Poem: Utopia

What kind of revolution lands with a plop, not a passionate

caucus of like minds, but the righteous ho hum

of the revelry, twiddle stash and his minions ruling

with an upturned eyebrow and a question mark, expecting all

but you to know the answer, while none are ever.

to speak it, for reality is a sense of burning tires.

 

It deposits its waste on the regular, spilling out over

the news every day, concluding hopeless tid bits

and ball scratching posers, for misery is a business too,

like all other things, working a neverending

cycle of tragedy, four digits dead is a jackpot.

 

Twenty-four hour coverage of the great sense

deadening, somehow survival has become a sport,

on the horrorshow, in and of the horrorshow

also, come to think of it, seems like it’ll be on the news

apocalyptic finality, but Bachelor in Paradise is on.

Poem: Utopia

Zen Comedy 26: Silliness

There is an element of comedy that the Zen Comedian recognizes as completely indispensable, though it is also frustratingly indefinable.  This element of comedy is called silliness, and nowhere was silliness pushed harder than in the brilliant sketch comedy of Monty Python.  Though this is not standup comedy, the lessons it can teach about the way to effectively subvert reality in a joke could prove invaluable to any proprietors of hilarity.

Monty Python recognized the hilarious power that silliness has when it’s taken to its extreme.  In one particular segue between sketches in an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, ostensible news footage of a meeting of freemasons is being shown.  In this footage, a large group of around ten proper english gentlemen, with hats and coattails, are all hopping down the street with their pants around their ankles.  When the show jumps to this footage, the laughter it sparks in the live audience is loud and sharp.  It is simply hilarious to see a bunch of men with their pants at their ankles hopping down a sidewalk.

Silliness is not only useful in individual moments, but with silliness alone, brilliant comic conceits can lead to hilarious sketches.  My personal favorite Monty Python sketch, “The Argument Sketch” begins with a moment of pure absurdity, and just gets weirder from there.  The sketch begins with Zen Master (Michael) Palin in a business suit walking up to a receptionist at her desk and saying “I’d like to have an argument please.”  From there, the sketch goes from one hilarious conceit to the next, until Zen Master Palin is clobbered by Zen Master (Terry) Jones offering “Being hit on the head lessons.”

When this sketch finally ends one officer of Scotland Yard arrests another for violations of the “Ending sketches without using a proper punchline” act.  I’m a huge Monty Python fan, and this was neither the first nor the last time they wrote themselves into a corner only to cheat their way out.  They could do this because their devotion to silliness was so complete that they could do anything they wanted.  The Zen Comedian explains how this knowledge can be useful to the standup comedian in four simple words: “There are no rules.”  So if you are having trouble with a bit, and every logical route open to completing the routine seems boring, just remember Monty Python, and that there is no proper way to construct joke.

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Zen Comedy 26: Silliness

Essay: A New Golden Age

In recent years, television’s experienced a glut of truly exceptional programming (no, not everywhere, but bear with me).  This recent onslaught of complex characters, engrossing and unexpected plot lines, as well as genuine emotional connection have shown that television is one of this country’s greatest platforms for modern artistic expression.  In this article, I will focus on three programs, the latter two of which are deadly serious and violent hourlong dramas.  So to start with, I would like to begin with an extremely progressive and transgressive step in the evolution of the half hour sitcom; the final season of 30 Rock.

Over 7 seasons, during which 30 Rock (2006-13) was consistently near to topping the list of the best comedy’s on TV, and in its final season it achieved greater freedom and silly hilarity than any other sitcom before or since.  In the last episode of the season, “Hogcock!” (a combination of hogwash and poppycock) the show subverts traditional series finale tropes at every turn, creating what may be the funniest episode of the decade’s best comedy.  Kenneth (Jack McBrayer), ever smiling and eternally helpful whipping boy of the entire series becomes the new head of NBC, Jack (Alec Baldwin) who for the entire series was the man in charge undergoes a crisis of direction, and Liz (Tina Fey) prepares to stop working and struggles to raise her two adopted children.  The show uses fantastic references to references, creating completely off-the-wall jokes throughout the episode, which stands as one of the long-running series’ best.

Though 30 Rock was an example of the great steps taken in situation comedy of late, the first season of HBO’s True Detective (2014-15) went even farther than The Sopranos or The Wire in making it’s hourlong runtime a truly cinematic experience.  While the stars (Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey) create compelling focal points to a story about true horror, evil, and violence.  One episode, “Who Goes There?” opens with a breathless six minute single shot of a botched drug bust/robbery that left me shocked and stunned.  This sequence, taken as exemplum for the outstanding series as a whole, illustrates that True Detective sought and achieved true dramatic greatness.

While True Detective demonstrated that wonderful TV is still on premium networks like HBO, Netflix has now burst on the scene as a great exhibitor of original programming, and no where was that more apparent than in Netflix’s airing of Happy Valley (2014)Happy Valley, which first aired on the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), tells the story of Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire), a no-nonsense police detective investigating a mysterious disappearance.   As might be expected, she becomes embroiled in events beyond her pay grade.  In the face of these new intense developments in her personal and professional life, she shows an almost magical backbone, like Sergeant Marge Gunderson (France McDormand) in Fargo, she is a picture of effectiveness.   Sarah Lancashire’s performance as this protagonist is complex and intense, and makes Happy Valley the greatest television show I’ve seen in what feels like decades.

These three shows, one representing the persevering effectiveness of network television (30 Rock), one showing the great depths to which premium cable can plunge (True Detective), and one showing television’s exciting future (Happy Valley), have left me more excited about the future of television than ever before.  It remains to be seen just how much entertainment will change in the coming decades, but I, for one, am thirsty to behold what the future will offer.

Essay: A New Golden Age