On Tuesday a jury in Los Angeles found Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams guilty of copyright infringement and ordered them to pay $7.3 million for copying elements of Marvin Gaye’s 1977 song “Got to Give It Up” for Thicke’s 2013 hit “Blurred Lines.” Quickly after this story broke, there was a flurry of speculation about what this means for music — does it establish an overly tight interpretation of what it means to copy a song? Does it eliminate the grey area between referencing or being influenced by a previous artist and claiming their ideas as your own?
The whole thing made me think of this Washington Post article by Serious Journalist and Twitter-style ironyman Luke O’Neil about the huge proliferation of joke theft online and the lack of anyone giving a shit. Basically, plagiarism is seen as a career-killing offense in politics, academia, journalism — and now, it seems, music. But in comedy it’s just seen as a gauche lack of respect that the market will sort out. “Oh that guy steals jokes, blacklist him from your show.” It seems ridiculous to imagine even the highest profile case of joke theft, a Louis CK/Dane Cook or Joe Rogan/Carlos Mencia, ending up in court.
Why is this? Even aside from legal concerns (nobody copyrights jokes like they do songs or screenplays) and practical ones (a “joke” is a smaller thing than a whole song is and it’s understood in other media that the actors/singers didn’t write the words they’re saying/singing/etc., creating the need to be clear about it) the notion of authorship really does seem especially unimportant in comedy. READ MORE
In the recent broadcast of Saturday Night Live’s 40th Anniversary, there’s a moment where the camera catches Joe Piscopo from behind as he performs his Sinatra impression and the audience at home can see the audience in studio. The focus of this shot turns out to be a tuxedo’d Bob Odenkirk, who is simply unable to conceal his distaste for what’s happening. He’s looking up at the ceiling, gritting his teeth, raising his eyebrows to no one in particular. Now I would never use the analogy of a war veteran watching someone play Call of Duty, but it was not completely unlike the face Stephen Hawking would make while watching your science fair presentation. Actually…well…you get what I mean.
Anyone who likes comedy enough to be reading Splitsider undoubtedly has a sense of Bob Odenkirk’s almost pathologically high standards. And to be fair, Piscopo has never really been trying to do the same thing Odenkirk does — he’s more Atlantic City than Second City. But after you read and listen to a certain amount of interviews with Odenkirk, a certain narrative definitely emerges. At every stage of his career, he’s been driven by this conviction that Good Ideas are the most important thing and should be in the forefront at all times. READ MORE
Last week, BuzzFeed reported that Jace Connors, the man who supposedly crashed his car on the way to terrorize feminist video game developer Brianna Wu as part of “GamerGate”, was really a “sketch comedian” who was playing a “character” and the whole thing was, in fact, a long, involved “joke.”
First of all, if you don’t know what GamerGate is, it’s probably better that way. Just go home and hug your kids and teach them to be nice. It is/was an online campaign that quickly turned into thousands of anonymous internet trolls sending death threats to women online. And more to the point, the Jace Connors case is the latest and maybe most high-profile example in a trend of people making news for doing controversial stuff and then saying, “But I was just kidding.”
The “I’m just kidding” defense I’m sure dates back to the earliest use of language, but I first became aware of it when people would accuse Jon Stewart of trying to make serious political points in Daily Show interviews and then hide behind the “but I’m just a comedian!” thing. In this case, of course, the issue is less whether he’s guilty of doing that (which he obviously is) and more a question of whether those means are justified by the end result of influencing political culture (which they are).
And of course there are many more controversial instances where the morality isn’t so cut and dried, like Bill Maher’s attitude towards Islam, or Charlie Hebdo’s practice of deliberately being offensive just because legally they can. There is a very real consideration in cases like these about where their motivation lies on the spectrum from “honorably using the art of satire to support free expression” to “assholes who actively incite hatred toward Muslims.” READ MORE
It’s a strange thing to see the 2015 Oscar-nominated animated shorts and Mortdecai on the same day. But that’s what I did a few days ago, for reasons too boring to mention. Anyways, the public’s distaste for the latter movie is well documented so I’ll spare the jokes. And besides, I prefer to use my humor to bring light instead of spread darkness.
