Friday, July 15, 2011

Role-playing (Part 5)

My non-fiction writing professor likened my emotions in this piece to a feeling of "awe and schaudenfraude at the same time" which is totally accurate, though I'm disappointed she didn't go the extra mile and combine her description into the almost too obvious Sch-awe-denfraude. And it's too bad she didn't, because frankly, it would have totally gotten her better marks on her performance evaluation, or perfor-uation. But that's neither here nor there. Enjoy this next piece of emo-moir writing (ok, I’m done):


Matt Shafeek The Judgmental TV Critic
Matt's Apt. / Brooklyn, NY / October 2009

I roll out of bed at 10:05 on a Sunday morning and realize I'm late for Church. I throw on a shirt, slide into my slippers and quickly make my way downstairs to the first floor of my apartment. I grab a bowl, a spoon, a bag of Blueberry Muffin Tops cereal and a container of 1% milk and place it on the altar in front of my pew. I grab my blessed remote control, press the power button and scroll through the list of available morning sermons listed on the holy Digital Video Recorder.

My DVR list – the compilation of recorded television shows my cable box has so kindly saved for me – is one of three major 'Consumption Goals' controlling my weekends, weeknights and other pockets of free time I'm lucky enough to have as a single 30-year old who has been mostly unemployed for the past year. There's also my video game 'To Play' list, with 127 titles and counting, and my Netflix queue, which these days is more of a $9.99/mo afterthought. It's a daunting task, attempting to consume so much media in one’s lifetime, but you know, it's important to have goals.

The top entry on my DVR list the most recent episode of Saturday Night Live. I highlight the title and linger on it, debating whether or not the show is worth of my precious time. The truth is I have no business recording SNL in the first place. I haven't enjoyed it in years, yet I still finding myself watching it semi-regularly. I've come to the conclusion that I'm not just some kind of comedy masochist, nor is this my usual completionist need to have to see a show through to the end. The fact is there's a part of me that watches the show just to see it fail, which I suppose might make me more of a comedy sadist.

Writing or performing for SNL was, for a brief period of my young adult life, my dream job. When I first discovered the show in the early 1990's, it had just entered its glorious second Golden Age: the years of Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Chris Farley and Phil Hartman. There was literally nothing more exciting to me than the idea of being a part of something so wonderful, funny and dangerous. Anybody could write something, shoot it, rehearse and edit it to perfection and then throw it on the air. But to write a show in less than a week and perform it live before a studio audience and the rest of the country? That was just so goddamn bold. To be that confident in your ability as a writer and/or performer seemed impossible to me.

The show has an undeniably talented cast, and a team of writers that I'm sure have spent years of their lives devoted to their comedic craft. Some have written for the Harvard Lampoon. Others have worked the stand-up circuit or improv stage for years. Regardless of where they honed their talents, eventually they found acceptance, recognition and success in the warm embrace of Lorne Michaels. Most important of all they are now getting paid to be funny. I, on the other hand, am still very much a work in progress. I have lots of great ideas, but my words always seem to get mangled by my hands and mouth. I’d like to devote more time to my craft, but you know, those lists.

Despite the collective pool of talent involved, the show still manages to under-perform, and a part of me I'm not altogether proud of revels in this. I derive great pleasure out of seeing Kristen Wiig play the terribly annoying, one-note recurring character 'Gilly' to middling laughs, knowing I've done way funnier stuff. A sketch with Italian interviewer ‘Vinny Vedecci,’ a thin premise that goes on way too long, capably reassures my decision to never audition for this once-beloved show. Then there’s a bizarre parody of female pool players in the 1980’s that fails comedically on every level. My eyes widen as I soak in this disaster, and I lean back in the futon my mother donated to me and let out a heavy sigh of relief. I'm so lucky to have absolutely no connection whatsoever to this embarrassment.

I start fast-forwarding through the rest of the episode. I can’t wait to go online once I’m done to read the negative review on the A.V. Club, my go-to site for television criticism. I’m fairly confident in my assessment of what I’m watching, but reading a professional critic’s opinions will make me feel that much better. Emboldened, I’ll be able to spread the word online and off, telling everyone how those hacks have managed to embarrass the world of comedy once again. “I’m this close to just not recording it anymore!” I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen, wishing deep down inside that the A.V. Club would finally consider hiring me.

I stop to watch the SNL Weekend Update when I notice Andy Samberg coming on dressed as Scrooge McDuck. He’s ranting about his affinity for gold in a terrible Scottish accent and, against my better judgment, I start to smile. When Samberg follows every statement by pulling “gold coins” from a large sack with a “$” on it and tossing them everywhere, I start chuckling. And when it’s finally revealed that 'Scrooge McDuck' wasn’t always a duck, but is in fact suffering from a debilitating duck disease that comes from swimming around in pools of dirty, dirty money, I’ve fully surrendered. This bit doesn’t even really make sense, and is objectively kind of dumb, but logic and intelligence aren't always the major players in brilliant comedy, and Samberg’s commitment sells it.

During this brief moment, I’ve returned to my childhood, laughing along as nothing more than an audience member enjoying a terrific performance. I remember why, before the advent of digital television recorders, I used to stay up until 1:00 in the morning just to see what the writers would come up with next. How I couldn't wait tell all of my friends who missed the episode what the highlights were, and letting everyone know that I was “living in a van down by the river!” as often as possible throughout the day.

It takes just a few minutes for my crippling insecurities to come back to the surface. 'Wait, they just made a Ducktales reference, what is this, 1987? What’s next, a M.A.S.H. sketch? And okay sure, that was funny, but one laugh in 90 minutes is a terrible track record. Get it together, guys.'

I really need to stop watching this fucking show.

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