so when OFFICE SPACE (TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX, 1999) came out i was in boarding school. it was my sophomore year and the way things went was that my dorm head would go off-campus on friday and rent a movie or two for the students that would sit in the lounge area on the first floor. if it was particularly good than more often than not students would watch it again on saturday and drag others who hadnt seen it to do so.
i distinctly remember OFFICE SPACE because we had that movie rented out for something like 2 weeks. it got to ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW proportions in that people were reciting lines and whole scenes of dialogue before the first weekend was out. it was the biggest hit of my two year stint in prep school.
i feel part of what makes that film so endearing and funny is how much suffering and pain showcased through the characters. they all seem to aspire for greatness yet live in the mundane corporate labyrinth of TPS reports, multiple bosses and malfunctioning xerox machines and printers.
the characters of this film are just such exquisite vignettes of the rich diversity of human suffering and existential dread. this seems to be a specialty of writer/director MIKE JUDGE who famously gave the world BEAVIS & BUTTHEAD and KING OF THE HILL. from the worthless human garbage who feed off power like clueless boss BILL LUMBERGH and corporate executive goons "THE BOBS," to loveable ambitious losers like TOM SMYKOWSKI, MICHAEL BOLTON and SAMIR NAGHEENANAJAR and the various supplicants and reptiles that make up the backstabbing groupthink culture portrayed in OFFICE SPACE, this movie portrays the corporate workplace as a war-zone. i literally could go on at length about any of these characters, even the main protagonists, but to me there is one that sticks out among all others: MILTON ADDAMS.
in my mind, we are all MILTON. we are all hopeless, inept, misplaced rejects looking for a home. in essence we are all victims. even the "THE BOBS" and LUMBERGH himself are victims to a corporate structure that deprives them all of their creativity and humanity. it sucks them all in and gives back nothing. no security, no enjoyment, no satisfaction. they are literally all rats in a cage clawing each other in a never-ending fratricidal fever dream.
i always found it funny that the only character to actually effectuate change in the plot is the most isolated, socially-deprived, mistreated misfit of them all. maybe there is hope for all of us.
cover by nacrowe
if you were ever a fan of the animated series SEALAB 2021 (CARTOON NETWORK/ADULT SWIM) or ARCHER (FX) then you are pretty much beholden to seek out its more insane antecedent FRISKY DINGO (CARTOON NETWORK/ADULT SWIM).
the show deals with a would-be hapless super villain named KILLFACE who is hellbent on enslaving the people of earth if he can just get over his complete incompetence and terrible people skills. there is also a playboy tycoon/superhero named XANDER CREWS/AWESOME-X that can't support his fighting force the X-TACLES after conquering the last of his villains. much like ARCHER deals with the mundane internal paper-pushing business of being an international super-spy, FRISKY DINGO equally finds humor mined from efficient PR strategies and the business implications of being too good at your job of being a superhero. basically, FRISKY DINGO takes the superhero construct to its logical conclusion and mines it for all its worth comedically.
unlike ARCHER, FRISKY DINGO has basically little to no character development and an ever expanding internal network of inside jokes and catch phrases. in fact the whole show just seems to be an excuse to expand on these in unexpected situations. the plot is minuscule and largely not the point. whether or not KILLFACE is successful is not the point. his futile efforts in organizational management and networking allies in his evil deeds is far more interesting. perhaps this is why this show was killed off after its second season, a blunder not made in the aforementioned follow-up series ARCHER, which uses its characters to parody a myriad of films, locations and tv shows.
but i prefer FRISKY DINGO for its almost MONTY PYTHON level of insanity and ever shifting plot points to no avail. it was quite the ride.
sometimes you feel so connected to a piece of art that you start to wonder what you were like before encountering it. such is the case with me and the work of MEL BROOKS in general. as i think i mentioned before in my REVIEW of SPACEBALLS (BROOKSFILMS, 1987), my first viewing of his movies was early, like around kindergarten.
so that should explain quite a bit about me.