Instead, I want to talk about the 2015 Oscar-nominated animated shorts. The truth is, movies like Mortdecai suck because nobody gives a shit about them. They are huge behemoths with unlimited budgets and no creative stakes, made by people so successful that they’re bored with the whole thing. These shorts are the polar opposite of that: small in scope, very personal, and meticulously made. If something is up on the screen in one of these, you know it has a very good reason for being there. Design students have to design tons of chairs before they can move on to bigger things like buildings and stuff. Mortdecai is a gross McMansion and these are painstakingly built, beautiful chairs. READ MORE
Ah, internet memes. Depending who you are, they’re what you make online and talk about with your buddies at school, what your goddamn kid won’t stop looking at at the dinner table, or the things you mock when you’re being an ironic piece of shit online. But we can all agree: memes are the best! Or the absolute most awful worst! In any case, memes work because of a particular weird psychological effect filmmakers have been consciously manipulating since the late 1910s.
A “meme,” properly speaking, is “a gene in the realm of the idea,” which is a complicated definition you can look up if you want. But language is a living thing, so much like “ironic” now means “sort of sarcastic,” the common usage “internet meme” refers to “a picture that everyone recognizes with some impact-font text on it.”
We all know what these are, and you can find them in every corner of the internet. I want to talk about a particular strain of meme, the Response Meme. The most popular of these is maybe Kermit drinking tea, the picture that started out explicitly accompanied with the phrase “but that’s none of my business” and eventually just took on that meaning implicitly without the meme-er having to write it. Or that picture of T.I. smiling kind of expectantly that evokes the phrase “Where dey at doe?” These and tons of others are popular on Twitter and message boards, where users can simply post the picture as a playful shorthand for a larger sentiment.
There’s also an even simpler type of these don’t even need explanation, they’re just particularly expressive pictures, like Kevin Hart looking really confused, or Joe Pesci toasting a drink and smiling or a stoned guy with his hoodie hood pulled really tight, or Captain Picard being like “C’mon!” These don’t even need any context, their meaning is self evident. READ MORE
Last year when Louis C.K. released his 1998 feature film debut Tomorrow Night, it seemed like a move that didn’t quite add up. Here’s this guy, A-list comedian, has his own cable TV show — suddenly he’s putting out this black and white art film. Why? His show now isn’t necessarily laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s certainly a different kind of thing than Tomorrow Night. That’s like Lars von Trier showing us all a HBO half hour from 20 years ago. How did this happen?
Well, if you’ve had the time to comb through old comedian interviews over and over at your job like I have, you’ll notice that Louie has had quite an important relationship with experimental film throughout his entire career. READ MORE
It’s kind of good and fun, or at least strangely comforting, to have this positivist attitude about comedy and comedy writing, that if you just apply the magical alchemy you can turn any subject matter into a clever, witty bon mot. This idea that, like, “Hey, sometimes it’s tough, but if you you’re good enough, you can make smart jokes about any topic. That’s what makes comedy so great!” It always kind of reminds me of that thing in sales culture, where they’re like, “Hey buddy, if you’re a good enough salesman, you can sell anything to anyone.”
Well I’m here to tell you that you can’t sell anything to anyone. For instance, I will never buy a pair of jeans that costs more than $30. Another thing I will never buy is the premise that it is possible to make a smart fart joke. No matter how much I want to believe — and trust me, I do — I simply cannot. Fart jokes, much like the universe, are made up of gas, but unfortunately… there is no intelligent design. READ MORE
This is a collection of the best comedy albums I heard this year that aren’t by like huge rich comics like Jim Gaffigan or Aziz Ansari. Not that there’s anything wroooong with that, just every end-of-the-year list kind of ends up being the same thing and leaving out a lot of good shit that people just made themselves and put online. So this is a bunch of albums like that. And this is by no means all of them, just a few that I happened to find and like. God bless, and enjoy. READ MORE
At a certain point in the recent WTF episode with Tim & Eric, Maron brings up how sometimes they fuck around in interviews and do bits and stuff. He keeps asking them what their strategy is and what they’re trying to say or how they prepare for them, and it gets to a point where you just want to say, dude, they’re just…being funny guys. That’s kind of what it all boils down to.
