Posts Tagged Comedy

On Daniel Tosh, and the (Non)Discussion of Rape

What we should be raging at is his fucking smirk.

Generally speaking, I’m hit or miss on Daniel Tosh. If he had one of those Comedy Central Present specials, I imagine that, while I would laugh maybe 5% more than I usually do when I watch one of those specials, I most likely would have forgotten about him. I saw his various one-hour specials before, and, again, maybe laughed at one or two of his jokes, but for the most part promptly forgot him.

There was a small part of him I did like, though: he definitely was smarter than he let on. His bit consisted of hitting a joke, then rambling on about it (kinda similar to early Kevin Nealon), eventually ending with a surprising twist or reference that seemed WAY out his league, like a callback to Carol Burnett. There was potential for him to be something pretty cool, funny, and informative at the same time. Of course, he had a few racial/sexual gags in there, but they were fairly toned down and, again, came from a fairly smart place.

So it’s really no surprised Comedy Central tagged him for Tosh.0, a Soup-esque take on various internet videos. In Daniel, they could filter humanity’s insanity through a engaging comic personality, filtering hilarity with a clever point here and there. Indeed, early in the show’s run, it was like watching Youtube with a bit of Wikipedia on the side. He would also have pretty astute observations of said videos, noticing odds and ends in the background and off-screen. I may not be a fan of Daniel Tosh, but the show was suited perfectly for him. And, yeah, I was more than happily amused by the show.

Unlike other “make fun of the internet” shows, Tosh.0 was strangely appreciative of the wacky shit that was sent it, to which I would attribute its sudden popularity. Other shows would ridicule and laugh at the participates in the videos; Tosh and company would “thank” people sending them in, and the Web Redemption segments had an underlying sweetness to them (especially to younger participants), allowing them to meet famous people, get involved with well-done videos, and otherwise have a good, goofy time, leaving Daniel himself as the butt of the joke.

I suppose, then, it was inevitable that, over time, it became weaker in insight and broader in raunchy comedy. Early in the show, his astuteness would get little to no laughs, which of course would result in the canning of said references. So there goes the wit, and in comes the sexist/racist jokes at a rapid pace. I’m rarely offended, so it didn’t bother me, but it definitely bothered a lot of people. He once aired a video of someone falling down an elevator shaft, who was actually killed. His ‘touching women bellies’ segment got an angry response from Jezebel. And so on.

So here we are on the incident in question, where Daniel Tosh tells a bunch of rape jokes, a woman yells out, “Rape jokes are never funny!”, and Tosh responds, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now?” Understanding Tosh’s style, I can see that his “joke” was more in the irony of that happening, not in the comment itself. I’m a bit perplexed that people are perceiving it to be a threat.

But I DO understand those who are offended over the idea that the act itself would be funny, which it wouldn’t be, and I hope to god that wasn’t Tosh’s intention. I hate to come off thinking I’m defending him, since I care little about him either way, but the joke, as I see it, was in the attempt at irony. I was asked that — if he told a bunch of lynching jokes, and a black dude yelled out “lynching is never funny,” and Tosh responded with “wouldn’t it be be funny if that black dude was lynched by 5 guys right now?” — if I would find that funny. Hmm. Honestly, I kinda smirked at the idea. I don’t think I’d be offended. I doubt Tosh would actually want to see a lynch, no more than he would want to see a rape. but they’re both in poor taste. Also, didn’t we sort of go through that with Michael Richards?

I’m filtering the experience through two Louis CK bits. One, where he handles a heckler, calling her a cunt and tells her to “die of AIDS”:

And this second one, where he discusses the word “faggot” with a fellow comedian, who happens to be gay.

I really recommend watching both those videos, especially the second one. Nick Dipaolo, ending the segment with “Okay, thanks, faggot” is terrible, but terribly important in the scheme of what Louis CK is getting at. There can be tremendous pain behind the words we say, but for the sake of comedy we need to be allowed to say it. So maybe the difference is that Louie’s claim that his heckler die of AIDS is less of a direct “threat” than Tosh’s claim his heckler “be raped by 5 guys.” But then again, both are theoretical gags – one based on absurdity (imagine him saying that in the mid-90s), one based on the irony of the moment, but say what you will – both are pretty terrible.

