Thursday, October 19, 2006

What do we expect from a comedy?

TV Times, 21-27 August 1977


Naturally, one does not expect the hard and bitter stuff of life from comedy. Not the critical dilemmas, the profound human miseries, the apocalyptic visions, the tragic tales of love and despair. Certainly not soul-searching journeys through the severe landscapes of the heart and the mind.

But we do expect some things from comedy. A certain verve, a fullness of flavor, a flamboyance, a vitality, a robustness. Laughter welling from the deep innards of our beings like a gas strike--spontaneous, iridescent, sparkling. Humor tweaking us behind the ears and socking it to us where it hurts: in this case, our overgrown middle-class bellies.

Unlike tearjerkers, which can excusably plead that all is part of the human angst, comedies cannot allow too many disturbing notes of self-evident weariness to escape from their tight craftsmanship. Jokes must crackle with the crispness of new bank notes. Humor must strike the viewer like lightning before an unexpected storm. Irony--ah, but irony must always be present in comedy, or the comedy loses its sting--must be as skillfully dressed as the perfect bait.

Of performers in a comedy, we expect much. Overacting or deadpan, combative or reactive, a performer in a comedy show must be precise in his timing, fastidious in his intonation, and assured in his delivery.

While a performer in a serious dramatic play may confidently place the total value of his whole performance on the general emotional aura that he can cultivate around his role, the performer in a comedy show must ensure the impact of almost every scene in which he moves and almost every dialogue in which he participates. Otherwise, he loses his hold on the magic of memory and he becomes only one faceless player in a forgettable band.

After playing their roles week in and week out over television, the performers in the local comedy show
Baltic & Co. cannot remain faceless, of course. Yet, why do most of them seem so forgettable? And why do most of their characterizations seem as stale as yesterday's pan de sal? We often get the distinct feeling, watching the show, that many of the performers have been pipelined by the talent machine straight into the TV screen, without logic or reason.

When a television performer fails, it is because his preparation is inadequate. Minimal talent, or complete lack of it. Asinine script, or again, the lack of a script. Most television comedy shows start with only a thin storyline and nothing else to leaven it. The result, inevitably, is a lumpy plot that drags along painfully like a bum leg.

The more experienced performers, to their credit, sometimes attempt to boost the sagging plot with a generous sprinkling of the day's accepted street-corner jokes and cliches. Unfortunately, such jokes and cliches--long-drawn-out and essentially humorless at times--only result in dull and boring sequences that lack teeth. Lacking teeth, comedy degenerates into tragedy--for the viewer, for the performer, for the show.

Or shall we excuse it all as comedy, Pinoy-style?

-- NBT
No title in original published column

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