We Checked, Nothing Funny Happened For Two Whole Years
As we crawl our way out of the pandemic, we’d like to take a moment to thank everyone who tried to make us laugh over the course of the past couple of years. It’s also a good time to remember that most of those attempts were pretty terrible.
Here are a few reasons we were praying for a return to health.
The Mr. Show Reunion
What should have been a comedygasm for sketch comedy fans turned out just like your company’s first all-employee Zoom call -- a checkerboarded mess.
Audio was all over the place, dropping out here, echoing there, while actors thumbed through script pages trying to find their lines. The live special had its charms -- it was like sitting through a remote table read with a bunch of old comedy pals who were preparing a show for some future performance. Except -- this was the performance. There were plenty of other pandemic comedy reunions, all with pretty much the same results.
The lesson? Even professionals were terrible at Zoom meetings.
Saturday Night Live At Home
SNL’s first show back during the pandemic was profoundly weird. First, there was Tom Hanks, live -- from quarantine in Australia. In a kitchen. Wearing a suit. With no laughs whatsoever.
Then it was off to the public-access comedy races, with Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, and Pete Davidson putting on goofy little skits from their apartments or parents’ basements. More tiled teleconferencing windows followed, with awkward silences in place of laughs.
Even in those early days of the pandemic, sketches about the craziness of Zoom calls felt both dated and the only thing worth talking about. If we were looking to SNL to escape, we only found more of the misery we were already enduring.
Stand-Up During Covid
We can’t say the comics didn’t try. But trying to perform stand-up by delivering jokes into your laptop? One comedian compared it to “trying to perform in a dark room.”
“Zoom shows have mainly come in handy when I needed to remember my set,” comic Rosebud Baker told Vulture, “and that’s pretty much all they’re good for.”
Comic Mary Beth Barone agreed. “At the beginning of quarantine, I was like, ‘I’m writing jokes. I need to put them out, so let’s do the virtual shows.’ I said yes to everything. After a few weeks, I just realized that instead of scratching the itch, it was just making it worse.”
This guy gives it the old college try, but the technology is too limiting, with individual laughs making the comedy hard to hear.
Was there anything to be learned? “I think that the Zoom shows taught me that nothing can replace live performing,” says Barone.
Inevitably, we are going to have comedy about Covid, and one of the first out of the gate is Judd Apatow’s The Bubble. Is it funny? Not according to anyone who’s watched it.
You can see what Apatow was after here -- a spoof of how ridiculous it is trying to create big-screen entertainment while adhering to health protocols that barely let you leave the house. But an all-star comedy cast, including Fred Armisen, Keegan-Michael Key and the usual assortment of Apatow family members, doesn’t pull it off. “Meandering and mostly unfunny” is the description at Rotten Tomatoes.
If the latest Omicron variant doesn’t come for us all, there’s promise for comedy going forward. But despite our best efforts, the pandemic showed that the virus infected funny bones as well.
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Top image: Mr. Show