i remember during one of my first semesters at RUTGERS UNIVERSITY as an undergraduate attending a required class that was focused on the gifted and all-too-human cultural prodigy that was PAUL ROBESON. somehow with a fellow classmate, who was AFRICAN-AMERICAN, i got into a heated discussion about whether or not BROOKS was racist. if you haven't seen BLAZING SADDLES (CROSSBOW PRODUCTIONS, 1974), it is a send-up of WESTERN films in the tradition of JOHN FORD, HOWARD HAWKS, JOHN WAYNE, ANTHONY MANN, etc. and really just eviscerates them. the language alone is something that likely wouldn't be allowed in today's political and cultural climate, as it regularly used racial epithets and ethnic, gender and sexuality-oriented slurs. but you have to ask at whose expense in the film. the answer to that is the white men. the only people being debased and pilloried in BLAZING SADDLES are the dumbass white frontier folk (men, women, young and old) that use it.
during those arguments i eventually won given that i mentioned that one of the co-writers of the screenplay was none other than RICHARD PRYOR, arguably the greatest comedian of all-time (he has my vote). if you didn't know, he's also black. years later i watched the director's comments by BROOKS and learned that all the great one-liners in the film are more or less PRYOR's, but the racist stuff was all BROOKS. hilarious.
i understand that now life is more complicated given that foolish people think that given media where people use unfortunate language that somehow gives them permission to do the same. i am talking about white people here. this phenomena is something famously that CHRIS ROCK, DAVE CHAPPELLE and countless other comics of color have had to deal with over the years, white appropriation. forget about it now in the age of TRUMP. so i get why this film still chafes at people.
but for its ability to utterly annihilated the tropes of a bullshit genre that was created to showcase the primitive superiority of the white man (a la MANIFEST DESTINTY), i am a huge fan of this film in its original savage context. not how a moronic TRUMPIST may misinterpret it and weaponize it for their own regressive agenda.
photo by nacrowe
i can think of few things in life that have brought me as much joy and probably informed my sense of identity from a young age as MONTY PYTHON (the other being the films of MEL BROOKS). it is my opinion that the boundless, kinetic enthusiasm of ERIC IDLE was a big part of their formula, perhaps only matched by the droll, domineering physical encroachment of JOHN CLEESE that seemed to counteract such, propelling their comedy with forward momentum.
regardless, IDLE is well aware of his mortality at this point and his recent memoir ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE: A SORTABIOGRAPHY (BROADWAY BOOKS, 2018) is a concise, thoroughly hilarious look back at his childhood, career and friendships over the years. i think it is a testament to his humility, and quite possibly his ENGLISH modesty, that as much as this memoir is about his achievements, it is equally about his collaborations and the uplifting, connecting power of humor.
it seems compelling that for a life so thoroughly lived and enjoyed, his childhood was one of deep isolation, with his father having died shortly after the war in a freak accident and duly being shipped off to boarding school at a tender age to fend for himself. now i attended boarding school and dealt with bullying in my early teens, but nothing like his situation where corporal punishment was the norm and having a personality was deemed antithetical to being a good ENGLISH schoolboy. something they literally tried to beat out of you.
like some of the PYTHONS, he went to CAMBRIDGE (others attended OXFORD) and got involved with THE FOOTLIGHTS comedy society and gained the experience, confidence and connections that propelled him forward into his career, much like CHICAGO's SECOND CITY, LOS ANGELES' THE GROUNDLINGS and NYC's UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE have done so stateside in recent generations.
his back history and intelligence is impressive, but what i enjoyed most about this book were his insights into deceased friends like GEORGE HARRISON, ROBIN WILLIAMS and MIKE NICHOLS. each are lovingly given chapters dedicated to their misadventures and wicked sense of humor. you really get the sense that during his heyday in the 1970s, comedy was as much part of the counter-culture as ROCK AND ROLL and the commonalities of the two was something i wasn't aware of to the extent he presents it in the book. in the case of their two legendary films, MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL and LIFE OF BRIAN, it was literally the BRITISH music community that funded them when no other corporate entities would dare touch them.
the memoir ends with his recent international touring with MONTY PYTHON counterpart JOHN CLEESE, where they find themselves utilizing comedy to sooth AMERICANS traumatized by the election of DONALD TRUMP. he even includes one of the best extended putdowns of TRUMP that i have read to date.
so the memoir was worth it on that alone. if you are a fan of his work or comedy in general, i highly suggest you consider reading his memoir.
