Just forget the words and sing along

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Latest column! This week, a wonderfully angsty piece called Glory:

" Six years ago, it was a very exciting time. University was finished. A new Star Wars movie was premiering in theatres. I was 21, and ready to conquer the world. Without a doubt, university was 4-year high. For some odd reason, the campus really took to my little college radio show. People started to think that what I had to say just might be worth listening to. I had things that I’d never experienced before: popularity, a circle of friends, name recognition. Truly, it was a golden era."

Read it all...or not.

Right now, I'm sitting here trying to figure out this whole concept of "pop culture reference as comedy." My mother sparked the debate during Family Guy, when she wanted to know why I was laughing my ass off at a Star Wars reference when I claim to hate the whole "pop culture reference" comedy style. So I've been thinking about it.

In Shrek 2, when Shrek and Fiona re-created the kissing-upside-down scene from Spider-Man, I rolled my eyes and complained about how lame it was.

In tonight's episode of Family Guy, they spent the entire last 2 minutes doing a shot-for-shot re-enactment of the final awards ceremony from Star Wars, and I loved it.


In this case, I'm letting my best friend be my control subject. A few weeks ago, Family Guy also did a rather hilarious G.I. Joe reference, so I told my friend all about it and told him, "Watch it now!" He's not big on the whole "pop culture reference as comedy" either, and I'm pretty sure he hasn't watched much Family Guy. And this is what he had to say about the G.I. Joe reference:

"I liked it. They didn't make fun of [G.I. Joe]. They played it straight and let the reference be the joke."

So, based on all this, I think I'm figuring out how to do the "pop culture reference as comedy," and have it actually be funny:

Where the Reference Occurs - As my best friend pointed out about the G.I. Joe thing, the reference was the joke. But look at how most others do it. When you come to the payoff, rather than a witty line, the character will throw out the catch phrase of the day. In most situations, they use the reference as the punch line. there's a difference between the reference as joke, and the reference as punchline.

Attention to Detail - One of the things that made the G.I. Joe reference so funny was the fact that they used the actual G.I. Joe theme song and got one of the actual voice actors to voice the Joe. In tonight's Star Wars reference, they had the actual John Williams music, and cameos by Chewbacca, C-3P0, and R2-D2, doing exactly what they did in the original. In Shrek 2, you don't get that kind of detail. It's just, "He's upside down and she kisses him! Eh? Eh? Wink wink nudge nudge?" It's also one of the reasons why Blazing Saddles is conisdered the better Mel Brooks film than Spaceballs. Brooks knew westerns, loved westerns, and knew how to milk every western cliche for maximum comedic effect. He didn't have such an extensive knowledge about sci-fi.

Play it Straight - The average "pop culture reference joke" is deliverd by a guy, half-looking at the camera and kind of going, "This is funny! Laugh!" On Family Guy, you find no such thing. All the characters just kind of accept this as reality and move on. It's been known for ages that being able to keep a straight face while saying outlandish things is a hallmark of comedy. Hell, Leslie Nielsen was a dramatic actor before he did The Naked Gun films. And that's why he got the job in the first place. The director wanted Nielsen because he knew Nielsen could play it straight.

So, that's why I think Family Guy does it right, and most everyone else pales.

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