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The advertising industry is inherently aspirational. Commercials create a fantasy that elicit both desire for a possibility and disappointment in the reality. We don’t buy the product, we buy into the idea the product promises us. Depending how you look at it, life is either nothing but anticlimax, or rife with opportunity. By making a purchase, we are refusing to settle for the former. Happiness is that thing before we need more happiness. I totally cheat on Megan in Season 6. – Don Draper, 2012.
We’re willing suspend our disbelief for an hour a week to watch those crazy ad boys (they’re mostly still all boys, sorry Peggy) weave consumerism and storytelling. However, there are certain ads that portray such an absurdly luxurious lifestyle that we completely bypass envy and go straight to sarcasm. We want babes and hunks spoon-feeding us the new Taco Bell Dorito taco too; but these recent commercials take the dream a little too far.
They all beg the question (read a la Wheel of Fortune): Who. Lives. Like. That? READ MORE
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We all share the common problem of finding ourselves with multiple consecutive weeks of vacation time, unlimited access to a free car, and a pocketful of disposable income every summer, right? Because June is here, and there’s no better time of year to kick-off a comedy pilgrimage to some of the greatest clubs in America! U-S-A, U-S-A! All you need is a couple of free weeks and a license to laugh.
Have we got a four-city tour for you of some of the best comedy clubs our fine country has to offer! Heck, maybe you already live in one of these cities! Even if you don’t have the luxury of unlimited free time or unlimited cash flow to travel, comedy bucket lists are 100% free! READ MORE
Parma, Italy: the birthplace of Parmesan cheese and the modern Italian’s “Stalingrad.” For those of you non-history buffs, Stalingrad was a bloody, drawn-out battle in which the Soviets ultimately staved off the Nazi army leading to a turning point in World War II. To those of you actual history buffs, I apologize for my utterly reductive explanation of this historic battle. This name was more recently evoked by one of Italy’s most famous comedians, Beppe Grillo, in reference to a rather landmark mayoral elections in Parma, Italy. While the European economy may be headed for — pardon my French — the shitter, many citizens in the EU are rather non-plussed about the austerity measures proposed by Merkel & co, formerly of the Merkel & Sarkozy & co alliance, as well as their governments that are going along with the measures.
One such group rejecting their current regime and beating the drum of hyper-democracy is an Italian organization known as the Five Star Movement. Led by the comedian Grillo, whose career has spanned nearly four decades, the movement recently achieved its first victory with the election of its candidate Federico Pizzarotti as mayor of Parma. This happened a little over a week ago, yet is already causing an international ripple. READ MORE
Did I say Muslims? I meant comedians. Comedians who also happen to be Muslim. They also have a Kickstarter campaign for a feature documentary film they’re making called The Muslims Are Coming. Though they plan on coming to a movie theater near you sometime this year, hopefully before the election, they have already taken their comedy to some interesting places. As part of the filming process, the directors Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah, along with fellow comedians of “threatening” descent, took a comedy tour by the same name on the road, hitting up all the hot spots along the southern Bible-Belt, and into such immigrant-friendly states as Arizona.
They have yet to reach full funding –—there’s still tickets to Jimmy Fallon with an autographed photo of Jimmy up for grabs — but their story has already gotten picked up from national press outlets like The Washington Post and NBC’s Rock Center. Although the tour’s performances contained 100% comedy, the tour itself had a more serious intention. Inspired by Civil Rights groups like the Freedom Riders who traveled to the places like the Deep South to engage those who did not understand them, Farsad and Obeidallah sought out small towns and even set up booths in town center offering the opportunity for anyone to “Ask a Muslim.” You can see a brief glimpse of these encounters and more in the official trailer below. READ MORE
In India, the expression “Jai Hind” usually functions as a patriotic salutation to the homeland. Like L’Chaim, but instead of “to life,” it’s “to India!” When the host of the world’s oldest full-format TV show on the Internet utters the phrase, he is both referring to the title of the show and firmly planting his tongue in his cheek. When it premiered online in 2009, “JayHind!” became India’s first late night stand-up comedy show on the Internet, in addition to being the first in general to create a 20+ minute program for Interweb eyes only. The show’s creators describe their show as “uniquely scripted, uncensored, and has an unabashed humorous take on fundamentalism of all kinds across the board.” And they do it twice a week, with new episodes every Monday and Thursday.
More than 250 episodes later, JayHind! spawned a television version aptly called the Late Night Show [which may also mark a world first of TV adapting a full format from the Internet], as well as an English-language international version called Better Late Than Never, an awards show for the “worst of the worst” of the year — like a Razzies but for real people — and a regular stint at The Comedy Store, Mumbai. The show has such a large audience, the website was deemed hack-worthy last summer by an anti-India fundamentalist group. In response to the incident, @Jayhind tweeted “Jayhind.tv was hacked today by anti-India fundamentalists. If we were Arindam Chaudhuri, we’d have sued the World Wide Web.” Arindam Chaudhuri is a self-help guru of sorts in India, notorious for some flagrantly litigious behavior. In other words, JayHind! preferred to take the high road to humor even with regard to a very serious situation.
