photo manipulation by nacrowe
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.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
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.