Tosh also had the unfortunate timing in a burgeoning controversy concerning women issues. Lena Dunham show Girls; the gynecological invasive issues with Congress; contraceptives implying sluttiness; the threats against Anita Sarkessian – a douchebag-esque white male casually commenting on a woman being raped in public is only adding fuel to a raging inferno, and more and more people are getting pissed. I don’t blame them. It’s a serious problem.

But the truth is we honestly DO NOT KNOW how to discuss rape, and the reason is because we can’t determine any degree of discussion. We know, broadly, rape is terrible, but we portray it like a soap opera on Law and Order: SVU. We joke about prison rape and pedophilia, and discussions of rape usually end up in a bizarre argument on when the rape of a woman is worse than the rape of a male, whether heterosexual rape is worse than homosexual rape, and/or some sick combination of the two. We’re all over the place, which leads us nowhere. It’s unfortunate, because of the seriousness of the topic.

In the end I suppose that I fall on Daniel’s side, although I find his comments ugly and mean, and definitely believe he should apologize (which he did). And yes, the incident furthers a social idea of rape-as-whatever when it comes to dealing with it. But it stands in line with murder, nigger, faggot, AIDS, and a host of other terms that George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and Louis CK and other famous comedians addressed. And you have to really convince me that Tosh did something that stands apart from them, other than being one-tenth of their total talent, an argument which is problematic, in itself.


, ,

No Comments

Interview with Dani Michaeli, Writer for Aquabats


The Aquabats ended their first season with a brilliant ending and a stoked, cult fanbase eager for a second season. Dani Michaeli, one of the talented writers for the show (as well as Spongebob SquarePants and South Park), was willing to help expand on the details on what exactly occurred over the course of these 13 episodes in the interview below. Be sure to check out his Twitter account.

TMB: The Aquabats is a cult rock n’ roll band that combines the kitsch of superheroism with the novelty of music comedy. What were some of the difficulties, if any, in taking that concept and stretching it out into a TV series?

DM: Every new live action TV show faces challenges translating fun scripts into real things that happen in front of a camera with sets and props and all within a budget. When you’re doing a show that has so many different elements and since it’s a kid’s show — heightened elements, the challenges are steeper. You want your monster to be cool and interesting and the locations should be unusual. You need action and sometimes stunts. On “The Aquabats Super Show”, there are also three minute cartoons and one minute cartoons and fake commercials. We learned some big lessons fairly quickly so we could get the most expensive effects for the most important moments.

TMB: It’s pretty odd, yet bold, that The Hub, a channel dedicated to well-known toy properties, picked up the Aquabats SuperShow as a series. Any idea how it was greenlit?

DM: My anecdotal understanding is a few very important people believed in the idea  and had (justifiable) faith in Christian Jacobs and his ability to deliver a great show. Christian is a co-creator of “Yo Gabba Gabba!” Bob Higgins knew Christian from when Bob worked at Wild Brain (producers on “Yo Gabba Gabba”). Now, Bob works at FremantleMedia Enterprises, which financed “The Aquabats Super Show!” Also, it’s my understanding that Ted Biaselli, who is an executive at the Hub, was excited about doing a show with the Aquabats when he was at Disney earlier in his career. “The Aquabats Super Show!” is a maverick TV show with unconventional heroes and stories. I think it’s extremely cool of Bob Higgins, Ted Biaselli and also Donna Ebbs and Margaret Loesch (also of the Hub) that they took a chance on such a unique idea for a show with so many subversive elements in its format.

TMB: Generally, where do ideas for episodes come from? Do you draw inspiration from the Aquabats live shows? Or draw ideas from the 70s children shows that they parody?

DM: All of the above and more. When I started working with Christian and his team, many of the ideas were already in place and had been building for years. Villains like Space Monster M, the Time Sprinkler, Cobra Man, the Floating Eye of Death and others were already in the mix. The Aquabats came with a very rich mythology. Their stage show has always incorporated hilarious fights with a super creative cast of characters. Also, Christian had been pitching the show since 1996 in various formats and has even had earlier pilot versions of the show with other networks. As showrunner, creator, lead singer of the band and onscreen leader of The Aquabats, Christian Jacobs gets final say on which stories are tackled and how they are done. Christian’s influences include Japanese giant robot and monster movies and TV shows, 70s children’s shows like the Sid and Marty Krofft shows, cartoons and crazy, obscure, colorful kids movies from all over the world. He has a vast knowledge of movies (and a great collection too) that live in the realm of the fantastic, but also comedy and action movies. Myself and the other writers have similar influences to the degree where we could often get carried away talking about stuff we love. Each of us brought our own influences too. For example, I’m a big comic book buff so naturally that effects how I look at super heroes.