Quick numbers game: The website has cleared 100 million hits, and gets a reported average of 1 and a half lakhs in hits a day (a South Asian unit of measurement for 100,000). Their YouTube channel has nearly 16 million total video views, a statistic that made even YouTube take note. In late 2010, Jay Hind was handpicked by the company to join the YouTube Partner Programme in India. All of this is to say JayHind! may be the biggest Internet comedy series you’ve never heard of. READ MORE
On December 3, 2011, South Korea got its first taste of this famous sentence. With its affinity for broad physical comedy and variety shows, Korean television either seems like the perfect home for an SNL adaptation or an already saturated marketplace. Sketch variety shows like Gag Concert have long captured the hearts and laughs of Korean audiences, and the American version of SNL was relatively unknown in South Korea. Nonetheless, the cable network tvN licensed the franchise last year and commissioned eight episodes in collaboration with popular writer/director Jang Jin.
Bloggers speculated the show’s success would hinge on its ability to confront political topics head-on. If you are not fluent in K-Pop, then you may not know about the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family — a government arm notorious for imposing conservatism on the media and blacklisting songs and entertainment. Critics thought if SNLK could resist caving to MOGEF, it stood a fighting a chance.
However, it wasn’t just the potential for political satire that made SNLK a fairly unprecedented event. Celebrity hosts and musical guests are just as common as the aforementioned physical comedy/variety show combo, but the programs featuring the two formers are almost never live, and usually liberally edited before they air. The creators of SNLK promised to faithfully adhere to the American format, especially the live part. This was perceived as a risky endeavor for both talent and musical acts, but the show managed to book talent for all eight episodes. READ MORE
Last year, Comedy Tourism checked in with the red-hot stand-up comedy scene of South Africa. Three years earlier in 2008, then-film student David Paul Meyer traveled to South Africa in search of a thesis topic and found a subject who would turn his school project into a full feature documentary. Meyer’s film You Laugh But It’s True, formerly titled Township to the Stage, profiles the early rise of South African comedian Trevor Noah, as he prepares for his first ever one-man show “The Daywalker.”
Meyer completed post-production on the film last year and just recently secured an international distribution deal with First Hand Films. In the meantime, he is still promoting the film at screenings and festivals throughout the US and Europe. So far, the response to the film has been overwhelmingly positive. The film made its world premiere at the Austin Film Festival. At International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, the largest doc fest in the world, You Laugh But It’s True finished in the top 20 for audience votes out of 300 films. It also received the jury award from the New York Friar’s Club Comedy Film Festival last year, and recently played the 2012 Boulder International Film Festival where the festival director listed it as one of her top five films.
In the midst of his increasingly hectic schedule, David Meyer took some to speak with me about the comedy in South Africa, Trevor Noah and the upcoming release of his film. READ MORE
An American, Australian and an Estonian walk into a bar…
This may sound like the lead-in to a joke about general stereotypes, but it is actually how one might describe Comedy Estonia if one wanted to slightly mislead the reader into thinking one was about to tell a joke about general stereotypes. If we’re splitting hairs here, my clever little lead should have included a total of two Americans entering said bar — but I thought that might muddle the joke. Still with me?
The key players in this set up are Australian Louis Zezeran, Americans Eric Seufert and Stewart Johnson, and Estonian Andrei Tuch. The implicated bar is Club Prive in the Estonian capital of Tallinn, or a bar in the city of Tartu or elsewhere. The activity, as their company’s name might have already implicated to you, is comedy. It is at Club Prive, located in a rather hip part of Old Town Tallinn near some embassies and the American Business Center, that Comedy Estonia hosts a monthly show aptly called “Stand Up Comedy at Club Privè.” READ MORE
At the mid-point of Season 2, I found myself actually agreeing with Karl for the first time. Each week, I am usually filled with the greenest envy of his opportunities and bemusement at his inability to appreciate them. Turns out “whale watching” was nearly a dealbreaker for both he and I. In fact, where we differed was Karl actually wanting to go whale watching in the first place. Anyone whose childhood involved being dragged onto a tourist boat somewhere off the coast of New England with the promise of possibly seeing a whale off in the distance, knows how dreadfully boring and seasickness-inducing this activity is. A whale’s majesty is best enjoyed on the television. If you are looking for that in this particular episode, much like Karl you will only find disappointment.
I am not saying this episode is bad. It has some classic Karl-bservations, including what the politically correct term for a Leprachaun might be (a gnome, naturally), why one must conserve their energy in the arctic (to wrestle polar bears) and comparing a couple of elderly Inuit women to “the Eskimo version of Golden Girls.” There is even a bonus contribution from one of Karl’s snow guides — a pun-laden song about arctic animals and love. READ MORE
In which our intrepid traveler never actually swims with marine mammals. I would normally invoke the “spoiler alert” were this plot twist not so brazenly announced by both the Science Channel’s episode guide and the preview. By the end of episode, Karl indeed foregoes the standard bucket list item of swimming with dolphins for the potentially more fatal option of swimming with a Great White Shark. In reality — this is reality television after all — he is lowered into a cage where sharks can swim around him but he remains stationed in one place. Which is fitting, since the entire premise of the series revolves around adventures happening to Karl, never the result of his own doing. He is usually vocally displeased by the whole ordeal.
