Laughing Matters — Meet The CONAN Staff: Conor Oberst – Production Assistant

Sometimes comedy illuminates hard truths with a pointed urgency that other means can’t quite achieve. Sometimes comedy is just funny. This series of posts is mostly about the former instances, but the latter is valuable, too.

The official announcement of the first new Bright Eyes album in nearly a decade seems as good of reason as any to share this recent favorite chunk of comedy. And the Phoebe Bridgers cameo also makes it timely.

Previous entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Laughing Matters” tag.

Laughing Matters — Sarah Cooper, “How to lobster”

Sometimes comedy illuminates hard truths with a pointed urgency that other means can’t quite achieve. Sometimes comedy is just funny. This series of posts is mostly about the former instances, but the latter is valuable, too.

Not long ago, Sarah Cooper came up a simple, ingenious idea and it became a sensational side hustle. She creates TikTok videos of her lip synching to the blathering nonsense that comes out of mouth of the notable second-place finisher who was given the keys to the White House. As multiple comedians have found in recent years, it’s difficult to create satire when your prime target manages to do something more absurdly idiotic than your wildest imaginings. Cooper exploits the situation masterfully, stitching together clips where she expressively acts out the exchanges between a brutally dumb man and the scattered figures around him tasked with pretending he makes sense.

Every one of these videos has been a gem — and Cooper has been impressively prolific — but the one I keep circling back to, endlessly delighted by its little details, is the recent “How to lobster.” I think it’s the moment “David” has to make an impromptu switch from a phone call to a letter that take it from characteristically wonderful to absolutely irresistible.

“Laughing is important.” Cooper recently said in a public radio interview. “It’s healing. And so as hard as everything is right now, I do think that there is something to be said for making things that people can have some release with.”

She couldn’t be more right.

Laughing Matters — John Mulaney, “There’s a Horse Loose in the Hospital”

Sometimes comedy illuminates hard truths with a pointed urgency that other means can’t quite achieve. Sometimes comedy is just funny. This series of posts is mostly about the former instances, but the latter is valuable, too.

As good and proper citizens with a couple streaming accounts and an appreciation for standup comedy, we watched Patton Oswalt’s I Love Everything shortly after its debut this week. Enjoyable enough, the show was invariably a significant step down from Oswalt’s previous special, the absolute knockout Annihilation, but the weakest spot was when he ventured into the no-win zone — admitting in the process that it’s a no-win zone — of trying to build a routine out of the colossal failure of a human being who was given the keys to the White House despite collecting nearly three million fewer votes than his main competitor. I understand why comics feel some level of obligation to offer commentary, but I think everyone can agree that the gold standard has already been set. If you can’t top John Mulaney’s bit drawing an extended analogy to a horse loose in the hospital, then maybe don’t bother with it. And nobody is likely to this.

Laughing Matters — The Critic

Sometimes comedy illuminates hard truths with a pointed urgency that other means can’t quite achieve. Sometimes comedy is just funny. This series of posts is mostly about the former instances, but the latter is valuable, too.

The past few days have brought a few reminders that celebrities should probably think twice before participating in the discourse around a global crisis. But there have also been a few truly winning moments, none better than the quick, funny online video posted by author Max Brooks in which he expresses the importance of social distancing. Brooks explains that if he’s reckless about interacting with family members, he risked wiping out comedy legends, such as his father, Mel Brooks.

That prompt is enough to justify posting this beauty from 1963, an animated short based on an idea of Mel Brooks and featuring his grand vocal performance, reportedly improvised in studio. The Critic won the Academy Award in category for animated shorts.

Laughing Matters — Steve Martin, “Grandmother’s Song”

Sometimes comedy illuminates hard truths with a pointed urgency that other means can’t quite achieve. Sometimes comedy is just funny. This series of posts is mostly about the former instances, but the latter is valuable, too.

I think it’s possible that the first song I ever committed to memory was publicly credited as a songwriting effort of Steve Martin’s mother. Surely other songs before this one were imprinted word for word on my brain (“C is for Cookie,” by sheer repetition, must have lodged in there), but I worked of memorizing “Grandmother’s Song,” repeatedly picking up the tone arm on my junior set record player and moving it back to the start of the track on Let’s Get Small to begin again, trying to perfect the comic timing that came with pivoting hard from the sweetly benign (“Be honest and love all your neighbors”) to the vividly absurd (“Be obsequious, purple, and clairvoyant”).

I’m not sure I ever got the number down to my total satisfaction, but one thing’s certain: I was ready for the singalong.

