Monday, July 21, 2008

When Comediennes Lose their Novelty

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 His character was always telling these corny, outdated jokes that made everyone around him groan.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?


tashabud said...

Henson, I don't think this phenomenon only goes for comedians. I believe it applies to everybody. Actors, musicians, artists, writers, and politicians have their peaks and valleys as well, I believe.

BTW, I've never been a fan of Will Ferrell. I find his humor quite obnoxious. Have a great day.

Athena said...

TOTALLY agree about Will Ferrell. I always feel bad for comediennes (actors and musicians, as well) when it's so obvious that their latest endeavor is just going to TANK...I feel like I'm witnessing the downfall of someone's career! Which is why I wouldn't pay a cent at the theater or on Netflix to see this idiotic movie.

Fierce Diva said...

You are absolutely right. This also goes for Adam Sandler (who always kind of annoyed me) Vince Vaughn (who I used to like) and especially Ben Stiller who ALWAYS plays "That Guy". The same tired facial expressions and overacting. Add Jack Black to the list too. I'm really over him and the silly facial expressions as well. I guess the joke gets old for all the funny guys eventually, but people keep paying them ridiculous amounts of money to keep making the same movie every year so I guess they get the last laugh afterall.

Matthew S. Urdan said...

It's funny that you mention this. I'm actually watching all of Saturday Night Live, the original not ready for prime time players Season 1 from 1975. Not necessarily to see Chevy Chase relive his glory days by tripping on the sets--which is his one-trick pony, but because I never saw ABBA perform SOS live on SNL, and they were there on the SNL's first season.

But as I'm watching it, I realize how groundbreaking the humor really was. In 1976 when I got to stay up late and watch SNL I thought it was fun, it was cool, it was laugh-out-loud. But watching it as an adult and remembering the political climate of the 70s really gives me an appreciation for how brilliant these comedians were.

It's funny, Episode #4 featured Candace Bergin as a guest host--the first female guest host on SNL. She was young, beautiful, her voice was the same. She looked a little less comfortable though and it was awesome seeing her in the early stage of her career before she would really break-in to superstardom and come into her own with Murphy Brown, Miss Congeniality, and Boston Legal.

But I digress.

As for the Love Guru, I had no interest in seeing it at all. Like all of Mike Meyers movies, it just looked stupid in the previews. I like to think I have more intelligence than that. Which is why Will Farrell, Eddie Murphy and yes Chevy Chase and most SNL alums really don't interest me when they make the move to the silver screen.

The thing is...on SNL their little skits work for a laugh. But they can't sustain that for 90 minutes in a feature film. You need more than just one one-liner to keep an audience interested for 90 minutes. And sadly, in most of the movies the SNL alums made, they weren't able to do that.

People should stick with what they know and do well.

George Carlin was a comedian who remained hilarious his entire life, but he never starred in a feature film--instead he had small roles in feature films, such as Dogma--where he could dominate the scene, steal the scene and evoke a laugh or two.

A whole movie of George Carlin trying to act? Snoozefest, right?

At least with the Will Farrell movies he's been smart enough to partner with other comics and attempt to parody--blades of Glory--Tonya and Nancy and provide a new take. That's interesting. But ultimately, his comedies fell apart.

NOW, Stranger than Fiction was brilliant. Thank you Emma Thompson!

Nice post.

The Natural State Hawg said...

Well, I never thought Mike Meyers was all that funny.

Well, except for Wayne's World.

Anyway, the thing about comediennes is that they're very faddish. Meyers's "Austin Powers" was a passing fad and the same is true of Adam Sandler and the success he had.

Heck, even the great Jerry Seinfeld didn't do much after his very trendy sitcom went off the air.

Add that to the fact that audiences tend to outgrow these folks, and there you have it...

The Natural Hawg

livelife365 said...

Sadly, a right on the money post. It's kind of like a aging sports hero whose time has come and gone, but still craves the limelight--they want to perform, but have lost a step. Myers, et al., were and, at times still are, talented and quite entertaining, but try something different, take a chance. But look at Jim Carrey--he's been fighting not repeating himself and his career is going nowhere. I guess what I'm really trying to say is--you can't win.


TheSnackHound said...

I like to call this (well "like" is a strong word) the "Lucas Syndrome."

Original Star Wars movies: Classic. George Lucas gone unchecked and not having to answer to anyone: stilted dialogue by little kids. It worked better in his mind.

I think Mike Meyers hasn't lost his touch, but rather, when an actor becomes writer/producer/director/screenwriter/caterer/key grip and basically controls the whole movie, it becomes so self indulgent and no one has the guts to go to them and tell them when something might be a miss.

He really needs to star in a movie written by someone else to climb out of this as a film sorbet to cleanse the pallet.

I disagree about Chevy Chase though. I just think he never did too much of the "comic actor renivents himself with a dramatic role" typa thing. If he did, he would still be box office gold. And besides with the residuals from various projects he probably is pretty comfortable.

Henson Ray said...

tashabud, You're right. It really applies to anyone in the public eye. When Will was on Saturday Night Live, I thought he was much more versatile. Now he seems to have been stuck in the same type of character.

athena--yeah, this is definitely one of those movies you see on HBO or Showtime if there's absolutely nothing else on. Or to get you ready for a good long nap.

fierce diva--Good additions to the list. Although I usually love Adam Sandler, I think he's getting a little old for the "cute goofy guy" routine. And I wasn't really interested in his serious roles. Jack Black still has his moments, but might soon suffer the same fate.

Matt--great observations, as always. (I think you're a little ABBA obsessed of late, though. Heh, heh)

the natural state hawg--I was over Jerry Seinfeld before Seinfeld was even over. I just got tired of all the catch phrases and Jason Alexander. (Which is why I can't stand "Curb Your Enthusiasm" either. Self absorbed whiney guys are in abundance in NYC, so the character isn't really that funny to me.)

livelife365--Jim Carrey is undoubtedly very talented...but yeah, his reign is definitely over. Maybe he should go back to the sitcom route. That seems to be where a lot of former movie stars go to get a second life.

thesnackhound--Good points. Hey, I certainly wasn't saying Chevy Chase did any serious work. I just thought he still had some fight in him in the early eighties. But now, every time I see him, I just look at him like I once looked at Milton Berle. His humor is outdated.

Laura said...

Yeah, it's a shame. Comedies are my favorite movies to go see. But when you watch a preview (and they're showing you the best the movie has to offer) and you have to fight the urge to yawn... you know it's bad. You're right - Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell, Chevy Chase - in each movie, they're the same character wearing a different costume and that's about it. Except for Jim Carrey - he HAS shown some range. I saw him in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and he was good (the movie I didn't care for all that much though).

Rachel S said...

Will Ferrell was a one-trick pony the minute he appeared on the scene. Mike Meyers is talented, but he's beating the same dead horse. I think he peaked at So I married an Ax Murderer, although it was not, of course, the peak of his impact at the box office. As far as Eddie Murphy goes, I have noticed a trend - I like almost anything he does as long as he is only one character in it.

Matthew S. Urdan said...

Me? ABBA-obsessed? How can you say that when ABBA Gold is Now #1 on the Billboard Catalog Charts after 442 weeks, Mamma Mia! Soundtrack is Top 10, higher than any ABBA album at the time of their releases, and the movie opened at $28 million--which is more than both Best Picture Nominees Moulin Rouge and Dreamgirls opened combined! It's time to rejoice, to celebrate, to have the time of your life! Oooo-Oooo! See that girl, watch that scene, dig in the Dancing Queen!