Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Quick Analysis of the Queen of Comedy

It's inarguable who the Queen of Comedy is. I mean, you could maaaaybe try and pull off a Carol Burnett or Betty White switcheroo, but c'mon. Even they'll tell you it's Lucille Ball.

It's interesting to examine Lucille Ball under the lens of Female Comedy Icon (she wears pants! she fibs! she gets pregnant! she's not afraid to get messy!), but for now I'm more interested in her show.

For as much as Lucille Ball changed the landscape of comedy for ladies, I Love Lucy also shaped the future of the television sitcom. Desilu Productions capitalized on the three-camera setup that lasted for decades, as well as the live studio audience for use as a laugh track.

And yet, so much has changed. I was scrolling through YouTube the other day, perusing the Lucy clips, and I noticed that all of them are rather long. In comparison, when I watch excerpts from 30 Rock, they last barely thirty seconds. I realized that I Love Lucy took its time with its comedy.

Take this clip, for example. It's famous for having the longest recorded studio laughter in television history - 65 consecutive seconds. The setup for this joke is painstakingly long - the payoff doesn't happen until four and a half minutes in! And yet it's still hilarious.

Sure, when watching this clip today, it's still funny as hell (I'm always partial to Lucy's trying to exit the room mid-dance, only to have Ricky yell at her) - but if a modern sitcom tried to do the same thing, would it be funny? Comedies on television these days are so fast-paced: 30 Rock moves at a breakneck speed, I get whiplash from watching Glee, and shows like Parks & Recreation and The Office use a slower pace to achieve a style, never a joke. It's hard to imagine the slow and steady build of a situational comedy these days. Just throw every kind of joke at the wall, see what sticks, and get out of the scene before it runs too long. It takes commitment to run a shtick for minutes on end.

Of course, there really aren't any Lucille Balls on television anymore either. I'd say the closest comparison could be Amy Poehler on Parks & Recreation. Lucy could always mine comedy from maneuvering, physically and verbally, through any situation, however outrageous. So many of her classic scenes involve little dialogue - she simply operates within a space and somehow exudes funny. When I think of the comediennes on TV currently, only Amy Poehler really comes to mind as someone who can be hilarious without having to say a single word.

But perhaps all of this pondering is over-analysis. What's funny is funny, regardless of whether or not it was on TV in the 50s or 2010. I Love Lucy is a classic for a reason - real funny stands the test of time, even if you can't necessarily find the same kind of funny on today's channels.

I leave you with some ballet.

And some 30 Rock, for comparison's sake:

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