There’s a group of people I became very close to in high school, and these many years later, we are still fond friends. Good friends. (My sister says this is unusual at our age—“Who keeps a dozen friends from high school? That’s just weird, James!”—but it’s true.) One of these high school friends is a professional comic who does stand-up and has written for Roseanne and Saturday Night Live, among others.
She is also one of my biggest encouragers. I get these little e-mail notes and they make my day. Last month she wrote, “I must have been channeling you when I was writing: left out a ‘that’ on purpose. A perfect joke is like a poem, it’s been said. Every word counts!”
That gave me pause. I tell authors every word counts all the time. I’d just never considered it in relation to comedy writing.
“Americans are still champions of … joke construction,” writes James Wolcott in this amusing article on comedy, “but sometimes you crave the illicit excitement of language set ferociously free.” (Emphasis mine.) I hadn’t really thought about it but, yes, comedy must first be written, and I bet it’s difficult to do well.
So you’ll understand why I was intrigued by the subhead for Vanity Fair’s article on comedy and the difference between the comedic tropes used by Brits and Yanks: “With the Internet flattening out national differences, American and British comedy have all but merged …”
Reeeeally? I was in the middle of my best befuddled-Hugh-Grant imitation when I realized, Yes. Yes, it is true. Good lord. VF is right:
In the post-Seinfeld postmodern era … pop culture is the universal lingo and the Internet the great flattener of national distinctions. … Today it’s mostly the accents that tell the two comedies apart.
Actually, there are still plenty of distinctions. I’ve written about them before. (Here and here, for example. There’s also a reference here to what VF calls “the whip hand of Peter Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker on The Thick of It,” a role he reprised in the film In the Loop.)
But Wolcott makes a very good—and amusing—case for his position. “Today we’re all part of one big global info-feed,” he says.* Read the article—it’s funny and informative and you’ll probably find yourself spending a little too much time on YouTube. Let me know what you think.
* I’m inclined to agree. After all, the wearing of Christmas sweaters (snowmen, Christmas trees, and so on)—something I’d thought was uniquely, deplorably Yank—appears to have crossed the pond, as my Irish nieces and nephews all had them last December. I’ve seen the photos on Facebook.
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