After that I started thinking about these kind of non-interviews, the ones where the subject isn’t totally cooperating with the interviewer — and sometimes they’re the most memorable ones. I like to think you can say just as much about yourself or your project by fucking around as you can by answering questions directly, just like in an improv scene where you can still say “yes” to an idea by saying “no” to another character. Like, fucking around when you’re promoting your Adult Swim show tells the audience that, hey, this show is made by people who fuck around in interviews. And it’s like, cool, yeah, so would I.
Of course, with anything where someone’s trying to be “weird,” there’s a huge risk of coming off as just annoying (See Letterman v. Phoenix). But when someone does pull it off, these non-interviews can be really great. Anyways, here are some really good ones, that I like and are cool as well. READ MORE
26 minutes into a three-hour advice show Louis C.K. hosted in 2007, a guy named Blake calls up. Blake says he’s driving solo from Dallas to Oklahoma City that night and wants to know if Louie is going to just keep fucking around, or if he actually has anything good planned. At the end of the three hours Blake calls again, about to arrive in Oklahoma City, and says it’s been an “amazing ride.” I want to argue that Blake is being an understating piece of shit here, because this show is like…well…it’s like… REALLY amazing! It’s like the most Louis C.K.-y thing ever, and on top of that: it’s good. And beyond that, falling where it does in his career, it acts as a near-perfect summation of what makes Louie so unique. Let's call it Louis C.K.'s Dianetics.
What the hell am I talking about? Good question. There’s a block of programming on SiriusXM satellite radio Saturday nights 8-11pm that they use to test out shows that might then be moved to different time slots. Usually a few people host them together, and usually they have a strong idea for what the show will be about beforehand. Louis C.K. agreed to host one night in 2007, but he had neither of those things. I actually couldn’t find the exact date, but he talks about getting his first iPhone that day and then sitting on a park bench trying to figure it out all afternoon rather than preparing anything for the radio show.
The show that night does start out with him kind of fucking around and insulting callers, even at one point lapsing into doing material (“Newscasters saying 'the n-word' is just white people getting away with saying the n-word.”) This beginning part especially is full of hilarious little Louis C.K.-isms: READ MORE
Chris Rock’s first standup album, Born Suspect, was recorded in 1991, but it seems like it could have been recorded last month. Sure, comics are always kind of mining the same big issues in the human condition and that’s why we get lots of “black people are like this, white people are like this” “women vs. men” jokes. But seriously, both in overall tone and specific cultural references, this album is like…you know…relevant and stuff.
Background: Born Suspect was recorded in Atlanta in 1991 and came out I think only on cassette, although the internet kind of makes all that irrelevant. It was recorded in a black comedy club in Atlanta, which I mention only because this was during Rock’s tenure at SNL, where he was doing characters like Nat X, who he referred to in a 2008 interview with Creative Screenwriting Magazine as “a watered down Eddie Murphy bit” and “cute.” This was his real shit. Standup in a comedy club with glasses clinking and a low ceiling and the kind of hoarse voice you get from doing shows every night before you’re a rich guy who drinks honey tea all the time and lives in Connecticut.
The first thing that makes you double check when this was recorded is just the topics he talks about. Minimum wage (“you know what they’re saying when they pay you minimum wage? They’re saying ‘I would pay you less, but it’s illegal.’”), the Washington Redskins’ racist name (“That’s like the New York Ni**ers or the Denver Dykes”), white kids’ entitlement (“Allowance? I was ‘allowed’ to go outside.”), and how the old men in the Supreme Court fuck over women (“I wouldn’t want a bunch of women voting on my balls or nothing.”) READ MORE
In his classic book A Theory of Justice, philosopher John Rawls argues for liberalism as a political ideology with a thought experiment. The subject is in the “original position” where “…no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status; nor does he know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence and strength, and the like.” In other words, you could be anyone in this hypothetical society. Now: what political ideology would be the best?
I would argue that when using this “veil of ignorance” to render obsolete all particulars about the joke or certain context — for example, sometimes it’s funnier to use a really high number, like “it’s like 95,000,000 degrees out here” or a low number like “literally only 2 people have ever eaten Taco Bell without shitting their pants in the parking lot” — 37 is the funniest number. READ MORE