I remember an old episode of “The Brady Bunch” or “Family Affair” or one of those other moralistic family shows of the sixties or seventies where each episodes ends with a proper lesson learned. On this particular episode, famous character actor Jack Gilford (the Cracker Jack guy) made an appearance as an eccentric Uncle. His character was always telling these corny, outdated jokes that made everyone around him groan. Or maybe he was doing corny magic tricks that weren’t that good. (Ah, yes, I remember it well…sort of.)
Anyway, one of the kids (maybe Jan or Buffy or perhaps even Opie from “Andy Griffith”) complained to his/her parent that the Uncle embarrassed him/her with all his old corny jokes and/or magic tricks, and of course the Uncle happened to overhear it. Naturally, this led to a few heart-wrenching scenes whereby the kids all learned a very valuable lesson on how to deal with such a colorful character. You simply placate them. By the end of the episode, everyone was laughing and enjoying the Uncle’s jokes or tricks because they were trying to appreciate him for who he was, rather than how funny his material was. But is placating really the answer? Perhaps Mr. Gilford’s character would have been better off knowing his material stinks, and he should either update it or happily retire to the Old Folk’s Home for Irrelevant Screwballs. (Or what some people refer to as Congress.)
I bring this up because I was fascinated with the recent publicity circus surrounding Mike Meyer’s latest effort “The Love Guru,” and how badly the movie did at the box office. Even with an uncomfortably forced appearance on “American Idol” and a publicity blitz akin to Jerry Seinfeld’s embarrassing campaign for “Bee Movie,” people really didn’t care to see it. Was it because Mike Meyers is no longer funny? Or because he’s been notoriously portrayed in the press as a self-righteous perfectionist that is difficult to work with, and therefore no longer funny? Or perhaps there’s only a certain amount of time a comedienne is allowed to remain at the top of his craft before he eventually sinks into comic obscurity.
Consider Chevy Chase. In the seventies, no one could touch him. Even in the eighties, he still was a box office bonanza. But now, he is relegated to infrequent guest appearances on television shows, and a couple straight-to-video movie gigs. So what happened? Did the public finally catch up to the fact that most comediennes only really have one basic persona they play? And though they try to dress it up with different costumes and occupations, eventually the public will get sick of seeing the same thing over and over again. Even with “The Love Guru,” Mike Meyers is basically playing the same character he played in the Austin Powers movie. The name, costumes and devices may be different, but he’s still an over-the-top character with little regard for the people around him. Or maybe the public just sensed the desperation in Mr. Myers need to create a new franchise, and wasn’t particularly eager to support it. It’s a pity. Because now we’ll never know whether “Love Guru 2” would have featured a Mini-Me-Love-Guru or Beyonce in Sari swapping contest.
Eddie Murphy has made a career of using “devices” such as fat suits, multiple characters, special powers, ghosts, etc. to create the illusion that he has comedic range. But the latest efforts like Norbert seem like sad attempts to recapture the glory he once had. I think Will Ferrell might be falling into this trap too. Is it just me, or do all his movies seem the same? A befuddled egocentric moron with some kind of offbeat occupation goes through a belabored journey to enlightenment. And along the way, he meets every character actor who ever worked on “Saturday Night Live” or is currently in the public eye. Ironically, the one Will Ferrell movie I actually enjoyed in recent years was the one most people hated, “Stranger than Fiction.” But it was the first time I actually saw a person behind the mask…or at least part of a person. And though he wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny, I really enjoyed his performance. Much better than the tired comedy of “Talladega Nights” or “Blades of Glory.” (And I have absolutely no desire to see “Step Brothers.” It just looks like Long Day’s Journey into Tedium.)
But that’s just me. What do you think of comediennes who have somehow lost their humor?