Archive for the 'Comics' Category

Why the Big Bang Theory is so funny – or The Frasier Principle

I went to see the Adam Sandler movie Jack and Jill with my kids last night. I loved Happy Gilmore (probably because I’m a hockey player who sucks at golf) and I thought Billy Madison was ok but  lately I have had very mixed feelings about Adam Sandler’s movies. Jack and Jill was almost universally panned by critics and that’s really no surprise. Critics HATE Adam Sandler. Yet sitting in the movie last night I got a different sense of things. The audience were totally cracking up. I don’t mean the usual snickering and chuckling you get in a comedy movie, I’m talking embarrassingly loud guffaws of laughter. The review sites tell a similar story – Critics HATE it, audience like it (well a lot MORE than the critics did anyway)

OK, so Jack & Jill probably won’t get a mention at this year’s Oscars outside Billy Crystal’s comedy monologue taking the mickey. For some reason, I really want to give Adam Sandler some credit. You see, it’s the not the material he works with it’s just the way he presents it.

This is the point of today’s Blog entry – Fart Jokes are ok, but only if the audience believes that you don’t have to be a stupid little kid to find them funny. I call this the Frasier principle.

I’m not very smart BUT I wish I was very smart. Sometimes I read books written by smart people and I feel smarter. Sometimes I listen to smart people talk and I feel smarter. MOSTLY when smart people say simple things I nod along and think, hey I must be as smart as them because I totally GET THIS!

So let’s create a TV show based on this principle. First, we need our two leading characters: the Crane brothers. They are both Medical and Psychiatric doctors, “well-to-do, with upper class and intellectual tastes and a pompous, uptight demeanor. Frasier is something of an epicure, and enjoys the finer things in life, such as wine, good food, and expensive tailoring. Well versed in the realm of literature, frequently alluding to literary legends such as Shakespeare, Edmund Burke, Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, O Henry, and Lord Tennyson, among others. Aficionados of the arts, including opera, classical music, theatre, and antiquities, and possessing some esoteric and obscure interests, such as Mongolian throat singing and African artifacts. Frasier’s favourite colour is “arctic silver”, an option for a new model of BMW, which is well-established throughout the series as being his automobile brand of choice, while his brother Niles preferred Mercedes Benz. His large ego, coupled with his Harvard and Oxford education, make him extremely confident in the advice he gives on his radio show (where he comes across as much calmer and more thoughtful than in his personal life.” (from Wikipedia)

I’ve got to say, both the Cran’s are people that would irritate and annoy me were they real people.

So how do characters that irritate and annoy work so well? There are a lot of reasons this show works. There is a great cast of much more REAL characters that give the viewing audience a chance to identify and relate to the two brothers. But more than this, there is the humour of the show.

Wrapped up in refined taste and perfect intonation, surrounded by a fabulous vocabulary referencing fine art and literature is what are essentially a long list of Adam Sandler jokes. Funniest moments in the show include such highbrow topics as prank phone calls, guys running around with no pants and what is basically a load of slapstick. Here’s high brow at it’s best with Frasier in shorty shorts in a gay bar.

So, we watch Frasier and because they are smart and we think they are funny, it must be because we are so smart, right?

The Big Bang Theory employs the same principle. These are very smart guys, they talk about the origins of the universe and what the outcome of the latest CERN LHC experiment will prove. However, at it’s core The Big Bang Theory is mostly the lowest low brow there is.

How Low Brow? Charlie Sheen, funny lisps and at least 2 TWO poo jokes funny.

I know all that sounds like a reason to hate the show, but I think it’s awesome anyway. Of course that’s mostly because of all the geeky stuff that gets thrust into the face of the masses. Comics, Video Games, Science and RPGs to name a few..

What’s the moral of the story? There is none. Unless your name is Adam Sandler. Sandler could take all that comedy gold and dress it up a little smarter to score both a huge ratings hit and critical acclaim. YES it’s really that simple. I hear you thinking, “as a viewing public, we’re not that stupid!” and yet the same principle can be applied almost anywhere.