TBM: I mentioned the very great and very surreal twist ending here. You mentioned you planned it pretty much from the onset – how much planning was involved?

DM: A lot of the planning went into making sure nothing we did contradicted the ending. Initially, we had other ideas and threads that could work as hints or building blocks of a larger story, but we wound up cutting out a lot of that detail so we didn’t sacrifice the individual stories. Part of the goal was to make the live action parts of the episodes be able to stand alone, but there is a build of ideas, some of which come to a head in the finale. We wanted The Aquabats to have faced some tough foes and hard times, surviving by the skin of their teeth and with limited resources (and money). When they are stuck in a time loop in the animated episode within the finale, hopefully there’s this feeling that facing those battles again is kind of brutal punishment. Also, the animated adventures are such short sequences, we wound up having to do many drafts and versions to get their journeys to line up in a way that is hopefully satisfying.

TMB: How’d you get involved in the show? You past credits include Spongebob and South Park.

DM: The production offices for “SpongeBob” are in Nickelodeon’s animation studio in Burbank. I was there for five and a half years. This gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of awesome people in the TV animation community that exists around Nick and the other nearby studios. An extremely cool and talented animator named Thurop Van Orman (creator of “Flapjack”) knew The Aquabats were looking for a story editor and Thurop referred me to Christian Jacobs. I believe that helped a lot. The instant I researched the band and saw the development materials, I knew I would love working on the show.

TMB: Is there a major difference in writing for an animated show than live-action? Specifically, in relation to the The Aquabats itself, is there a difference (for lack of a better word) vibe in writing the animated portions than the live-action ones?

DM: The easy answer is the animated segments are less restricted to the physical world so, for example, we could have The Aquabats travel through space, fight space bees and a giant space worm, blow up the moon, etc. But crazy imaginative and improbable set pieces were written and executed for the live action parts of the show too. We were always bumping up against questions of how to turn our weird imaginations into things that could be photographed. That said, directors Jason deVilliers and Matt Chapman (who both also wrote awesome scripts for the show) and the extremely talented crew managed crazy results on a budget. A fight with a giant robot monster as it destroys a city, an attack on Detroit by a giant bug, a fake old Western town controlled by an android sheriff, a coal mine guarded by a giant winged naked mole rat… You wouldn’t expect any of that to look good on a budget, but they pulled it off. Production designer Helen Harwell also deserves a lot of credit for spreading out a small budget and pulling off the impressive Battle Tram interiors, a miniature pineapple plantation, an evil roadside carnival and many other elaborate sets. So the real major difference is the cartoon parts were serialized, while the live action stories followed more of a “monster-of-the-week” format. Although, we didn’t stick precisely to that format either.

TMB: What about the Gloopy segments? Who comes up with those?

DM: The [Gloopy] segments were a combined effort by a sketch comedy group called Mega64, writer/director Julianne Eggold and the dedicated crew.

TMB: Assuming a second season has been confirmed, what crazy adventures will the Aquabat find themselves in?

DM: I believe nothing is set in stone. I am hoping some of the villains from the first season have an opportunity to revenge their past defeats.


, , ,


Aquabats and the Dismantling of Television Repetition

The season finale of The Aquabats SuperShow! completely shattered television conventions, and you didn’t see it. Here’s how The Hub’s strangest show made the Sopranos’ season finale look like a joke.

The Aquabats

To adequately explain how The Aquabats SuperShow! brilliantly yet subtly subverted television convention, it’s important to understand what The Aquabats SuperShow! is: a bizarre combination that parodies both various ’70s “children” shows – with their terrible costumes, D-list actors, and cheap sets, all surrounding around even cheaper animated shorts – and the assortment of ’70s Japanese action shows that built themselves around the same concepts, except replacing the animated shorts with poorly choreographed fight sequences. It’s in effect The Banana Splits mixed in with cheesy tokusatsu action, updated in its sensibilities, so that all the cheesiness and cheapness are now part of the joke instead of being anachronistic embarrassments.

