Kevin Bacon: What was your favorite Kevin Bacon performance?
Will (Eric McCormack): I loved you in Footloose.
Kevin (happy/surprised): You saw that?
Will & Grace, Season 5, Episode 2
Humor is relative. What makes me laugh won’t necessarily make you laugh, and vice versa. It’s why hardcore fans of How I Met Your Mother may not enjoy Friends just as much, and hardcore Friends fans may not be crazy about How I Met Your Mother. I belong to the latter group, for example.
While ratings hit The Big Bang Theory can put a smile on my face, it never cracks me up-which is what I expect from a sitcom. So if it is on during dinner and nothing else is on, I don’t mind watching it. But if I want to laugh, I’d rather watch any episode of Married with Children (8th season excluded) or Coupling (4th season excluded) again rather than watching a new one from Community or Rules of Engagement.
There is not one type of successful sense of humor, and various hit comedies of highly different style and story lines are testimonials to that.
Why Making Yourself Laugh Matters
The good news? Whatever successful comedy you love watching or reading, there’s a big audience who shares a similar sense of humor. And if you can genuinely make yourself laugh with your material, there’s a chance you can make a lot of others laugh too.
Now, I say successful comedy, because you want agents/publishers/producers/networks to like your script/story/book, but you also need your work to be enjoyed and bought. So it is better to analyze a show with at least a modest record of ratings, or a book that has reached a certain sales level.
Of course you might be targeting a very specific group and you might be vehemently against anything that is considered mainstream. While that probably means you don’t share my kind of humor (which I’ll mention in more detail), you can still take something away from this post: the need to analyze your favorite works, finding their similarities and differences. And that’s a good starting point. I’m not saying you should limit yourself to formulas, but as expert writers in any area often point out, reinventing the wheel is a lot harder and riskier than copying a model that has been repeatedly successful. So this is what this series will cover.
Poking Fun at Oneself Unashamedly
This works best if/when you know the person/situation and you already find it funny or interesting. It also helps if you have thought about it yourself.
Now, if the material and its makers might do a very good job of portraying things so that you laugh or are at least entertained with no previous knowledge/thought about it. But I almost always find it that the person who’s familiar does laugh more.
Some of my favorite self-directed humor examples are below.
1) SNL featuring Gerard Butler, Jon Bon Jovi & Dermot Mulroney
I realized that the humor of writers of Saturday Night Live is most often lost on me if they are tackling things that are not my cup of tea or situations I’m not interested and/or don’t know about.
But some SNL stints have taken perfectly good facts, added some twisted humor and had the celebrity spoof himself. Those are the ones that appeal to me, crack me up, get me to record and rewatch.
- Gerard Butler, 300, Gay Men and SNL
Gerard Butler is one talented Scotsman. He is diverse, and has proven himself in many genres. Yes, people won’t be comparing him to Marlon Brando or Gary Oldman any time soon, but it takes guts, talent and hard work to pull off action, indie dramas, a powerful shot, several accents, an opera, thriller, comedy, romantic comedy and epic.
Butler is one of my favorite actors & entertainers because he picks scripts that draw me to them. The list of Butler movies that I didn’t care about (e.g. 300, The Phantom of the Opera, Beuwolf and Grendel), is a lot shorter than the ones I liked.
His interviews are also a lot of fun because he’s a good story-teller and doesn’t mind making fun of himself. So that’s one of the reasons his SNL hosting and stints work: it is not just the writers. It’s the guy.
SNL writers+ Butler’s skills+ his CV+ nationality=hilarity
Sure, some stints weren’t that funny, but I dare you to watch his 300, Braveheart, Scottish-American translated news and opening act and not to laugh out loud at least a couple of times.
He opens by categorizing his movies into 2: action films where he takes his shirt off (e.g. Lara Croft, 300) and sensitive dramas where he keeps his shirt on (i.e. The Phantom of the Opera). Sure, it is generalized and exaggerated, but that’s the fun of it. Ninjas and Romans and Vikings attack him while he fights them off and sings opera at the same time.
Leonidas: 40% of Sparta considers homosexuality an illness.
A soldier: 40% of Sparta doesn’t believe you were born in Greece!
Leonidas: (takes out a big stone tablet that his name is carved on) I have a birth certificate!!