REST IN PEACE GRAHAM CHAPMAN & TERRY JONES
i always find it slightly odd to see AMY POEHLER attempting to hawk cable internet services in commercials, but maybe that is because i am her target demographic. perhaps most are familiar with her 7-year run on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE which was highlighted by her turn co-hosting WEEKEND UPDATE with partner-in-crime TINA FEY, but for me her work in the subversive UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE sketch show was the high-water mark.
along with MATT BESSER, IAN ROBERTS and MATT WALSH, their brand of comedy was not unlike the MONTY PYTHON-esque brand of oddly juxtaposed sketch routines common to peers like MR. SHOW. whereas MR. SHOW definitely had a bitter streak that informed their comedy, where the subjects of their routines were almost being eviscerated for full impact, UCB had a more distant perspective that seemed to highlight life's innate absurdity without passing judgement. this was achieved through the ongoing connecting narrative that the members were part of some god-like, all-powerful chorus of extra-terrestrial beings that manipulated human history. the sketches were essentially their observations on human emotions, desires and relationships.
for me, neither show was better, more differing perspectives that made up a generation of comedians that were attempting to navigate their way in the 90s through a new media landscape and burgeoning internet revolution that would only prove to fragment society as time wore on. i still feel that as a culture we are dealing with how to find common ground with one another, as ultimately comedy is a unifying art form. to find something funny it is a requisite that you share an outlook with the comedian. in the end comedy is about empathy.
one of the other more concrete achievements of this troupe is the ongoing UCB Theatre in MANHATTAN which caters to underground improvisational comedy. in grad school i went once to watch a colleague's comedy troupe and was taken aback by the atmosphere of the place. it really felt like a clubhouse. a place where people connect. seems emblematic of their brand of comedy as well.
i've written before about my deep admiration for NORM MCDONALD, CHRIS FARLEY and BOB ODENKIRK & DAVID CROSS of MR. SHOW, but right up there as well is ROBERT SMIGEL.
never heard of him? he was a writer for SNL for a number of years but is probably most famous for his quick barbs as TRIUMPH THE INSULT COMIC DOG. in my opinion this sock puppet is the modern equivalent of HUNTER S. THOMPSON, as it can gain access to any cultural or political event and cast aspersions and biting commentary in real-time in a manner GONZO JOURNALISM could only dream. after all, he is only a sock puppet. who gets mad at a sock puppet. answer: EMINEM.
oh my god. i was crying laughing so hard rewatching these, especially the one below where he visits CHICAGO's WEINER's CIRCLE. i had to stop because i was going to faint.
just watch them and thank me later.
oh my god, i love NORM MACDONALD. dude is my spirit animal.
he is quite honestly the funniest comedian ever. my opinion. what i love about him is his ability to self-sabotage and decimate every premise available with absolute conviction. watching him is watching a tight-rope act of the most highest order. he is the comedy equivalent of a sledgehammer, disregarding form, audience and even time limits.
in other words he is beyond unique and a comedian's comedian. dude hosts the ESPYS in the 90s and eviscerates his audience, a RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL audience full of athletes. he hosts SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE within a year of being fired for making fun of his boss only to eviscerate his former boss and the show in his opening monologue. NORM even does a roast of his peer BOB SAGET with unfunny jokes designed to bomb. then there is his legendary moth joke. i could do this all night. but i wont.
dude is a legend.
whenever i am down i just search for his guest appearances on LETTERMAN or CONAN and just laugh. to me he is the ultimate because he is absolutely unhinged. other comedians feign like they are out of control, but NORM truly doesn't give a shit. his career is so up and down because of his unpredictability, but im telling you, when its all said and done he is the LENNY BRUCE, the RICHARD PRYOR, the GEORGE CARLIN of this era.
him and CHRIS FARLEY are my two favorite comedians ever. please check out his material embedded below.
for whatever reason, the four seasons of 90s cult classic comedy show MR. SHOW (HBO, 1995-1998) starring BOB ODENKIRK (BREAKING BAD, BETTER CALL SAUL) and DAVID CROSS (ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT) is criminally overlooked. an outgrowth of the alternative comedy scene in LOS ANGELES at the time, its cultural impact can be seen in the varying careers of its many collaborators including that of BRIAN POSEHN (METALOCALYPSE, THE BIG BANG THEORY), TOM KENNY (SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS, THE POWERPUFF GIRLS, JOHNNY BRAVO), JILL TALLEY (SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS, THE BOONDOCKS), PAUL F. TOMPKINS (BOJACK HORESMAN, BOB'S BURGERS, THE DAILY SHOW), JACK BLACK (TENACIOUS D), SARAH SILVERMAN (THE SARAH SILVERMAN PROGRAM, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, BOB's BURGERS), JAY JOHNSTON (THE SARAH SILVERMAN PROGRAM, MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENHOLE), BEN STILLER (THE BEN STILLER SHOW, ZOOLANDER, DODGEBALL), JERRY MINOR (SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, COMMUNITY), MARY LYNN RAJSKUB (24, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW, PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE), JOHN ENNIS (TWIN PEAKS, WALK HARD, ZODIAC), SCOTT AUKERMAN (BETWEEN TWO FERNS WITH ZACH GALIFIANAKIS), MARLON WAYANS (IN LIVING COLOUR, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM) and JANEANE GARAFALO (SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, 24, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW). the "Titannica" skit was referenced in the name of a BLINK-182 song ("Adam's Song") and the show even become the springboard for a TOOL side project (MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN's PUSCIFER) and TENACIOUS D, who themselves had an HBO show that was co-created and co-produced with ODENKIRK and CROSS.
