The Master would not approve Jul27

The Master would not approve...

When I was a kid, my dream job (besides working for The Peace Corps) was to write for a show called Mad Movies. If you’re old like me, you might have seen this show on Nickelodeon in the 80’s. The show was old movies with new soundtracks dubbed over them to make them hilarious. I thought making fun of old movies would be an awesome job; that’s what I wanted to do that with my life. You know… or work for the Peace Corps… Well, I didn’t do either. I wound up working for the Catholic Church. Though I teach and write a lot, and both of these venues necessarily include humour. When I was in high school another show came into my view: Mystery Science Theater 3000. It was like Mad Movies, but with robots! And you get to hear the original dialogue, which is often as funny as what the guys added. Many of the jokes become staple phrases in my home, and my family watches episodes on YouTube together as often as we can. If we have no joy we really need to re-evaluate what we’re about. My younger son recently said, “Oh no…I’m growing up to be Torgo.” (Don’t ask me why—I can’t remember and I probably forgot on purpose.) Both of my boys periodically approach me awkwardly reaching for my hair while humming the Torgo Theme. We are all in agreement that The Master would not approve of most of the things that happen in our home. When I ask the kids a question, the answer is often a whiny, “I don’t know!” in the style of Zap Rowsdower. And, even though they haven’t seen “Devil Fish” yet, they know that when I sing the modified “Juicy Fruit” theme,...

Dying is easy. Comedy is hard. Jul23

Dying is easy. Comedy is hard....

These days, there is no shortage of funny movies on the silver screen or in your Netflix queue. But it’s occurred to me that while so many movies have funny moments, so few of them use the medium to its full potential. Let me explain. First, I am not a film expert by any means, but I am a comedy nerd. It seems to me that a huge percentage of popular comedies these days rely entirely on the dialogue and delivery to get laughs. That doesn’t make them bad movies, but it means they could be podcasts or plays and might be just as funny. Let’s break this down with some examples from some of my favourite geeky directors. Comedy and Dialogue You could scour the ‘verse and not find another director who has done more for mainstream geek culture than Joss Whedon. The creator, writer and sometimes director of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse and Firefly is a creative force behind the camera. He is every bit a “writer’s director” in that his universes are given life by dialogue and character more than anything else. Let’s take a look at the way Whedon uses his style to set up and deliver jokes. No one has ever said the world needs less laughter. This joke is funny because we know Mal, and we already don’t like Atherton Wing (the guy he stabs). Though it doesn’t rely on the frame or any visual aspect to make it funny, it’s writer’s joke. Another example from Firefly is when Mal tells Simon that Kaylee is dead in the pilot episode. Now this one is a bit different because it uses a lot of filmic elements to support what is still, I think, a writer’s joke. The...

TOO FAR! Keeping deprecation funny Jul16

TOO FAR! Keeping deprecation funny...

Some people say that The Big Bang Theory “makes fun” of geeks. I disagree. As a comedian, I have written two shows for dinner theatre based on the TV comedy. I think it had the potential to make fun of geeks, but it went somewhere better. It became a celebration of geeks and geek culture. If anything, it helped make geeks cool. Let me explain where I am coming from. I’m a comedian. I make fun of things for a living. I make fun of my family, technology, movies and other people. But mostly, I make fun of myself. But where’s the line drawn? How far is too far? When does it stop being funny? To answer that question, we should start at the root of comedy. Humour is a weapon, and a darn good one too. Often humour is used to cover up pain. That was the case for me. I’ve always been chubby. In high-school I would constantly suck in my gut. I was terrified to show people the real me, or at least my real stomach. Then one day in a comedy club, I came clean. “I have a bit of a weight problem,” I said. “You can’t tell ’cause I suck it in.” That got a bit of a laugh because despite my best efforts to hide it, it’s fairly obvious. “No really, I’ll prove it, look!” I stood with my profile facing the audience, “sucked in” and then I let my gut hang loose. For the first time in front of a large group of strangers, I revealed what my body really looked like. It got a huge laugh. I should point out that getting a laugh from sticking out your stomach is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you’re...

The lost art of the IC mischan...

I hate those times when you’re having a conversation with your friend about the complexities of life, but right in the middle of it you start reciting next week’s grocery list. If that sounds implausible to you, then you are simply highlighting my point of the dying golden art of the comedic mischan. The mischan is reserved for the privileged few geeks who enter the worlds of text-based video games, where there are both in-character and out-of-character chat channels. In these games, you can have any number of conversations going on at once and it is inevitable that you will accidentally message one group instead of another. In MUDs (Multi User Dungeons), hundreds to sometimes even thousands of players from around the world log in to an alternate universe, adorn a unique character, and participate in a grand storyline. Words whiz by the screen at an alarming pace. I learned to read remarkably fast and type at a feverish 95 wpm pace playing a MUD. When we advance as a society sometimes there are things that do get left behind. In 1995, after a few frustrating starts with a variety of MUDs, I discovered ThresholdRPG. It stood out because of its roleplay-enforced atmosphere (meaning all in-character lines of communication must remain in-character at all times). Here everything was text-based and the visuals were conjured in one’s own imagination. In ThresholdRPG, your character can speak in common or your native racial language. In character, there are chat channels for your guild, religion, clan, job, bloodoath and telepathy. Out of character, there are channels like citizen, heritage, court, trivia, sports, and politics. All of these go on simultaneously in real-time. Due to that fairly overwhelming number of communication lines, a mischan—or two or three—is bound to happen. Take,...

