Friday, February 27, 2009

The Importation of Comedy Teams

Current comedy teams in America, including Little Britain, Flight of the Conchords and the Mighty Boosh, all come from foreign shores. It is truly an import crisis, worse than Japan surpassing the United States as the largest car producing nation in the world.

I find it interesting how these comedy teams name themselves. They don't subscribe to the old vaudeville tradition of taking the comics' last names and putting an "&" sign in between. I wonder what Abbott & Costello would have called themselves if they were around today. I doubt they would have been as endearing if they had called themselves something like the Great Confusion.

The Mighty Boosh, whose series is set to air on the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, had its origins in England. But, despite a lifetime spent in London and Leeds, the comedians still display the influence of classic American comedy teams, including Hope and Crosby and Abbott & Costello. The Mighty Boosh consists of Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding. Barratt, as Howard Moon, is self-deluded, boastful and paranoid. He is contrasted well by Fielding, who plays his dim-witted, happy-go-lucky partner Vince Noir.

The team had an obvious fascination with the Abbott & Costello sitcom in their first season, at which time they imitated Abbott & Costello's habit of coming out in front of a theater curtain to introduce segments of the show. They also had a bizarre cast of supporting characters like Abbott & Costello. Bud and Lou had an ape named Bingo. Howard and Vince had an ape named Bollo. The disturbingly odd and chubby Bob Fossil was the show's equivalent of Stinky.

The first season episodes, as formative as they are, are not among the series' strongest. The only stand-out episodes of the season are "Charlie" and "Hitcher." But then, in the second season, the duo took flight with their own version of the Road movies. Like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, they portrayed vain entertainers engaged in a perpetual battle of the egos. They were obsessed with knowing who was better looking, who was more talented, and who could better attract the ladies. They ended up in surreal situations in exotic locales - the Artic Tundra, the Desert of Nightmares, Black Lake. In one episode, they got marooned on a desert island. The whole time, they have to contend with a creepy merman, a Yeti, an evil sultan, and a demon. In the Road movies, Hope and Crosby also had a wide variety of adventures. They treked through through the jungles of Madagascar, frolicked on the fictitious tropical island of Kaigoon, met beautiful princesses, used a stolen map to find a secret gold mine in Alaska, and embarked on hazardous deep-sea dive to retrieve a chest of priceless jewels.

Some fans of the the Mighty Boosh have expressed disappointment with Season Three episodes, which tie the pair to a boutique and feature less otherworldly adventures. But these episodes are more driven by the characters, which Barratt and Fielding have been able to develop more fully, and the stories are generally more satisfying.

Before closing, I would also like to praise one foreign comedy team that never managed to make it to the U.S. A recent British comedy series Black Books featured a perfect comedy odd couple - foul-mouthed, misanthropic, alcoholic bookstore owner Bernard Black (Dylan Moran) and his mild-mannered, eager-to-please, chronically abused assistant Manny (Bill Bailey).

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