The Anarchic Comedy of Joe Dante's 'Gremlins'

As a filmmaker, there is much more to Joe Dante than Gremlins, but there's a reason the 1984 film has been his most successful. Coupled with its screwball sequel, Gremlins represents Dante's sensibility, a self-aware and sometimes postmodern mixture of horror and comedy, at its most accessible and fully-realized. Joe Dante is a filmmaker in love with junk cinema: low budget sci-fi, classic monster movies, gag-a-minute vintage cartoons. Media that, to quote Tony Randall's Brain Gremlin from Gremlines 2, is “fun, but in no sense civilized.” Dante's films bring these disparate influences together and, like a Mogwai transforming into a Gremlin, makes them into something new, exciting and, above all, entertaining.

The “film brats” of the 1970s were the first generation of filmmakers raised on television, appreciating high and low art in almost equal regard. But while Steven Spielberg and his best pal George Lucas would watch a cheesy Republic adventure serial or a low budget Flash Gordon and wonder what these films would be like in the hands of a truly competent director, Joe Dante was reading E.C. Comics and watching vintage cartoons and loving them for the purity of what they were.

His obsession with and cannibalization of pop culture images anticipates our current obsession with post-modern meta-comedy. As in the best of Community and The Simpsons, pop culture references aren't the jokes in Dante's films. Any references (and there are plenty) are esoteric and naturally occurring, deeply woven into the tapestry of the films. READ MORE


The Comedy Innovations of Michael Nesmith

To me, as a kid watching The Monkees, it was all about Michael Nesmith. Sure, the others all had their appeal: Davy Jones was the pretty boy teen idol, Micky Dolenz was the funny one, and even Peter Tork had his own dimwitted charm. But none could compare to Nez.

With his string bean physique, slight Texas drawl and his twelve string Gretsch, he was the unspoken leader of the band, oscillating between acting as straight man and ringleader to group's cartoon antics. His sense of humor was a little bit smarter, a little dryer, a little more adult. And it goes without saying that he is the only person in the history of the Earth to pull off the “wool cap” look. READ MORE


11 Funny Comedians With Serious Music Albums

Successful people get that way because they're talented. Very talented, in a lot of different ways. So talented that they make you question why you even bother doing anything, because quite frankly, you'll probably never do one thing as well as they do everything.

On November 15th, Donald Glover released Camp, his first studio as a rapper under his pseudonym Childish Gambino, making him look like an impossibly talented comedy wunderkind. But in reality, Glover is just one in a long line of crazy talented comedy people who have also seen success as serious musicians. I've collected here a list of people so talented, they make you question why you should even get out of bed in the morning. READ MORE


A Look at The Simpsons' Failed Prime Time Cartoon Competitors

It's odd to think, at a time when South Park has been renewed for twenty seasons and Cartoon Network dedicates half of its schedule to adult themed programming, that for a long time, cartoons were seen as being strictly for kids, following the logic that bright colors and ink and paint appeal only to unformed minds.

It wasn't always this way: early cartoons like Betty Boop were clearly designed for adults, and the directors and animators working at Termite Terrace claim they wrote and produced the Looney Tunes simply for their own amusement. Even in the early years of television, shows like The Flintstones dealt with adult themes like nagging mother-in-laws and Barney and Betty Rubble's apparent barrenness.

But throughout the sixties, seventies and eighties, cartoons were confined to the ghetto of “children's entertainment,” with no redeeming value other than acting as a temporary babysitter. It wasn't until The Simpsons changed the proverbial game that people realized cartoons could be more than a half hour commercial for Harlem Globetrotter action figures with a tacked on PSA about looking both ways when you cross the street.

Throughout The Simpsons DVDs, the writers casually mention a handful of Simpsons imitators that sprung up in the early '90s, only to be cancelled after a few episodes. All cartoons airing on major networks in primetime, they were an attempt to understand and cash in on The Simpsons' success. READ MORE


Seinfeld: The Most Kafkaesque Show on Television

What's left to say about Seinfeld? The show was famously about people who like to pick things apart, so it only makes sense that many of its fans would be the same way. Since the series went off the air thirteen years ago, it's been analyzed and dissected almost to the point of breaking, viewed under the lens of philosophy, with Jerry's habit of jokey questioning described as everything from socratic to Talmudic, or from a postmodern literary perspective, with its layered references to real world events. But there's one comparison to Seinfeld that, to my recollection at least, has surprisingly never been made. I would argue that Seinfeld may have been the most Kafkaesque show on television, or at least the most Kafkaesque sitcom, sharing a lot of the same themes and obsessions as the famous writer from Prague. READ MORE


The Novels of John Swartzwelder, the Most Prolific Simpsons Writer Ever

John Swartzwelder is the J. D. Salinger of comedy writing. The prolific Simpsons writer (he's written 59 episodes of The Simpsons, far more than any other writer, even when the show is quickly approaching five hundred episodes) is as well known to his fans for his eccentricities as his writing.

He was allowed to send his scripts in from home because the other writers couldn't stand his chain-smoking. When he could no longer smoke in restaurants, he bought his favorite booth from his favorite diner and had it installed in his home.

Swartzwelder's final Simpsons was in 2003, and since then he has written a novel a year, all self-published, when realistically, he could barge into any publishing house and declare “I've written 20% of all Simpsons episodes” and be handed a contract. I read all eight of Swartzwelder's novels in a row and have put my impressions together here, hopefully in a way that's slightly less absurdist than Swartzwelder's prose. READ MORE