300 Spoof, SNL
In the 300 spoof all the actors have worn metal muscle-shaped plates so that they can fake the 300 bodies. And all the soldiers are gay, as opposed to the 300’s heterosexual men who call Persians boy-lovers. Of course it’s not just 300 being spoofed…
The translation. His Scottish accent is clear, but you need to see Seth Meyers translating while Butler speaks with a very heavy accent that “forces” Meyers to add creativity and interpretation to his translation.
And last but not least, the Braveheart number. Now, Braveheart is my favorite movie. Ever. But the way it is spoofed gave me stomach cramps.Gerard Butler may not be spoofing himself, but he is spoofing a hit movie that tells a piece of Scottish history and Butler being Scottish, and having starred in some epic flicks himself, I couldn’t not mention it.
If you have seen Braveheart, you might remember William Wallace’s (Mel Gibson) incredibly inspiring speech that turned unwilling peasants into the most motivated soldiers. But when you create a brother who’s afraid of his shadow, and have him try to persuade very willing soldiers to run, you form the basis of some very funny moments;especially if the soldiers are the ones refuting the brother’s suggestions with Wallace’s lines:
SOLDIER: How can we surrender? The English deflower our virgin brides on their wedding nights!
DAVE (Gerard Butler): Well, first of all none of your wives were virgins on their wedding nights. There are six girls in our village and like a hundred guys…So no one is a virgin.
- Jon Bon Jovi, Bon Jovi and Rocknroll vs. Acting
Jon Bon Jovi is the front man of the rock band Bon Jovi-which has lead to confusion among non-fans ever since the band was formed. It has also lead a lot of people to think that Jon Bon Jovi is an egoistic jack***.
Then there is his acting credits that have impressed critics but not the box office. And of course the fans are divided into two groups 1) that will follow Jon’s work even if it’s not about music 2) that are adamant singers should stick to singing.
And then there’s the famous song lyrics, hair and fashion of the 80s, and Jon Bon Jovi not having aged badly.
So you start with a pre-credits stint where Amy Poehler is an unhappy teenager in 1986, and Jon on a poster of Slippery When Wet (the band’s 3rd album). When Amy poisons herself with too much hairspray, she hallucinates Jon, who gives her information about the future: musicians hosting SNL (that shocks her), Bon Jovi maintaining fame and success for decades, and Jon looking different only hair-wise.
There’s the opening act where Jon informs the audience that he won’t be singing,resulting in several audience members (SNL actors) leaving. Who wants to see Jon act, right? Also rebelling is the band’s guitarist Richie Sambora who complains Jon not allowing the band to promote their album by not letting them perform for SNL.
Then there’s the Italian presenter who have taken Bon Jovi lyrics way too literally, resulting in an actual steel horse coming to the studio and Bon Jovi being the face of the cigarette brand “blaze of glory”.
And my absolute favorite where Jon and his band (SNL actors) are deciding on the band’s name and Jon drives everyone with his “Bon Jovi” idea, and him being the face of the group. In reality, Bon Jovi is the name suggested by a producer and the band agreed to that. And yes, there have been problems with Richie Sambora about him feeling like the second most important member even though he co-writes the songs, and this has resulted in the stint even the band members not knowing the name of the fifth member (Alec Jon Such who later left the band.)
- Dermot Mulroney vs. Dylan McDermott
A gameshow host presents 3 contestants with a tremendous challenge: look at the pictures of Dylan McDermott and Dermot Mulroney and deciding which one is which. It doesn’t have their movie names/roles have similarities.
Now while I can separate them very easily, having enjoyed several works of both, they do have some similarities all right: both Americans, both born in the early 60s, both divorced, both university grads, both having shared some co-stars…And even McDermott has mentioned that people confuse the two (although I think they are nothing alike in the looks department as opposed to Ethan Hawke and front man of Sugar Ray.)
So while we enjoy the contestants’ dilemma, something funnier happens:Mulroney himself comes in, holding a picture of McDermott and asks who he is. Then when he learns that he is Mulroney, he says that he has been sleeping with another man’s wife. You can watch the stint on Youtube.
2) Kevin Bacon on Will & Grace
Although celebrities have been known to play themselves in (mostly) comedies and sitcom Will & Grace has a few examples of it (Jennifer Lopez, Cher, Bacon), my favorite is Bacon.
