Revolution of subtle comedy

Ciccarelli asks readers if they “remember their first beer.” Then he tells them why do they do.

Ciccarelli asks readers if they “remember their first beer.” Then he tells them why do they do.

Alternative comedy is no longer alternative. We’re in a full-on Hollywood comedy revolution.
It’s a good time to be a fan of comedy. Not specifically stand-up comedy or TV comedy – just anything that is funny. steve ciccarelli public eyeglass

If I had to put a finger on “the tipping point” of the pop culture comedy revival, I’m putting it on Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Do you remember when all you’d ever hear was “milk was a bad choice” or “it’s called the Octagon”? Anchorman was the coming out party for the Judd Apatow crew, and for the past six years, we haven’t looked back.

Most of the funny things we see in movies or even on TV nowadays come from a few groups: Second City, who lately has given us Scott Adsit and Tina Fey of 30 Rock; The Upright Citizens Brigade theater, seemingly home to every great alternative comic – Amy Poehler helped found the group, yet Patton Oswalt, David Cross and many more participate in the theater; and finally mid-1990s MTV sketch troupe, The State.

You might not recognize the name The State unless you were glued to MTV in 1995 or you’ve seen one of the many projects its members have been a part of: Stella, Wet Hot American Summer, The Ten, Role Models, Reno 911!, Wainy Days and Michael and Michael Have Issues, just to name a few. If you can’t tell, I’m a fan.

Alternative comedy has taken a stronghold, even at the box office. Look at the success of The Hangover and the instant fame of alternative stand-up comedian Zach Galifianakis as “that guy from The Hangover.” Look at The Hangover for a perfect example of how incestuous this scene is; Ken Jeong, Ed Helms and Rob Riggle are all actors who have been in countless other post-2004 comedies.

Last Friday night at the Trocadero, two alternative comedy figureheads headlined a long-awaited show: Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter. Their material is always funny, as it is on record, but Friday’s show was not “material.”

Their show consisted of two friends – maybe with some bullet points to cover – just riffing. Riffing about fornicating barstools, a racist McDonald’s campaign and gambling problems, the two Michaels had the room consistently roaring.

We weren’t laughing at punch lines, we were laughing at the subtlety.

Think about the massive success of The Office (featuring Second City alum Steve Carrell), especially compared to a classic sitcom with a laugh track. While older comedy sitcoms felt a little more communal – everyone laughing together – The Office’s brand of comedy allows you to laugh at the small stuff. The punch lines on shows like The Office are usually looks into the camera by Jim Halpert, and they’re funny. They’re funny almost because they’re not an obvious “funny.”

NBC’s Thursday night lineup stems from alternative comedy. Community features Donald Glover, one of the brains behind Internet sensation Derek Comedy. Parks and Recreation has Aziz Ansari, Aubrey Plaza and Amy Poehler (a UCB pioneer). 30 Rock features everyone from Judah Friedlander to Jack McBrayer and has somehow turned Alec Baldwin into an alternative comedy hero.

In a vast wasteland of Terry Fator, Larry the Cable Guy and Dane Cook, guys like Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, David Cross and others are becoming heroes to a growing sub sect of comedy fans who feel misrepresented.

In the same way Nirvana came and put Bret Michaels out of a job, until VH1 came calling, these “punk rock” comedians give a swift kick in the stones to a world which they can’t subscribe to. Just like we can’t.

When soon-to-be-reunited indie gods Pavement first happened (because “happened” is the best way to describe the cultural impact of the band), nerdy guys all across America picked up Telecasters and wrote songs about what it was like to drink Slurpees in between bong rips.

Now that alternative comedy has invaded mainstream consciousness, will we have an expanding world of hilarity? Will it get to be too much? Will we need something else to tell comedy to screw off?
Yeah, it’s likely. But god, is it going to be exciting to watch it unfold.

Steve Ciccarelli can be reached at

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.