Loser comedy

Many years ago I used to visit a corporate restaurant in Virginia.  It was called “Carlos Murphy’s”.  It was a hybrid of an Irish pub and a Mexican cantina.  Just inside the front door, there was a large glass case with a sculpture inside.  It was Wile E. Coyote with his arm out stretched, and in his clenched fist was the throat of a dead roadrunner.

There is a common style of animated comedy I call “loser comedy”. Loser comedy is built around a character who struggles mightily to achieve a goal, and ultimately fails, with many body and soul crushing moments along his fruitless journey.   The greatest loser character of all was Wile E. Coyote.  First, let me admit, I often laugh at these cartoons.

I also laugh at Scrat, the loser squirrel/rat who appears in the Blue Sky Studios Ice Age films. Try as he might he can’t quite reach the nut.  I think his shorts are very well done.  He gets situations that are spectacularly bad, and creating those situations is where it becomes art.  What these characters do is survive, and survival is a form of victory.

But these are not the kind of characters I would choose to create.  I find them disheartening in some way.  It’s clear to me that I’m laughing at these characters, not with them.  It’s the comedy found in “fail” videos.  Ultimately, I don’t feel good about them.   I think that is why someone created the statue of the victorious Coyote.  Because they think he deserves to win.

In classic clown comedy, teams of comedians were often paired as smart clown/stupid clown.   The stupid clown would take the brunt of the comedy, for a while.  But when the moment came that the stupid clown put one over on the smart clown, that’s when the biggest laughs came.  Over the years, there was a kind of evolution, with the stupid bumpkin becoming the audience pleasing trickster.

The greatest comedy teams, like Laurel & Hardy, and the Marx Brothers, have an equality that allows them to continuously interplay.  This is why I like the pair of Bart and Lisa Simpson.  Their relationship is not always one sided.  And sometimes they share together in kid things, without being at odds.

It is common to see independent or student films that have some pathetic character getting the worst of some situation.   It’s a way to end with an easy laugh, by closing out on the final humiliation.  I think this sort of comedy has reached saturation, and I hope we can start seeing clever, fun characters who manage to beat the odds and win.

Swedish comedian Gunnar Papphammar

Physical comedy transcends language, and can be found anywhere in the world.  Today I discovered Gunnar Papphammar from Sweden.  When I find a great physical comedian I’ve never seen before, it’s like a jewel I get to add to my treasure chest, and share with you. I wish I could tell you more about him, but nearly everything available is in Swedish.  He did both verbal and non verbal comedy, and I will share some great examples of his silent work.

This first video really had me laughing.  It’s pure awkwardness, but the important thing is that it goes on for a long time.  If it were just a few falls, it would be mildly amusing, but to keep struggling for a couple minutes allows the comedy to take hold and build.  Also, notice how stiff he is, the straight lines in his arms and legs.  If a cartoony animator added rubberiness to get a lot of arcs, it would lose that.  Real people have bones!

This next one also includes traveling on wheels, but it gets a little deeper into character.  I love how he is embarrassed to even have a skateboard when the cool kids are riding by.  We are all beginners at one time, and when we see it in him, we can relate.  We find it endearing.  That is the kind of thing animators could put to use in their work.

Det Ringer 1 is the first of a series.  It’s a long set up for a fast punchline.

This final clip comes off like a Monty Python skit, but it takes it one NSFW step further.

If it were directing that one, I probably would have had him cross the road differently.  I think he should have stopped the looking around while crossing. He could run across really fast, then come to a complete stop and look around again.  Or just walk across straight and casual, without any looking around.  It should be about getting it over with quickly.

Anyway, I hope to learn more about Papphammar, and perhaps get some more clips to share.


Animated Charlie Chaplin shorts

Recreating Charlie Chaplin is a tough order, but these animated shorts are fairly engaging. They obviously did some research. Apparently produced in Luxembourg.

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