“On Troubling Lack of Persona in New Humor”

Remember CHARACTERS? Oh, characters… and you might point to Seinfeld as the great glowing character sardine can in the sky but to me the ones on The Simpsons were more distinct. And along these lines, they added to the show’s appeal: Lisa was the ticklingly precocious, sharp and sensitive younger offspring, with Bart the older, slightly rude and boorish first-born. Bart might say something like “Eat my shorts” or “Nobody better lay a finger on my Butterfinger,” whereas, if Lisa says these things, it would just come off bizarre and unsettling, and what’s more, smack of a lack of developed screenplay which would foster “character development.”

I see zero character development manifesting in today’s humor. None of the characters on The Office to me are distinct or functionally hewn in any way… it seems they’re any of them likely to arrange a discourse within the gamut of whiny pathos to psychotic altercation, with no attention or care taken to which one does which. They’re interchangeable and with this being the case, the show relies on a lowbrow brand of humor that’s unrefined and sloppy. Sometimes when someone says something it’s funny for the very reason that it represents him or her truly being oneself, like the little girl in Full House going “How rude!” or Mr. Tanner making some nerdy, overly concerned remark.

The Adult Swim cartoons of recent years seem to have this same condition: I don’t get the sense that even the writers take a punctilious differentiation between the characters. The objective of the writing seems to just rely on the concept of “saying something funny,” but in that case you’d only need one person, or character, like a stand-up comedian. The last instance I’d like to address is the commercial with “Drake from State Farm” (hey, commercials have been pretty decent lately, like those Liberty Mutual ones with the “struggling actor”). It’s meant as a spoof on “Jake from State Farm,” who’s this real nice-guy, articulate salesman who sort of denotes what the actual deals are that State Farm offers, in conjunction with the ostentatious personalities of athletes or celebrities around him. He’s a real likeable guy so boy is it awkward when Drake from State Farm, meant to be his continually hushed “stand-in” on the commercial with no lines allowed, disprespects him by munching an apple while Jake is talking, after having talked over him a couple times. I can tell Drake is subscribing to the same The Office and Bob’s Burgers ethos that you just have to “do something funny” or “say something funny” and it will make for a humorous occasion. But his mischievous shtick here only causes this bulbous amount of tension to amount right at the end of the commercial, never to be resolved, the reason being that Jake from State Farm is such a likeable guy, hence stirring anger in the viewer who would see someone disrespecting him. Drake, for all his hip-hop skill, then, is nowhere near charismatic or synergistic enough to cultivate an “a**hole” persona like say Charles Barkley from the TNT basketball broadcasts, or maybe Royal Tenenbaum. Plus, at the end of that twisting, turning piece of cinema, it’s determined that Royal is “not an a**hole… just sort of a son of a bit**.” It’s also out of character from the image Drake imbues from his raps — typically a sort of sensitive, conscious emcee looking out for the morale of his mother — and smacks of this objective of just “doing something funny,” personnel appropriateness be da**ed. 

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