve well, although we crossed paths a handful of times, and I have been cascaded into numb glee by his impeccable one-liner comedy many more. If I can let his friends speak to him:
James Tate, “The Afterlife”:
A man fell out of the tree in our backyard. I ran over
to help him. “Would you like some tea?” I said. “I think
I broke my back,” he said. “Perhaps some ice cream would
be just the thing,” I said. “Lend me your hand,” he said.
I gave him my hand and tried to pull him up. When he was
upright, he said, “Where am I?” “You’re in my backyard,” I
said. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” he said.
“It’s just an ordinary yard, a small garden, a few flowers,”
I said. “Yes, it’s a sorry sight. How can you stand to live
here?” he said. “Oh, it’s my home,” I said. “Home? That’s
a curious word,” he said. “Where do you live?” I said. “Live?
Live? That’s a funny question,” he said. “I don’t live anywhere.”
“What do you mean?” I said. “I’m a dead man. I just float
around,” he said. “Well, I’ve never met a dead man. I’m
pleased to meet you,” I said. “I think you’re supposed to
scream or something,” he said. “Oh no, I’m really pleased,”
I said. “It’s really kind of you to drop by.” “I didn’t
drop by. It was the wind,” he said. “And then the wind stopped
and I fell into the tree.” “How lucky for me,” I said. “You’ll
be going with me, of course, when I leave. You’ll never be
coming back,” he said.