Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Weekly Poll Winner: Paul Rudd

As much as all the contestants on last week's poll are formidable actor/comedians, I'm glad Paul Rudd was picked as number one. And that's for one reason:

Paul Rudd can fit his whole fist in his mouth.

Actually, that's not the reason. The reason is because Paul Rudd is the only actor of the five (Will Ferrel, Steve Carell, Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller) who is just now beginning to enjoy leading-man comedic success.

Rudd has actually been around longer than most people remember. He played Josh in 'Clueless' (almost 15 years ago now), was one of the few who to make it through 'Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers' un-slashed, played in two Shakespeare adaptations--'Romeo and Juliet' and 'Twelfth Night'--and enjoyed a run on 'Friends'.

But it wasn't until Rudd latched onto the Judd Apatow crew in 'The 40 Year Old Virgin', that people really began to remember his name. And in the last year-or-so, with 'Role Models' and 'I Love You, Man', has enjoyed leading-man success in comedies that people actually saw.

Rudd's comedic style of acting is very dynamic, which enables him to play different types of roles, whereas many leading men (like the others on last week's poll), often continue playing themselves in different movies. Will Ferrel (almost) always plays Will Ferrel. Vince Vaughn (almost) always plays Vince Vaughn. And I'll skip out on saying that Ben Stiller (almost) always plays Ben Stiller, because it's not almost always...it's always. That's fine that they do, because that works for them.

But the fact that Paul Rudd can play several types of characters separates him from the rest of the group. He does a good job playing the apathetic husband in 'Knocked Up', and an equally good job playing the devoted fiance in 'I Love You, Man'. And his stoner/surfer dude role in 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall', despite it's brevity, is one of the more memorable parts of that movie.

He also does hilarious impressions, like his Robert Deniro in 'Knocked Up', or this one from 'Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story':

As a 40-year-old, Rudd still looks like he could play a 30-year-old, and at the time where he seems to be in his prime, doesn't show the signs of slowing down.

(I'm having a tough time finding more good clips...not because they don't exist, but they've all been taken off the web.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Weekly Poll Winner: Conan O'Brien

Thanks voters, I knew I could count on you. For what, I'm not sure, but thanks anyways.

Conan O'Brien, former host of NBC's Late Night With Conan O'Brien, which premiered in 1993, and as of June 1, 2009, he is now host of The Tonight Show.

Although he comes off as pretty goofy, Conan is actually real, real smart. According to The Boston Globe, he graduated valedictorian of his high school, and then attended Harvard University.

While there, he wrote for, and served as president of the university's humor magazine, the Harvard Lampoon.

His gig on the Late Show enjoyed moderate success for the first few years, before his recurring characters and shtick were slowly ingrained and cemented into pop culture.

Some of Conan's memorable contributions:

- his celebrity interviews, on the screen that drops down, with the cut-out mouths
- the horny manatee
- the masturbating bear
- the Walker, Texas Ranger lever (which may be partially responsible for the Chuck Norris phenomenon over the past five or so years)
- Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog

... and who could forget when he brought life to jar barf?

What I always found funny about Conan was how his jokes were usually pretty corny, but he told them in such a way that you knew that he knew they were.

He could stand there in his opening bit and tell a really stupid joke, that only got a few chuckles from the crowd, and he would acknowledge it. He is not your average stand-up comedian. With his sketches, props and characters, he was so much more.

His youth gave him the energy to come out every night and do that dance and jump that always got the crowd going. And, since he often didn't get the best guests (because what A-list celebrity wants to be a guest on a show that airs from 12:35 to 2 am?), his sketches were what drew people in, turned them into fans, and drew them back.

It was almost like a hybrid of a standard late-show, combined with a sketch comedy show. It wasn't conventional, but it worked.

(You can grab more Conan clips if you search for Conan on Hulu--NBC loves giving their stuff to Hulu)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Weekly Poll Winner: Butters

Despite early polling favoring Cartman by a large margin, the tallies rolled in with Leopold "Butters" Stotch in the lead in the weekly poll of your favorite South Park character.

Butters appeared in the first few seasons of South Park, but did not become a recurring character until the fourth season when his popularity among fans was discovered.

During the fifth season, he took on the role of being the kid Cartman uses to do stuff that he can't get the other kids to do with him. Because Butters is so naive, trusting and longing for acceptance, he usually takes part in Cartman's plots.

At the end of the fifth season Butters was given his own episode, "Butters' Very Own Episode," which led up to his inclusion in the main cast by the sixth season. He is chosen to take the place of Kenny, who is killed off in the fifth season to make room for Butters to be "the fourth."

As easily manipulated as Butters is, he often finds himself the butt of Cartman, Kyle and Stan's jokes. When he doesn't want to play along, they hit him with that deep, biting criticism: "Kenny woulda done it."

The sixth season is a big time for the development of Butters' character, who is ultimately revealed to be as confused and screwed up as a child might actually be in his situation.

His exclusion from the foursome after the first five episodes--after gaining weight and then being subsequently lyposucked; after the boys hang fake testicles from his chin and force him to go on the Maury Povich show--leads him to develop an alter-ego by the name of Professor Chaos. Professor Chaos' mission is to cause chaos to the world that has been so cruel to him.

Eventually, however, Butters continues to be reluctantly brought into Cartman, Kyle and Stan's games and misadventures. He is abducted by Paris Hilton, sent to "bi-curious" camp, locked in an underground bomb shelter and hit in the eye with a Ninja throwing star:

Despite all of his shortcomings, Butters is still about the nicest boy in the South Park Elementary 4th grade classroom. He has several tender moments, where you realize that he's just a confused and sweet little kid. Still, his friends abuse him and make him do things he doesn't want to do, and his parents are slightly abusive.