The 6 degrees of separation theory using Bacon has been a popular topic around movie-goers. And with so many movies and co-stars, you can indeed get to a lot of celebrities in 5 people or less, should you start the network from Bacon.
Then you have his not-exactly-famous Bacon Brothers band with his brother, his cult hit musical Footlose (1984) and his youthful good looks with a body bordering on skinny, you have guaranteed some laughs. Add some good jokes from writers and great interpretations from Bacon and the characters Will (Eric Mccormack) and Jack (Sean Hayes), you give the audience a blast.
The back story:
Will is a good-looking gay lawyer who can often be confused with being straight.
His best friend Jack is flamboyantly gay, and isn’t ashamed of his celebrity obsessions.
When the Bacon-stalking Jack lands the gig of being Bacon’s assistant and is told to catch the stalker, he presents an unfortunate Will to Kevin Bacon, who desperately tries to convince him that he’s not the stalker. When Bacon gets upset about even stalkers leaving him, Will needs to convince him that he’s still awesome. You can catch the full episode in the 5th season (episode 2: Bacon and eggs.)
Below are my favorite parts:
Bacon: When the stalkers leave, it’s the first sign that your career is slipping. It’s a little tip that I picked up from Val Kilmer.
Will: You did a movie with Val Kilmer?
Bacon: No. But Val is in Top Gun with Tom Cruise and Tom was in A Few Good Men with me. Huh- that was a short one.
Will: Your fans are never gonna leave you. You’re a great actor. You’re looking good, your hair is working, you’ve got the waist of a 14-year-old girl… I mean look at that (touching his waist), that’s crazy.
Kevin: (happy): Stop! What was your favorite Kevin Bacon performance?
Will: I don’t know, loved you in Footloose.
Kevin (happy): You saw that?
And when Kevin wants to make up for his accusation after learning the truth, they dance together to Footloose’s music (which is available at the sound of a clap) and they some of Bacon’s famous moves…
3) Jim Carrey on comedians on Liar Liar
When Jim Carrey’s lying lawyer character can’t lie for 24 hours due to his neglected young son’s birthday wish coming true, he’s forced to tell the truth no matter what. So his son tries to find out the truth of a lot of things, including whether his mouth will be stuck in downwards pout if he keeps doing it a lot. His father tells him that it won’t.
Max:If I keep making this face… will it get stuck that way?
Fletcher (Jim Carrey): Uh uh. As a matter of fact, some people make a very good living that way.
4) Dawson’s Creek-centered jokes on Don’t Trust The B in Apartment 23
One of the most entertaining examples of an actor spoofing himself and his career has to be James Van Der Beek in Don’t Trust the B*** in Apartment 23.
If you have seen Dawson’s Creek when it came out in 1998, and especially if you were among the target audience (high school student, romantic, dreamy), you were probably aware of the show’s and the cast’s popularity; whether you liked the show or not.
Playing Dawson was James Van Der Beek who portrayed the romantic, aspiring screenwriter/filmmaker trying to survive high school through his relationship with best friend/soul mate Joey (Katie Holmes), best friend Pacey (Joshua Jackson) and his crush for the new girl Jennifer (Michelle Williams).
You might have noticed that Dawson’s Creek’s 3 other main characters are more popular than Beek, whether be it due to romantic relationships, a cult hit TV show or a pretty solid movie career. Yet during Creek, Van Der Beek was the most popular. And yes, I was a fan of the show (until it turned all soapy), having been a romantic, dreamy aspiring screenwriter teenager at the time. But I don’t think I would have a clue who he was, had it not been for Dawson’s Creek.
Our fictional James is over-the-top, but what makes it funny is the truth about what happened to his career and how to most people, he is and always will be Dawson.
This catches up with him even when he’s trying to teach a serious drama class. He’s trying to convince everyone that he’s Shakespeareworthy but everyone just wants to hear his romantic speeches to Joey from Dawson’s Creek.
But the show’s humor also derives from the fact that as much as many actors complain about their one-hit-wonders and them being underrated because of it, they don’t mind cashing in on the money and popularity when it comes to enjoying their celebrity status.
Does this kind of humor make you laugh? Did you feel the need to check out Episodes because Matt LeBlanc was playing an over-the-top version of himself and spoofing his career and life after being Joey in Friends for 10 years?
Do you find Rick Gervais the funniest when he makes fun of himself, before moving on to make a lot of jokes on controversial topics?
What cracks you up?