The key scene in Jim Carrey’s, Andy Kauffman biopic, Man in the Moon plays out as follows.
Danny DeVito as Kauffman’s agent, George Shapiro doesn’t see the dollars and cents value of Kauffman and his sidekick Bob Zmuda’s performance comedy.
Shapiro: So what do you have here? A big elaborate joke …that’s only funny to two people in the universe … you and you.
Zmuda: Yeah, sure, George. And we happen to think that it’s hilarious.
Shapiro: But what’s the point? What is the point?
Zmuda: It’s fun, George.
I thought about this scene once again after hearing Artie Lang defend Norm McDonald’s recent performance on Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget.
A caller to the Howard Stern show wanted to know why Norm had bombed so badly. Lange opined that he thought Norm was hilarious and that the caller didn’t understand that Norm was bombing on purpose with hackneyed summer camp worthy material in order to lampoon the entire event. Lange called it playing to the back row (the other comedians).
They were both right.
Post Bill Hicks comedy is in a strange place. Hicks was such an open critic of other comedians that he wrote a screenplay about a serial killer that killed bad comics in the name of “true” comedy. Hicks drew a line in the sand between what he considered to be “serious comedy” (although, Hicks would never be dumb enough to call it that) and hack work.
Hicks infamously became the first person to be censored at the Ed Sullivan Theater since Elvis Presley after his final David Letterman appearance “hit too many hot spots”. Afterwards, Hicks venomously said “. . . and meanwhile, Bob Saget’s on tonight, so that gives you an idea of the level of comedy they think you can handle. Do you understand the amount of the contempt the networks have for us?”
Since Hicks’ martyr like death in 1994, Bob Saget’s been doing a lot of credibility fixing. Having already backed up a Brink’s car worth of cash with puerile pap like Full House and America’s Greatest Home Videos, Saget started to suggest that making all that loot was an act as subversive as any of Kaufman’s advanced game playing. He bolstered his claim by lampooning his own image both in a rated way R for mature, self knowing, “dirty” cameo for HBO’s Entourage and as perhaps the most offensive comedian in the offensive comedian movie The Aristocrats.
Oddly enough, the only thing real about Norm’s performance here is his heartfelt appreciation of Saget. So bombing on purpose, still funny or contemptuous of the audience? I’m not sure, but if it’s Norm doing it I’ll usually pay attention.