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Monday, January 16, 2012

Dramedy Awards?

I know, it's been FOREVER. And it's not even that I've been doing anything (though I kind of have), but there just hasn't been too much to write about. And now! There's SO MUCH! So let's get to it.

Reading over the Golden Globe winners from last night, I've finally realized why I get crazy annoyed when actors from drama-driven, possibly-slightly-humorous shows win comedy awards. It's not just that these shows shouldn't be considered "comedies" since their main goal isn't humor - I fully think shows like Nurse Jackie, The Big C, Breaking Bad, and Enlightened should be considered dramas, regardless of their running time. And then, sure, if those actors stand up to the actors in the drama category (and they will, since they are all highly regarded actors and those shows are all great), then give them all of those awards. But to give an award for comedic acting to, say, Laura Dern for her role as Amy Jellicoe in Enlightened where she is many, many things - cruel, crazy, introspective, pained, blithe, and lazy being just a few - but is not and is not meant to be particularly funny...that straight-up devalues the art of comedy.

The art of comedy is often overlooked as something that has merit on par with heavy drama, especially in the realm of acting. This is even more true when one is discussing television. But simply because a work isn't serious or depressing or rife with dark thematic undertones doesn't mean it has less value than those that do, or that it can't make you think or feel in artistic, aesthetic, or humanistic ways. The best comedies connect with the viewer on a heartfelt level, but without sacrificing humor in favor of trite sentimentality or emotional manipulation (this is what Glee has totally and completely failed at in its second and third seasons). And yet comedic acting is often markedly different from dramatic acting. There must be a sense of timing, of relatability, and an ability to play off of the the other actors in the scene. So much great comedy these days is reaction comedy, currently exhibited by two masters of the genre, Louis C.K. and Nick Offerman. The actor must also know their audience, and their character, to the fullest extent. But mostly, they must know how to be funny, and allow themselves to be so without any regard for vanity.

This is not to say that great dramatic actors can't be funny (Both Nick Offerman and Stephen Colbert started out doing serious stage drama. And just look at Jon Hamm, for god's sake. When Mad Men ends and he gets his own HBO show, y'all better watch out) or that comedic actors don't also make good drama. But my point is that if you are going to get an award for being a comedic actor, then you should be super-extra good at making people laugh. You should be Amy Poehler. You should be Maya Rudolph. You should be Danny Pudi or Ted Danson or Louis C.K. or Chris Pratt or Donald Glover (basically you should be in my favorite shows). You should be in a show that makes people happy because it is just so fucking funny. You should not be the star of a show that forces people to consider the selfish yet existentially-empty bleakness of their lives (sorry Mike White, I love you and I love Enlightened, but you know it's true). You should be Matt LeBlanc, who won for Episodes and made me so, so happy because that show is outrageously hilarious and great and I could watch it forever and he is especially great and self-aware and has the same brilliant comedic delivery (& FACES) that he's had since Friends. But if the award is given to a person who is not these things, and has not developed these specific talents, it sends the message that scenery-chewing and crying on cue hold greater worth than the ability to be a great straight man like Adam Scott, or to do whatever brilliant things Aziz Ansari does. It says that making people sad, or guilty, or philosophical or whatever dramas make you feel has more value than making people laugh. Is drama better than comedy? It's impossible to make the comparison. I'm with Lucille Bluth on this one: I don't understand the question, and I won't respond to it.

And it seems that my issue (that of giving comedic awards to actors who actually play dramatic roles) more often applies to women. Part of the problem here is that a lot of the meaty female roles come from Showtime's cabal of Sexy Female Moral Outlaws. These shows are occasionally funny (The Big C) or used to be funny (Weeds) or have never been funny and instead celebrate terrible people for being terrible (Nurse Jackie, and also The Big C sometimes)(There's also The United States Of Tara, which was quirky in a Diablo Cody kind of way but also pretty depressing and about a pretty selfish, effed-up lady). Enlightened is honest about but doesn't celebrate Amy's terribleness, and is actually a rather fantastic show that I would recommend to anyone (Luke Wilson!), but is also remarkably depressing and leaves me feeling hollow inside (And is technically not in the cabal, being from HBO). None of these shows are bad! But they are also not very funny, because that is not their goal. But what all of these shows have in common is that they star big, award-winning actresses who have been most known previously for their dramatic work. I was trying to think of comediennes to list above, and though I have many favorites (Mindy Kaling, Jenny Slate, Lizzy Caplan, Aisha Tyler, Vanessa Bayer, Gillian Jacobs) most of them have not had roles large enough to warrant a Golden Globe-type nomination. There simply has not been an arena provided on television for a large pool of women to be featured in the hilarious spotlight. Thankfully, Amy Poehler has become the poster child for this sea change, and if she gets Michael Scott-ed and never wins an Emmy for her role as Leslie Knope, something (more) will be wrong with the world.

It is hard for me to talk about Tina Fey, you guys. So we'll get to that in a second so I can first mention Jane Lynch, whose Sue Sylvester helped make Glee awesome back when it was awesome. She deserves an award for everything she's ever been in, but especially all nine episodes of Party Down in which she appears. Sometimes award shows get things right (she didn't win anything at the Golden Globes last night, but I know she's got at least one Emmy). Anyway, back to the Tina problem. I, like every other liberal woman my age, have loved Tina Fey for a very long time. Weekend Update, yes, fantastic. The first few seasons of 30 Rock are a revelation of total weirdness. Sarah Palin was great, and, let's face it, gave her and her show the notoriety they needed to go on and win a gazillion awards. But then 30 Rock started getting less funny (the live episode...exists. We'll leave it at that.). And then, like, strangely defensive about their portrayals of women (as fat, disgusting, baby-crazy sex-haters)(I know, it sounds terrible to write it out but YOU KNOW IT'S TRUE) and status as "only" millionaire television actors (that weird Alec Baldwin rant in the disastrous flashback episode last season). And then came the Tracy Morgan homophobia nightmare, and I was straight-up APPALLED that Tina Fey apologized for him by basically using the cliche "That's not the person I know" excuse (which, YES IT IS, that scary, hateful homophobe and your friend are THE SAME PERSON) and that NBC didn't remove him from the air and that he didn't get Michael Richards-ed out of Hollywood. So I'm boycotting 30 Rock, which is fine, because I heard the new season isn't that great anyway (surprise, surprise). Anyway, I've gotten off track. My point is that Tina Fey won for some very excellent work she did as a comedic actress and writer for some very excellent seasons of a show that is no longer quite as excellent. The recognition of her talent opened things up for comediennes in a number of ways, and I support more people who are as hilarious as her getting more of the awards. However, just because she's Tina Fey doesn't mean that she's above reproach and I can't wait for any number of young, queer- and fat-friendly, non-showbiz-entrenched lady comedians to fill her shoes. I have high, high hopes for Lena Dunham's Girls.

I was listening to Mindy Kaling's audiobook and she says something about not even wanting to address the question of "Are women funny?" because to address it is to give credence to that as a legitimate question, which it obviously is not. Of course women are funny. Women have always been funny - Anybody read The Wife Of Bath recently? Sure, Chaucer wrote it, but you know that was based on some awesome bawdy dame he met in alehouse, telling funny stories to entertain the custom. But not enough women are given the opportunity to explore true comedy, to build their chops, to exhibit their skills in a leading role, to have their work marketed correctly - and even fewer are given the recognition they deserve for the highly precise job of making people laugh. I know the Hollywood system is broken in so many ways, but truly rewarding and valuing the art of comedy would absolutely be a step in a better, happier, less-weepy direction.

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