The spirit of YouTube is still strong eight years after its creation. YouTube’s Comedy Week, the partnership with Comedy Central, a battalion of web-centric comedians, and their odd ball celebrity friends, stands as living proof of the unstoppable churn of the web video giant. These web video jokesters have basically already made every approach to home-brewed, postmodern comedy that one could make, and the results are varying. YouTube Comedy Week, just like YouTube in general, is a matter of trial and error, with the next thumbnail being a mysterious, Pandora's box for one’s time. With that in mind, it’s worth making a few organizational distinctions to help separate the dross from the gold.
The comedians have basically chosen between three different formats: short films and "traditional" sketches, musical comedy, and a mesh between biography and ironic facsimile.
The sketches are often the least funny. Michael Cera brings the indie aesthetic from his movies to youtube with “Gregory Go Boom!” in which he portrays an oppressed oddball paraplegic child. It is decidedly more depressing than funny. And after 17 long minutes of melancholy, commenters objected: “This was a piece of crap!!!! Not even funny! Lame!!!! Michael Cera, you disappoint me ....”
Kevin Heffernan and Steve Lemme of Broken Lizard, debate the novelty of smartphone, and mess around with siri. As the adage goes: that was soooo 2011.
Overall, the basic sketch format is too clunky and plain for this maelstrom of attempts to make the internets procrastinators laugh out loud. However, the people who best understand the internet have taken to the short film format to compete for a hotly contested distinction of YouTube videos: which is the weirdest?.
A clear candidate for the top honor goes to Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp for their web series “Catherine: a story in twelve parts,” which could best be described as a office informational VHS video, where nothing has really happened, no jokes have been made, and an ominous blend of blandness and anti-humor overwhelm the viewer.
“Why cant this be story in one hundred parts?” laments one viewer in the comments section. “I'm not ready for this type of comedy,” says another.
The biography and facsimile are a bit lazy in concept, and also a bit lazy in execution. Very Animated People, as their name might indicate, took the cartoon format to relay an autobiographical tale homeless people. They also recorded a voiceover and animated a story to an anecdote from one of professional wrestling’s most famous villains, The Iron Sheikh. Paul Scheer is making a series of out of recreating old Arsenio Hall interviews literally word for word. None of these sketches are really hilarious, but do garner a smile from time to time.
The musical is by far the most common, and is bound to please the most people. That being said, it is fair to say that if recreating old stories and biographical material is lazy, musical comedy basically writes itself sometimes, too, or sometimes it isn’t even written at all. Hannibal Burress drops a “Gibberish Rap” verse live on stage with some help from Skrillex on the decks.
“Rappin’ rap-rap rappin’/ in my socks rappin'” he shouts over a wobbly and wompy hip hop track, as Ryan Phillippe and Skrills awkwardly vibe in the background. Tim and Eric, this generation’s forerunners of oddball comedy, do a musical bit about goatees that is surprisingly normal. Sarah Silverman sings about staying in and being lame on the weekend. None of these folks carry the musical prowess of Reggie Watts, who sometimes forgoes the attempt to make the viewer actually laugh out loud, and in return gets a comfort and creative freedom that lends him a more distinct ethos. He collaborated with number of DJ’s who share his penchant for weirdness. He did a shot for shot remake of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” He jammed quite pleasantly with Police Academy’s Michael Winslow.
Overall the first half of YouTube Comedy Week has been a bit of a disappointment for those seeking hard laughs. However, for the people who seek to be weirded out, or want to spend hours of their work day not working, it is rather promising.