I’d also like to tip my hat to actors who decide that looking smart makes all the difference. Take Tango and Cash – do we buy Sly Stallone as a bookish, intellectual type because he wears a waistcoat and HUGE 80’s glasses??? – We sure do!

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Instant Karma’s gonna get you, Comic Book style. KAPOW!

Was John Lennon right? I think he might have been…

Some 15 years or so ago I borrowed some comic books from a good friend.  The Watchmen series, a seminal title by collectible legend, Alan Moore. I had them for ages and had EVERY intention of returning them but hey, I am a busy guy and stuff started to happen… I moved houses, jobs, and cities several times. I bought a house and had kids. I got married and divorced and along the way, as many people do, I grew out of a lot of my boyhood hobbies, including comic books.

At some point I just packed up all my old comics and games and stuff and sold them, tossed them or gave them away. Sadly, I had forgotten all about the Watchmen comics (and my truant loan) until the movie came out. Watching the film, I remembered borrowing the comics and began to feel a certain gnawing guilt for never having returned them.

Comics

Then, a few weeks ago, I was randomly going through some old boxes in my garage. These boxes have been moving with me for the last 15 years but have never been opened. I think everyone has a few of these. They were marked KITCHEN/OFFICE which was why I was searching through them, I think I was trying to find a cheese grater or a spatula… What I found was, of course much greater!  In the bottom of one of these boxes, in pristine condition, was the full set of watchmen comics. Pretty much the only comics to have survived the great purge.

I remembered that I had borrowed them from my old friend Andrew so I searched for him on Facebook, sent a message and arranged to drop them off in Canberra. I might not be the fastest, but I always get there in the end….

In the meantime, because these comics were lying around the house, Jason and Liam (my sons) started asking all about comic books. Being boys of a certain age, superheroes are like crack to them. We got to talking and they asked about what kind of comics I used to read when I was a kid. Thinking hard about it, I remembered that my favourites were these obscure and spectacularly unsuccessful comics by Marvel called the “New Universe”. It was a lot like the TV series: Heroes. No Lycra or capes, just the kind of stuff that might happen in the “real world”. Dudes who get powers and have no idea what to do with them. Characters who actually grow older, unlike say, the Simpsons.. I’m pretty sure Bart Simpson has been in the 4th grade for about twenty years now!
Well, I offered to take the boys out and buy them some superman or batman comics, but after hearing my story, all they could think about were these old comics. I tried the internet and some comic stores but these things were a huge failure so they just weren’t anywhere to be found. The boys were devastated and try as I might, I could not convince them to settle for anything else. By this time I was feeling pretty stupid for having built these things up into such a big deal and then being completely unable to deliver.
A few weeks later it was time to head to Canberra for work. I packed up the recalcitrant Watchmen comics ready to returned to their rightful owner. In the intervening time I’ve been asking anyone who might have a clue if they could help me find these old collectibles. I’ve been on the internet, into comic book stores and picking the brains of anyone who looks kinda geeky. I’ve had several ‘Comic Book Guy’ types sneer at the sheer stupidity that I exhibit by expecting to be able to simply order these “rare collectibles”. Worst Dad, ever…
comic-book-guy
That’s when the weirdness begins. Almost the minute I drop off Andrew’s watchmen ( only 15 years too late) I bump into Steve, who is the son of Glenn, one of my teenage besties. Steve is a Comic book guru, so naturally I ask him my question and he says he thinks he remembers seeing these old “New Universe” comics at his house!
Well, it turns out during my great sell-off/give-away/throw-away I gave a big box to Glenn and sure enough, just as I had discovered a box 15 Years later, the very same thing was waiting for me in an old archive box underneath Glenn’s stairs!
I returned home triumphant to two ECSTATIC boys with the pile of comic book stories that they had given up for lost.
Instant Karma?
Undoubtedly.

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