For God and shrubbery Jul14

For God and shrubbery...

Let’s face it—if God is going to show up in the clouds and give you a quest, people are probably going to expect some kind of heavenly reproaching and yelling along with his appearance. But the kingly face in the clouds in Monty Python and the Holy Grail instead reprimands Arthur and the other knights for averting their eyes and groveling. This is actually one of my favourite things about the movie—the knocks it takes on God and the Catholic Church. That may be shocking coming from a person who loves God and works for the Church, but in my mind, they point to larger issues and realities that we need to look at—and humour is a good place to start! Humour opens me up to hear truths that I might be inclined to rebuff if couched differently. I couldn’t wait to share this movie with my oldest son (in whose experience of God I take a keen interest), and this was the year for it! Of course, I fast forwarded past the Anthrax Castle scene… I’ve never met nuns like that, and I wasn’t up for a conversation explaining what just happened. On the other hand, I love Brother Maynard and the other monks. The reading from the Book of Armaments sounds like the new Roman Missal at times—and while I love the Missal and I love the Mass, some of the language can be a little challenging for some. I enjoy watching the monks walking in single file, chanting Latin (an actually very nice prayer) and whacking themselves in the head with boards. I’ve never met any monks like that either, but I suppose it does speak to a certain segment of the population who, to my personal dismay, practice mortification even...

Jokes to make you laugh and cry Jul10

Jokes to make you laugh and cry...

What doesn’t Tara drink? She’s not a fan of shots. What show does Boromir never seem to catch? Arrow. How much did it cost Dr. Horrible to join the Evil League of Evil? Just one Penny. What is Sephiroth’s favourite food? Shish kabobs. How do Reavers clean their spears? They put them through the...

A laughing matter? Jul09

A laughing matter?

“But you must never imagine that just because something is funny… it is not also dangerous.” —Mr. Croup, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere How many times does a Mennonite laugh at a joke? Two times. Once when the joke is told. Once when it’s explained to them. Within many Christian circles there seems to be an unwillingness to engage with humour and comedy. In fact, I don’t recall any discussions about comedy or the nature of laughter in my lifetime of church-going. Besides an amusing list of bulletin typos or the odd joke at the beginning of a sermon (and the less said about these the better), humour doesn’t have much of a place within the church. Some view humour with suspicion, at best a distraction, at worst idleness. Why is there such ambivalence about laughter and the art of making people laugh? In the 1980 historical murder mystery, The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco suggests one perspective on this unwillingness to engage in deeper thinking about comedy. While investigating some murders in an Italian abbey, William of Baskerville, a Franciscan monk, discovers the importance of some illuminated manuscripts of the abbey’s. While visiting the scriptorium, William encounters Jorge, the blind librarian whose opinions on the evilness of laughter surprise the Franciscan. In Jorge’s opinion, laughter distracts the faithful from the serious-mindedness of the gospel: “The comedies were written by the pagans to move spectators to laughter, and they acted wrongly. Our Lord Jesus never told comedies or fables, but only clear parables which instruct us on how to win paradise, and so be it… laughter shakes the body, distorts the features of the face, makes man similar to a monkey.” Of course this isn’t the only perspective held within the church. When I was a...

Our favourite geeky webcomics Jul03

Our favourite geeky webcomics...

1. 8-BIT THEATER     2. AWKWARD ZOMBIE   3. PENNY ARCADE   4. CTRL+ALT+DEL   5. XKCD...

Irony Man Jul01

Irony Man

Tony Stark’s armoured suit is as much as a part of him as the electromagnet in his chest or the blood pumping through his veins. But Stark wears another armour, one that can’t deflect bullets or  stop explosions, but keeps him safe nonetheless: his sense of humour. Stark is not what some might call “emotionally available.” He keeps himself aloof and never lets anyone get too close (with the possible exception of Pepper Potts) . He doesn’t seem to trust his teammates and, whenever they try to have a serious conversation with him, he jokes around to deflect genuine emotional connection. When he brings a nuclear bomb through a wormhole to destroy a fleet of invading aliens and very nearly dies as a result, the first thing out of his mouth upon his revival is, “What happened? Please tell me nobody kissed me.” Shawarma therapy notwithstanding, Iron Man relies on his emotional armour just as much as his shiny red and gold suit. Iron Man 3 had a lot of great scenes showing just how damaged he is and how poorly equipped he is to deal with his emotions. A kid shows him a crayon drawing of a space portal and his body reacts by going into shock. He assumes he’s been poisoned before Jarvis politely informs him that he is, in fact, having a panic attack. The man who can fix anything can’t fix himself—talk about irony, man. Iron Man has spent his life dealing with pain by building it into armour. In the finale of Iron Man 3, Stark blows up dozens of his power suits in a spectacular metaphor for his newfound emotional freedom. But in Age of Ultron, his anxiety has evolved under his nose into full-blown fear. He responds...