The set up of every episode is similar: the Aquabats get involved in a weird situation and ultimately prevail in a goofy, rick-rollicking manner. All of this is mixed in with various music cues (they are a band, after all), fake commercials from “Gloopy,” and most importantly, animated shorts that star the Aquabats themselves in scenes straight out of a random Hanna-Barbara action cartoon. This is all part of the joke of the show. So what’s the big deal?

During the season finale, specifically the cartoon segment, the Aquabats meet a space-god type figure who forces them into what he calls an infinite time loop. The team is whisked away, appearing in a somewhat familiar scene: performing a song at a party by a pool. Eaglebones (oh, the names!) mentions they may have done this already, and indeed, it seems rather familiar to the audience of the show in a vague sense. Cut back to the live-action part. The team is up against a large maniac with a powerful headdress that shoots lasers. The battle lasts for a while, with the team really working together to defeat who is dubbed Space Monster ‘M’ (and oddly enough, this is a particularly dark battle, with people actually dying and what one might call real stakes). Eventually, Space Monster ‘M’ is stopped, but not without hurling the Aquabats into space. They are stuck floating inside their Battletram as they drift off into the void. And, suddenly, this looks very familiar too… because, in the case of the cartoon and the live segment, this is where viewers entered the series during the premiere. In the very first episode, the live-action portion began with them performing by the pool, and the cartoon began with them floating helplessly into space. The series didn’t just metaphorically come full circle – it LITERALLY did.

I doubt any TV show has even come close to this kind of mind-fuckery so unabashedly clever and surreal, so in-tuned to its internal trappings and mechanisms to pull something like this off so successfully. It helps that The Aquabats itself is already surreal, but it’s nothing that far removed for a number of parodies out there (Wonder Shozen, Black Dynamite, everything Adult Swim) so as to be particularly unique. And there’s nothing particularly unique about a show utilizing meta-comedy to comment on the structures and tropes of television. Animaniacs made a name for itself doing just that. Frank Grimes on The Simpsons lived it. Invader Zim’s pilot episode had a great moment upon returning from its commercial break with a “5000 Years Later” title card. Ren & Stimpy goofed a bit on it in “Space Madness.” And Louie works on those meta-levels in ways that no comedy before has done.

But The Aquabats didn’t just comment on the structures and tropes of TV; they didn’t simply satirize and parody Hanna-Barbara, the Krofft brothers, and the Super Sentai franchise. It was a direct commentary on the nature of repeats and syndication, the “infinite time loop” that has characters essentially redoing they same thing over and over again at another time or on another channel. In this case, The Aquabats internalized the gag in an almost self-defined Moebius strip, of live-action and cartoon being one and the same. The live-action Aquabats, upon finding their cartoon in various, auspicious places, are indeed watching themselves, and not just a goofy version of themselves.

Such a reveal completely changes how to view the first season, which at first comes off as a surface-level goof-fest of fun, camp, and comical excitement. Now, looking back, it all makes sense beyond comic sensibilities. The “Previously On” sequences (which mix together actual events from the previous episode with random and completely absurd shots that has nothing to do with anything) are purposely nonsensical from a practical standpoint, as these previous events rarely have anything to do with the situation the Aquabats find themselves in at the beginning of the episode. And yet, strangely enough, the Aquabats cartoon is continuous; each animated short directly connects the to next one in the next episode. It’s visual gibberish, which seems to reflect the random order of TV scheduling, whether its new episodes, repeats, syndicated shows, or marathons. Think you’ll be lost watching a random Aquabats? You will be… and yet, you won’t be. Like time-travel, thinking about it too much will probably make you go cross-eyed.

Bravo to The Aquabats SuperShow, rewarding its cult-following to arguably the biggest mind-fuck in TV history, bigger than Lost, St. Elsewhere, and The Prisoner. They somehow pulled off the idea behind La Jetee/12 Monkeys in a satirical kids cartoon on a brand new network, and almost got away with it. It will be interesting to see how things are pulled off in season two, but The Aquabats have enough freedom to pull off whatever bullshit it needs to do to escape its original trappings… and it will be awesome.


, , ,