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Not That Funny

May 13th, 2006 | File Under Ha, TV | No comments yet

The Katz CubeTuesday brought us the DVD release of season one of Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, the greatest television show of all time.

Historians were quick to note that at numerous points in the past, I have described Arrested Development as the funniest television show of all time.

Both statements are true. Arrested Development is funnier; the thing that makes Dr. Katz great is that it is exactly the opposite. Jonathan Katz and the other creative types crafted this show to — at every turn — shoot for the least funny option (line, joke, or gag).

Not the most un-funny thing, mind you, the least funny thing. That’s a big distinction. Even as a stand-up comic, Katz always aimed to make the audience continually never quite sure whether he was being serious or making a joke. There are other comics who seem to enjoy keeping the audience off-balance, as it were, though most of them tend to do it through shock value.

The example I like to give for novices is from a scene where Ben and John are eating cereal, debating the merits of the different meals. At one point Katz attempts to sum up his position with the proclamation “Breakfast: it’s not the most important meal of the day — but it’s not bad.”

That’s just barely even a joke. But that’s not easy to do. Try it yourself; try to come up with something only a tiny, tiny bit off-kilter. Just subtle enough to make the hearer stop and re-think. The NSF and the scientific journals would probably describe phenomena like this as quantum comedy. Or, in the vernacular, quamedy.

For the show, Katz teamed up with H. Jon Benjamin, like-minded comic who in interviews has expressed his lifelong desire as a performer to play away from the funny:

“I’ve never had the desire to tell jokes. I’ve always been more interested in not making people laugh, but people seem to laugh at that. So actual jokes have always been the antithesis of what I’ve wanted to do. I started doing comedy with a lot of people who were great at telling jokes so I just wanted to not do what they did.”

The result is precision comedy, like a balancing act; hovering just barely over the threshhold of humor.

There were other great elements to the show — the weird animation style, the fact that the entire half-hour of each episode was improvised — that contribute to its greatness. But at the core, the key is still that unique focus on being so dry that you have to pay attention in order to spot the joke.

In so many ways, it’s easy to go for the big laugh. What I admire about Jonathan Katz is his ability to go for the small laugh, and to hit it every time, repeatedly, for six years.

Legalizing steroids for athletes. But only the pros.

April 30th, 2006 | File Under Ha, Nate | 2 comments

The problems of the world, solved. One by one, by me. This time it’s the earth-battering question of what to do about Barry Bonds and/or other professional athletes and their hankering for those sweet, sweet performance-enhancing drugs.

The sides are fairly clearly demarked — high school principals and agitated parents want steroids and the like banned for fear that it will kill their children. Pro sluggers want access to them because hey, it’s a free country. Access to the drugs, that is, not the children.

Anyway, the major leagues are stuck in the middle, not wanting to alienate the fans that pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars for tickets and more for concessions, and not wanting to alienate the players who bring in those fans.

Actually, they also don’t want to kill off the young fans who might some day grow up to work for them, and they’re afraid of enraging the hormonally-charged sociopaths that do work for them, but that’s much the same predicament.

Well, I for one can’t believe it’s taken this long, but the solution seems perfectly obvious to me:

We should legalize steroids and all the other performance-enhancing drugs anybody could ever want — but for pro athletes and only for pro athletes.

That’s right. If you’re an amateur (collegian, grade school kid, Olympian, church-league softballer, etc.), nothing doing. But if you have a professional contract, go crazy. Pump up your system with all the growth hormones, steroids, oxygenated hyena blood, nanorobots, uppers, downers, outers, inners, goofers, bombers, tranquilizers and hallucinogens you want. Congress can decide who counts and who doesn’t, for the gray areas like part-timers. But otherwise, let the games begin.

I mean, why not? It solves both sides of the problem at once. Now, I know what some people will say: the pros tanking up are going to encourage the kids to imitate them, and therein lies trouble. But that takes care of itself; nonprofessional athletes are not allowed to possess or use steroids, so if little Johnny tries to buy any, before he knows it he’ll be doing some serious hard time.

The system is going to instill a sense of motivation. If your kids want to use drugs, they are going to have to work hard, and be the very best they can be. With responsibility comes privilege.

The other complaint, of course, is that juicing up athletes makes the game “unfair” to those who play clean. To that I say if you don’t want to win, why’d you come to the park? If you’re scared of technology, maybe it’s time to retire and sit on the porch reminiscing about the good old days. I mean, how often do you see an NBA player choose to play in flat-soled canvas Chuck Taylors?

Besides, the major leagues are a self-equalizing ecosystem. If too many players overdo their rightful dosages of legalized drugs, they’ll be dead. The herd will be thinned. Subsequent generations will learn and move on. The system will be perfected.

Though there is a high likelihood that one or two years into this system, there will be a mad dash to the pharmacy and we’ll lose a significant chunk of our pro players to overdoses, bad reactions, and dehabilitating side effects. But that’s life. And in the meantime, the fireworks are going to be great for us fans. During the long, dull months of summer we’ll have the obituaries to look forward to.

Everybody wins.