Thursday, April 14, 2011

Author, Author

One of the most extraordinary things that happened in the decade after the turn of the millenium, perhaps the signature event of this epoch, was Tina Fey leaving Saturday Night Live to create 30 Rock.

Slavishly adored and critically and commercially successful for its unparalleled run of mediocrity, Saturday Night Live, or as it is often called, no doubt in emulation of that other overgreased, high-calorie but low-content, substandard staple of American life, Kentucky Fried Chicken aka KFC, SNL was reaching a nadir of critical acclaim and joyless comedy in the early part of the new millenium, with Fey overseeing a corpsing cast that included Will Ferrell doing the same loudmouth routine, Tracy Morgan doing the same loudmouth routine, and Jimmy Fallon doing the same smirk week after week, interrupted by Darrell Hammond or Chris Parnell using wigs to identify whomever they were impersonating and Rachel Dratch screeching. The show has never been as radical and lively and as barbed as it might have been for a few early seasons, if it even was then, but at the turn of the millenium, despite good notices, SNL skirted on total irrelevance. As one person put it to me, they think they're surfing the zeitgeist, but they're only boogie-boarding in the cultural kiddie pool.

So I did not have high hopes for 30 Rock. And you don't need to know much, which is probably the case if you're following this blog, to know where this is heading. Tina Fey and Tracy Morgan are brilliant, Jenna is luscious, Chris Parnell's Dr Leo Spaceman (a child psychiatrist, no less) is pure joy, and Alec Baldwin's Jack Donaghy is the funniest character on television in decades, possibly ever (pipping Will Arnett's Gob Bluth to the post?) And I haven't even mentioned Kenneth. Or the crew of writers. Or Griz and Dot Com. Or Will Arnett as Devon Banks. Or the fact that the best actor alive, Matt Damon, has a recurring role as Carol Burnett; or that the second best actor alive, Jon Hamm, has a recurring role as Dr Drew Baird; or that the third best actor alive, Michael Sheen, has a recurring role as Wesley Snipes.

The best way to think of Fey is as someone who got in advance the props she was due, and then got the props she was due again, on time. That's nice. In the part of New York where I live, people would say "Good for her!" And it was deeply refreshing to see her pay amusing tribute to Lorne Michaels in a recent New Yorker piece, not only because it was a much funnier homage from disciple to master than, say, Cogito and The History of Madness, but because people like me are tempted to blame Lorne Michaels for SNL and to say that Fey could only become the proprietor, godmother, and author of 30 Rock once she escaped his clutches.

Now, obviously, Fey has a gang of writers - including, apparently, Donald Glover for several years! - and more Talent than Britain. But it is her show and with it, she has extracted and resituated her SNL stars, bringing a bunch of clown-faced comedic lazaruses back to life. A case in point: one of the best cameos on a show full of inspired cameos comes from none other than Will Ferrell, as the star of the ill-fated show Bitch Hunter.

The other night, I was in the queue waiting to get into the theatre to see the new Stephen Ady Guirgis play, and the friend I was with flipped open his Impressive Technological Device, chuckled to himself, and showed me the message he had received:

New Will Ferrel tweet: I want to have 3 kids and name them Ctl, Alt, and Del. If they F Up, I'll hit them all at once.

What a joke! And what an amazing world: I explained to my friend how technology allows us to share a joke across continents as soon as they're cracked, and that with twitter and modern technology, it doesn't matter where we are: we're can still be part of an audience for stand-up comedy. So, anyway, we went into the theatre, squeezed into our ridiculously overpriced Broadway seats, and had to endure countless old people startled by a blast of strangely often quite current ringtone music from their own fucking phones going off during the show and then fumbling for the nearest younger relative to help them turn the thing off. I mean, what is it with old people and technology?

So, anyway, it was an amazing play, I went home, chuckled a bit more about Will Ferrell's tweet about destroying misbehaving children en masse with one sweetly-choreographed click and how annoying old people are because they're useless with technology, and, lo and behold, with a few more clicks on the computer, I discovered that the tweet was not from Will Ferrell, but is an old(ish) joke, sent perhaps from some fake twitter account? Life's bullshit, man. You can't win.

Sometimes authorship just seems right; the text or show in question just seems to belong to an author, even if it doesn't; and when authorship is stripped, when the text is a naked little scrawl of letters, it's remarkable how shrivelled it can become, as if authorship is a thick swathe of white fluffy wool around a scrawny pink like lamb. (This is one example, where the text was often originally cited as having been written by Kurt Vonnegut - how much better would it be if it actually were?) Who is telling the joke matters.

Thanks for notifying me of this, regarding yesterday's post. I hope the link works.


Daniel F said...

Even Season 4 is providing incomparable pleasures. Kenneth preparing the office for a multi denominational winter holiday, putting out cribs, menorahs, and, as he explains to Tracey, "a photograph of President Barack Obama - for the Muslims".

sw said...

Yesterday I was complaining about the most recent episode. The person listening to me complain said "But what about this bit?" and I said, "Yes, it was amazing, and so was that bit," and she agreed, but then said, "My favourite was another bit", though I disagreed and said, "Yeah, that was hilarious, but my favourite was yet another scene." That's how we tend to complain about 30 Rock.