the show takes its sensibility from MONTY PYTHON in that live and prerecorded skits are connected tangentially from segment to segment with no narrative arc. this frees the material to be the focus. a product of the CLINTON-era, much of the focus of the humor is derived from lampooning the stupidity of american life (reality tv, jingoism, sensationalist journalism) and public institutions (the police, government officials, corporate america). in many ways the lack of intellectual curiosity and selfish nature of the american general public is a target just below the surface and for that reason, this show has aged remarkably well.
given the political nature of their comedy, the creators and select cast members have done mix-media tours of theaters over the years. i saw them in NYC around 2003 as they lampooned the build-up to the misguided return american military adventure into the middle east on their HOORAY FOR AMERICA! tour. to me MR. SHOW holds a special place in my heart as they were consciously articulating a perspective and using comedy as a mirror to articulate just how far from our professed ideals we had fallen, especially during a time of compliance and plastic patriotic fervor rooted in raw, uninhibited xenophobia.
again, MR. SHOW still holds up. definitely worth your time to investigate.
art by nacrowe
i don't where my sense of humor and the work of MEL BROOKS divides. to me that separation ended a long time ago as i was basically raised on his films, most notably SPACEBALLS (BROOKSFILMS, 1987), BLAZING SADDLES (CROSSBOW PRODUCTIONS, 1974), YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (CROSSBOW PRODUCTIONS, 1974), THE PRODUCERS (CROSSBOW PRODUCTIONS, 1967) and HISTORY OF THE WORLD: PART I (BROOKSFILMS, 1981). all absolute classics. the dialogue in his films a long time ago became short-hand in my family.
the first time i saw SPACEBALLS was with my father in kindergarten. i didn't get any of it. my dad realized i'd never seen STAR WARS so after that was done i got some of the jokes.
i could go on about the incredible cast (RICK MORANIS, BILL PULLMAN, JOHN CANDY, JOAN RIVERS) or its commentary on franchise film-making, or even the legendary set-ups and one-liners, but really this film has to be experienced to be appreciated. i want to safeguard that experience by encouraging everyone and anyone to seek it out, even if you are not a sci-fi fan. it transcends the genre it parodies.
for me BROOKS is an american treasure. being the quintessential brooklyn-ite, he is a bit of throwback to an era of comedy writing that has largely been passed over for cheap gags and gross-out humor. given that part of my family is from brooklyn, i always considered his humor a channel to a different time and aesthetic regarding humor that is very urban, very pointed and very intelligent. it's almost aspirational and for whatever reason i associated it with my families roots. what i love most about his parodies is that he uses them to interject criticism about the genre they cover. SPACEBALLS routinely goes after the ridiculous reliance on spectacle as an audience-draw in sci-fi films as well as the blatant money-grabbing consumerism of the time with LUCAS and SPIELBERG-related properties like E.T or INDIANA JONES. it is funny because many of the same special effects people that worked on those films did so for SPACEBALLS as well. BLAZING SADDLES likewise went after the inherent racism portrayed in the american WESTERN FILM and american society en masse as well. that is a subject for another review. with BROOKS you can take the film at face-value or dig deeper, which is the sign of any quality film product. its just a pity he doesn't get the critical due he deserves since for whatever reason, the film industry doesn't take comedies as seriously as dramas in the UNITED STATES.
don't ask me why that is. as a writer, director, producer and actor he cleans the floors of most of his peers, including LUCAS and SPIELBERG. just my opinion.
check out the film. let me know what you think in the comments. and if you ever find a legit website that sells SPACEBALLS THE T-SHIRT please let me know.