Historicizing the Funnies

Ring the Alarums!

Maya Rudolph is coming back! Back for your children, your jewelry, and your endtables!

Watch just the first 33 seconds of this please, and then after 4:27, and meet me after the fold:

She’s the best thing about “Gays in Space,” a short-lived SNL sketch that is pretty funny if you like twisting a stereotype into a few actual jokes before losing heart and relying again on stereotype. Which isn’t the worst comedy in the world when it’s performed with love and respect. Which it usually isn’t (see the rape joke debate of early 2013).

“Ain’t nothing bigger than Jupiter! Gays in Space!”

I’m excited to see the return of the ol’ vaudeville style of entertainment. A variety show? What is this, 1973? From back when comedy’s roots were showing—when comedy was more clearly part of a trajectory that began with vaudeville and Yiddish theater.

For example, one of the ways that The Muppet Show is nearly unrecognizable to contemporary audiences is that Kermit directs a variety show in a theater. 21st Century kids TV has nothing to do with that scene. Maybe my own roots are showing (highschooltheaterwhatwhat), but I’d be sad if the concept of theater is something from history that must be taught along with the land line and the newspaper.

Even comparing 1980 Sesame Street to an episode from last weekend you can see the difference. Much more “learning,” much less funny. And it’s like 1/3 Elmo and a sparkly little fairy named Abby Cadabby because the Disney princess juggernaut has taken over even public television.

I don’t know if Rudoph and Lorne Michaels have vaudeville-style in mind. But if not, why call it “a variety show”? It’ll probably be on at 1am. Bah.

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