But the cracks in the idiot’s veneer are starting to show. Karl, the man who once seemed to prefer the comfort of his own flat above all else, cannot suppress a smile at the prospect of traveling to Australia — even if it means having to hang out with a bunch of dolphins who may or may not have medical healing powers. Maybe it’s a sign that all this travel is starting to have an effect on Karl, or maybe he is just getting lazier about keeping up the whole xenophobe ruse. Neither is a bad thing, really. Tragedy is when the hero remains the same from beginning to end. Change usually makes for great comedy. READ MORE
Whether Karl Pilkington is the so-called idiot Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant insist on reminding us he is, or he is a brilliant comedic performance artist is pretty irrelevant to the appeal of An Idiot Abroad at this point. Gervais and Merchant made their name and fortune on a hyper-realistic, painfully uncomfortable mockumentary sitcom, it’s only natural they have created a hyper-realistic, at times uncomfortable documentary show. Or is it scripted as well? Best not to trouble yourself over that question too much and just enjoy watching their former radio producer disdainfully grapple with his new role of globe trekker.
Last season they “forced” him to visit the Seven Wonders of the World. This season, Gervais and Merchant — or their producers more likely — have compiled a list of the top 100 popular things people do before they die. In other words, a bucket list. Naturally at first, Karl thinks his two tormentors mean things you do literally right before you die — but his simpleness is quickly rectified by Gervais’ signature cackle. READ MORE
Why are there no swimming pools in Cuba?
Because everyone who knows how to swim has already left the island.
This barb entitled “Swim Practice” was one of many inside-jokes in Cuba smuggled from behind closed doors 90-odd miles to the north. But let me get to the horse before showing the cart’s entire contents.
Despite its spitting distance of the Florida coast, the Republic of Cuba has long ceased to pose the threat it once did to American lives. For most of us young folk, the Bay of Pigs is a date and name we had to memorize for AP US History. Gael Garcia Bernal and Benicio Del Toro's respective portrayal of revolutionary icon Che Guevara permanently diminished my personal ability to see him as anything other than a pop culture relic. I'm sure Che didn't foresee his legacy splashed across ironic t-shirts and dorm rooms, but that's how many Americans have come to recognize him. In the US, at last, his once-feared face is now synonymous with hookahs, hemp and liberal arts students. READ MORE
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When cultures collide, hilarity often ensues. So too, often, do one-dimensional stereotypes. Speaking of often, it is with a similar frequency that I use this Comedy Tourism series to explore intercultural communication through humor — to try and understand laughter from the angle of others. But it’s also a popular choice in comedy to turn that which makes us different into the joke itself.
This culture clash trope is a pretty old entry in the joke book, but not necessarily antiquated. Most people know what it feels like to be the oddball, the fish out of water or at the very least left out. I know my fellow comedy nerds are nodding knowingly. But for all its relate-ability, the culture clash punch line is a delicate one to walk. Portraying colliding cultures comically offers a perfect opportunity for social commentary or biting satire. Then again, emphasizing the odd man out versus the “normal” group can play for cheap laughs — cheap laughs that might perpetuate racism, sexism and all those other “isms” that Ferris Bueller deemed “not good.”
We live in a world of consistently shifting global powers and perceptions. The connectivity of the Internet and social media has increased our exposure to a variety of new viewpoints and cultures. It doesn’t change the joke of cultures colliding, it just causes the terms of the humor to change and shift more rapidly. At one point in the not so distant past, Russians were the bad guys and there seemed to be carte blanche in lambasting those pinko commies. Nowadays, harping on the oddness of former Soviets might be less offensive than just plain anachronistic. There are much more egregious examples of racial and ethnic stereotypes that may have elicited uproarious laughter 50 years ago, but would today muster groans and disapproving glances of the politically correct variety.
So, it isn’t so much that relying on this comedic device is outdated, it’s just that the use of the culture clash trope puts a comedic work at an immediate risk of becoming quickly outdated. READ MORE
It’s been almost a year since I first invited the readers of Splitsider to join me in asking “what is the deal with international comedy?” Thusly, we embarked, you the reader and I, on a cross-cultural odyssey into the literal world of humor. We found trends. We found traditions. We found ourselves, if you think about it (don’t). Because I wanted to do a 2011 retrospective but can hardly choose a favorite child, I opted to select a rather subjective cross-section of countries. Think of it as a world comedy mood board, rather than a countdown.
While the year might be drawing to a close, the tour is only beginning. If there’s a destination or culture about whose humor you are dying to know more, share in the comments section below. Please let me take your there in 2012. READ MORE