Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Fall Down and Be Counted

Vince Vaughn's performance in Swingers is one of the most impressive comedic performances ever. And while people often mention how funny his character Trent is (and it is well written), it is never ranked among the great comedic performances. I think this is because Vaughn's character is confident. A winner.

Instead, when opinion makers (who have a knack for not getting comedy) make their lists of the greatest comedic performances of all time, they typically praise performances that are either nerdy/wimpy, self-deprecating, hapless, or dumb. They dote on the lovable losers and ignore the cool guys.
Some of the performances they celebrate:
Nerdy/wimpy like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, nerdy, wimpy, and self-deprecating like Jack Lemmon in The Apartment or Woody Allen in, well, every movie he has ever been in. They also celebrate hapless, like Chaplin as The Tramp and dumb, like Belushi in Animal House.
Why is this? Let's first think about the term comic relief. The second class nature afforded to comedic characters is evident in the term itself. He is a relief from anything substantive or real. He isn't fully realized. He is the clown intermission while we wait for the more important events to resume.
And to provide comic relief to the majority of viewers, comic relief characters must be something they can laugh AT. And because the majority of folks are nerdy, wimpy, and dumb, comic relief characters must be hyper-nerdy, hyper-wimpy, and hyper-dumb. The comic relief character must be sliding on a banana peel as he takes a banana cream pie in the face (not sure why it has to be banana cream, but a plantain pie just wouldn't be as funny).
Comic relief characters might be better known as comic reassurance characters, as they reassure the majority--the mob--that there are people who are less than they. They are smarter than Belushi in Animal House and cooler than C.C. Baxter in The Apartment. Very reassuring. They are not better than Trent in Swingers. And the opinion makers who rank such performances aren't even cool enough to have a friend like Trent (hence the snub).
The emphasis on the lovable loser ties in with the annoying truism that "good comedy must be vulnerable." Not true. Vaughn in Swingers isn't vulnerable at all. He is cool, sharp, and hilarious, which helps him to carry the film (much like Cary Grant in His Girl Friday, another underrated performance). But apparently Trent isn't "vulnerable" enough to convince opinion makers that Vaughn's is a great performance. To opinion makers, you're not vulnerable unless your character is a perennial victim...though said victim will still somehow get the girl in the end, because we can't have movies telling the truth that women don't want vulnerable men.

Slip on one of my banana tweets: https://twitter.com/greatMikePayne

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