Monday, August 17, 2009

How was The State so funny?

We've been watching The State, the sketch comedy show that was on MTV in the '90s and has finally been released on DVD. The show has held up surprisingly well; in fact, it's almost more enjoyable to watch after all these years. It has a special quality that Saturday Night Live doesn't have. (And I don't mean The State's embarrassing lack of diversity.) The skits on SNL seem more like earnest attempts to be as funny as possible within the limited format. Something different seems to be happening with The State. I'm still not sure if I've pinpointed what it is, but it seems like the 11 cast members simultaneously (1) didn't try as hard as they could at writing hilarious material but (2) tried harder than most SNL actors at performing hilariously.

You'll often find that if you stop and think about the premise of a skit, you could easily say, "That's not very funny!" But you still get a kick out of it. Why? Often it's because of the actors engaging in bizarre antics when they aren't speaking. (If you have the DVDs, I recommend closely watching the people in the background.) Or the one outburst in the skit that's utterly out of place.

I generally think of humor as being not mere incongruity (as it's often defined), but incongruity that nevertheless "makes sense" on some important level. If this theory is correct, then using pure silliness or wackiness as a comedic device shouldn't be effective. When I find myself laughing at the coda at the end of "The Jew, the Italian, and the Redhead Gay," I question whether my own theory is correct.


beckett said...

They all live together on Avenue A. Each looks at life in his own way.