This persona from the boy named Leopold Stotch makes him one of the most complex characters on the show. As the seasons with Butters developed, so did the window into why he is how he is.

Professor Chaos is his one escape from reality, where he can actually attempt to get back at society for all the ways they've wrong him. His plots are usually senseless, but having a side-kick, "General Disarray"--or Dougie, a second grade boy--allows Butters to exercise some kind of control, of which he seldom has otherwise.

Butters' lovable personality, boyish voice and awkward manner have made him a staple of South Park in many of its 13 seasons--a tradition I hope will continue in the remaining years of the show.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Final Friday Filet: Carlos Mencia

It's the moment you've all been waiting for, for the past month. I know. It's the Final Friday Filet.

On the final Friday of every month, we at Laughasaurus will explore a failed attempt at comedy, and explain why.

And today, our fileted subject is Carlos Mencia, stand-up comedian and former host of Comedy Central's "Mind of Mencia", a program that, at its best, could only register at the mediocre level.

I'm not the kind of critic who doesn't give subjects a fair chance, or else, how could I even be considered credible in the least? I gave Mencia a shot. In fact, I gave the half-Mexican/half-Honduran several fair chances to make me laugh. It happened once, but never before and never again after.

Mencia was gracious enough to supply me with the ammo to begin a discussion of why his attempts at humor are a failure--his catchphrase "Dee de-dee." This is often used to give words to those whom he deems stupid, or dumbasses. It's kind of like saying "duh!" or "a-doy!" as so many of us did when we were in middle school.

It would be ok if he, maybe, used it once, ironically. But of course he doesn't. It would be hard for you to find an episode of his show, or a stand-up show where he doesn't "dee de-dee" something. His audiences (and I feel bad for them, because they're missing out on real quality comedy) even chime in sometimes--and the only thing worse than hearing Carlos recite his maxim is hearing a crowd chant it in unison. Dee de-dee!

But there's no better way to ridicule this man than to examine a specimen of his work...

Mind of Mencia
Black President
Race JokesPolitical HumorPlay Carlos Mencia Games

First, we'll start with the fact that this is a straight-up rip-off of a "Chappelle's Show" sketch from a few years earlier, where Chappelle explores, much more comically, the idea of an African-American president. And not only is it a rip-off, but if you watch it, you'll realize it's downright stupid.

As well, if you follow his comedy and show, you'll also start to realize that his jokes are almost all stolen--a phenomenon referenced in South Park's "Fishsticks" episode, where he steals a joke and plays like he made it up. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone were not just using Mencia for the hell of it. There is purpose to everything they do.

Then, after the moronic, racist sketch is over, he assumes that most people watching thought it was "hysterically ridiculous"--an assumption no comedian should ever make about their own work. Because once you personally state that you think your own work is funny, aren't you automatically less funny for doing so? That's what I think anyways.

Another sign that I'm, perhaps, not alone in my opinion on Carlos, is the way "Mind of Mencia" is filmed. If you'll notice, it's shot very tight on him, only on about the upper half of his body, and the camera never flips to show you the audience laughing. My guess here is that they're not actually laughing (laugh track, perhaps?).

If you watch Chappelle's show, they film his whole body, and often show members of the audience, because they are almost always laughing...and hard.

Here's the opening bit of one of Mencia's stand-up events. There's a little bit of 180 toward the audience, but it's from behind the stage so you can't really see the people.

I think using that as an opener seals the deal for me. Not convinced? Leave a comment, we'll chat.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Weekly Poll Winner: Superbad

Thanks for voting, voters. You've selected "Superbad" as the winner of your favorite Seth Rogen movie, which is good because not only does Rogen play in the movie, but he also co-wrote it.

The buzz about "Superbad" revolved not only around its accurate portrait of high school relationships, juvenile--yet hilarious--jokes and the fact that Rogen and his childhood friend Evan Goldberg (the two whom the story is based on) wrote it when they were about 13 years old.

Superbad seems to have it all...at least I think so. In just two hours, you get Jonah Hill ("Seth"), an obnoxious, overweight teen with a filthy mouth and imagination. You also get Michael Cera ("Evan"), who is pretty much reprising his awkward and sheltered role as "George Michael" from "Arrested Development." I'd bet he was picked for the role based on his tenure with "Arrested Development."

"Superbad" also brought a new pop culture phenomenon to the table in the Summer of 2007--McLovin. The total nebbish with a cracking voice gets drunk with cops, fires a gun and gets laid for the first time. It's as if Rogen and Goldberg were saying "Hey, if McLovin can do it, you can too. Don't give up, kid."

And of course you are graced with the wonderful comedic stylings of the dynamic Seth Rogen, who plays one of the cops--a cop in outfit, but at heart still a kid who wants to get drunk and have fun.

It always seems to me as if all of Rogen's roles were either written specifically for him, or at least with him in mind (Zack & Miri, Knocked Up, Pineapple Express, etc...). "Superbad," although he co-wrote it, was likely the same deal.

The way Rogen speaks his lines make them not even seem like lines. It's very natural for him to say things that are funny because I believe he is innately extremely funny. (And even if "Family Guy" says different: "This is the Seth Rogen gene. It will give you the appearance of being funny even though you haven't actually done anything funny"; "How charming and chubby! I'm rooting for you.")

Here's a clip from Rogen's first scene in the movie with Bill Hader:

The banter between characters does virtually nothing to drive the narrative, but is where most of the jokes reside. Rogen and Hader's banter and discussions inside the cop car make for a great type of dialoge that you don't often see from cops. Jonah Hill and Michael Cera give you a pretty realistic window into the conversations that two 18-year-old guys would have on a Friday night.

Here's another one--one of everybody's favorite scenes (viewer discretion, there are some F-bombs up in here):

Other than that, come back tomorrow for some more Laughasaurus!
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