Laughing Matters — Monty Python, “Upper Class Twit of the Year”

Sometimes comedy illuminates hard truths with a pointed urgency that other means can’t quite achieve. Sometimes comedy is just funny. This series of posts is mostly about the former instances, but the latter is valuable, too.

Sometimes I think the main thing our current comedy is lacking is some good old fashioned hostility directed at the obscenely wealthy buffoons who effectively preserve the reprehensible status quo at the expense of others.

Laughing Matters — The Ben Stiller Show, “Cape Munster”

Sometimes comedy illuminates hard truths with a pointed urgency that other means can’t quite achieve. Sometimes comedy is just funny. This series of posts is mostly about the former instances, but the latter is valuable, too.

After tapping out a whole mess of words about Martin Scorsese yesterday, including a digression about unlikely fare he could direct, my mind has spent most of today idly drifting back to this sketch from The Ben Stiller Show. It’s pure silliness, but I do recall that I could never again take Juliette Lewis’s performance seriously after seeing Janeane Garofalo’s expert mockery of it.

Laughing Matters — League of Extraordinary Freelancers

Sometimes comedy illuminates hard truths with a pointed urgency that other means can’t quite achieve. Sometimes comedy is just funny. This series of posts is mostly about the former instances, but the latter is valuable, too.

If there was any benefit to The Simpsons rolling on and on and on and on, well past the point of its remarkable — and, to be fair, remarkably long-lasting — brilliance, it’s that the program eventually cycled through so many scenarios that it occasionally became, almost by necessity, delightfully esoteric in its references. Only a comedy show solidly in its nineteenth season can operate with the foolhardy confidence of building a whole set of gags around the appearance of a few icons of alternative comics. But there they were, lined up and each sporting the familiar Groeningian overbite: Daniel Clowes, Alan Moore, and Art Spiegelman.

For Clowes and Spiegelman, the crafted jokes were mostly general, riffing on the divide between indie comix and mainstream superhero falderal. The same was also true of Moore, but the Simpsons creative team (Matt Selman is the credited writer on the episode) also spun a little comic energy in the direction of Moore’s longstanding feud with the corporate callousness of DC Comics, the comic book publisher where the master writer made his fame in the U.S. The main joke was put in the hands of Milhouse, who blithely asks Moore to sign a copy of the cash-in knockoff Watchmen Babies, a fictional (and yet highly plausible) perversion of the mid-nineteen-eighties limited series that is arguably the writer’s masterpiece and inarguably one of the most influential superhero-based works of the era.

The joke is based on a betrayal. DC Comics promised Moore the copyright on the work would be returned to him and the series co-creator, artist Dave Gibbons, as soon as Watchmen went out of print. At the time, well before the proliferation of trade paperback collections repurposing comic book series into “graphic novels,” there was no reason to expect Watchmen would remain officially in print for much more than a couple years. Instead, Watchmen became a permanent fixture in the DC catalog, and Moore never got the ownership he was promised, engendering an entirely understandable seething animosity that persists to this day.

When this Simpsons episode aired, the middling movie adaption was still two years away, and there was certainly no weekly HBO show to further cement Watchmen into the public consciousness. Milhouse’s eager fandom of Watchmen Babies and Moore’s volcanic reaction to the corporate exploitation and dilution of his intellectual labor was based on a comic book well probably unknown to the vast majority of the viewing audience. That even a few minutes of broadcast network time was given over to it is a marvel. There’s a lot to lament in regards to the unwillingness of The Simpsons to exit the pop culture stage, but bits like this one almost compensate for the most dire moments.

Laughing Matters — Albert Brooks and Buddy

Sometimes comedy illuminates hard truths with a pointed urgency that other means can’t quite achieve. Sometimes comedy is just funny. This series of posts is mostly about the former instances, but the latter is valuable, too.

Of the many benefits provided by this expansive information age, few are as unquestionably good as the constant availability of prime examples the unparalleled comedic genius of Albert Brooks that were once relegated to a couple airings on late night network television. In the history of the educational plaything, no greater use was even made of a Speak & Spell.

Laughing Matters — How Lord of the Rings Should Have Ended

Sometimes comedy illuminates hard truths with a pointed urgency that other means can’t quite achieve. Sometimes comedy is just funny. This series of posts is mostly about the former instances, but the latter is valuable, too.

Without delving into the particulars, I had cause today to recall director Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved literary epics. Although I will still gladly champion at least twothirds of the first trilogy the filmmaker brought to the screen, my nostalgic appreciation of its virtues is always accompanied by — and tempered by — persistent thoughts of this expert comedic exposure of a major plot problem. I can’t claim to have watched every tidbit crafted by the commendably prolific people behind How It Should Have Ended, but I’m skeptical they ever topped the ingenious simplicity of this early entry in their canon.