What’s the Deal with Superlatives?
by Jake Kroeger on September 22, 2011
As of this very moment:
-Will Ferrell is to be awarded the Mark Twain Prize for Humor
-Modern Family took home the most Emmy statuettes over the past weekend
-Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist TV show is about to premiere on BBC America
Also, at the very same moment:
-Comedy Central roasted Charlie Sheen
-Louis C.K. didn’t win a single Emmy (even though he was nominated for four of them)
-Jonah’s Arcade didn’t get picked up by Comedy Central
Relief that the right people were lauded, frustration that the wrong people were snubbed, and everything in between might have come over you while reading those bullet points, but why is that the case? What does the Mark Twain Prize for Humor really honor? Do the awards for comedy at the Emmys really reflect the best comedy? Did the “First Annual Comedy Awards” even really reflect the best in comedy? Was The Other Guys REALLY the Best Comedy Film last year, Comedy Awards? WAS IT?
In short, what’s so funny, America?
Can we even expect a satisfying answer out of that question? What gets recognized or makes it on television is, at best, an educated guess by a group of people made with the intention to disappoint the least amount of people. They would tell you that what gets the Outstanding This or Best in That is indeed what they claim it to be, but that’s far from true, especially since there’s no real way to truly gauge what the funniest thing in America really is.
The Kennedy Center websites describes the Mark Twain Prize for Humor as recognizing “people who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th century novelist and essayist best known as Mark Twain.” Past winners of the award in include Richard Pryor, Lorne Michaels, Steve Martin, and George Carlin. Taking that into consideration, does Will Ferrell’s “Landlord” video really skewer the life of the American renter in the “Twain spirit”? That’s not to suggest that it isn’t hilarious, but it’s unclear for what the Mark Twain Prize for Humor currently stands. Some could argue that The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart is more fitting of the Twain Prize’s description. Then again, being a crucial part of Funny or Die and how it’s changed the entire landscape of comedy and how the masses find their way to laughter does count for something Twain-esque.
Similarly, one could say that the Emmys “snubbed” Steve Carell and Louis C.K., but, then again, what really constitutes the Best Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for the Emmys? There are plenty of people that find The Big Bang Theory and Jim Parsons to be the most hilarious things they’ve ever seen and conversely might say that The Office is weird and Louie is depressing. However, that doesn’t prove the Emmys right or anyone who thinks they know “what’s really funny” wrong.
The only thing it proves is that “Best in Comedy” in all of its derivations is an absolute misnomer. There is no such thing as the funniest anything anywhere, much less the Most Outstanding Comedy Series in the United States. If you want to talk numbers, Kevin Hart should be in the conversation, since he just released the highest grossing stand-up concert film (Feel My Pain) since 2002. Yet, you’ll be hard pressed to find him mentioned in the same breath as Patton Oswalt, who has just under 500,000 followers on Twitter. It would be absolutely fantastic to agree on a “pound-for-pound” funniest anything, but for that to happen, a significant portion of us would have to be robots.
Nobody wants that. Even if you thought that was cool while reading it, you do not want that (cue Jedi hand wave).