Sketch Comedy
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In Sketch Comedy: Identity, Reflexivity, and American Television, Nick Marx examines some of the genre's most memorable—and controversial—moments from the early days of television to the contemporary line-up. Through explorations of sketches from well-known shows such as Saturday Night Live, The State, Inside Amy Schumer, Key & Peele, and more, Marx argues that the genre has served as a battleground for the struggle between comedians who are pushing the limits of what is possible on television and network executives who are more mindful of the financial bottom line. Whether creating new catchphrases or transgressing cultural taboos, sketch comedies give voice to marginalized performers and audiences, providing comedians and viewers opportunities to test their own ideas about their place in society, while simultaneously echoing mainstream cultural trends. The result, Marx suggests, is a hilarious and flexible form of identity play unlike anything else in American popular culture and media.


Introduction: Sketch Comedy and Reflexive Flexibility

1. From Radio Voices to Variety Choices: The Colgate Comedy Hour and Sketch Comedy in Early Television

2. "and You're Not": Saturday Night Live in the Network Era and Beyond

3. Brand X: MTV's The State and Generation X in the Multi-Channel Transition

4. Sketch Comedy's Identity (Post-)Politics: Inside Amy Schumer, Key & Peele, and Comedy Central in the Post-Network Era

Conclusion: Sketch Comedy and Cultural Cohesion





Publié par
Date de parution 01 novembre 2019
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780253044273
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 4 Mo

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Identity, Reflexivity, and American Television
Nick Marx
This book is a publication of
Indiana University Press
Office of Scholarly Publishing
Herman B Wells Library 350
1320 East 10th Street
Bloomington, Indiana 47405 USA
2019 by Nick Marx
A portion of chapter 2 was originally published as Skits Strung Together : Performance, Narrative, and the Sketch Comedy Aesthetic in SNL Films, in Saturday Night Live and American TV , ed. Nick Marx, Matt Sienkiewicz, and Ron Becker (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013), 213-232.
A portion of chapter 4 was originally published as Expanding the Brand: Race, Gender, and the Post-politics of Representation on Comedy Central, Television and New Media , 17, no. 3 (March 2016): 272-287.
Both are republished here with permission of the author.
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1992.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Cataloging information is available from the Library of Congress.
ISBN 978-0-253-04414-3 (cloth)
ISBN 978-0-253-04416-7 (paperback)
ISBN 978-0-253-04425-9 (ebook)
1 2 3 4 5 24 23 22 21 20 19
For Louis, Jane, and Jill
Introduction: Sketch Comedy and Reflexive Flexibility
1 From Radio Voices to Variety Choices: The Colgate Comedy Hour and Sketch Comedy in Early Television
2 . . . and You re Not : Saturday Night Live in the Network Era and Beyond
3 Brand X: MTV s The State and Generation X in the Multichannel Transition
4 Sketch Comedy s Identity (Post-)Politics: Inside Amy Schumer, Key Peele , and Comedy Central in the Post-Network Era
Conclusion: Sketch Comedy and Cultural Cohesion
I AM FORTUNATE TO HAVE HAD SO MANY smart and kind people support my academic endeavors. The ones with the most direct impact on this book began with my time as a graduate student, first in the Radio-Television-Film program at the University of Texas at Austin, then in the Media and Cultural Studies program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Much of the material for this book began in seminars at those universities taught by Mary Beltr n, Charles Ram rez Berg, Michael Curtin, Julie D Acci, Michele Hilmes, Michael Kackman, Mary Celeste Kearney, Thomas Schatz, Jeff Smith, and Janet Staiger.
Jonathan Gray generously advised this project as a dissertation, and every day since then I have tried to emulate him as a scholar, teacher, and mentor. Matt Sienkiewicz has been a constant source of levity and wisdom on this project and so many others. Thanks to all of my wonderful colleagues in the Department of Communication Studies at Colorado State University, especially Kit Hughes and Evan Elkins, who provided insights and encouragement at key points throughout the writing process. Others to whom I m deeply grateful for providing interviews, feedback, archival resources, or editorial assistance include: Art Bell, Kiah Bennett, Hye Seung Chung, Scott Diffrient, Maxine Ducey, Janice Frisch, Heather Heckman, Juliet Letteney, Derek Lewis, Jeffrey Sconce, Stu Smiley, Steven Starr, and Ethan Thompson.
Thanks to my family and friends for their steadfast support and unwavering enthusiasm along my meandering path through academia: my parents-in-law, Ramona and Tim Jarvis, for their curiosity and generosity; my brothers, Jason and Steven, for their camaraderie and compassion; and my parents, Kathi and Jim, for their unconditional love and guidance. Finally, thanks to my wife, Jill, for supporting me, for bearing with me, for moving with me, for moving with me the third and fourth times, for starting over with me, for ending up with me, for laughing with me, for laughing at me, and for somehow making the badass balancing act of professional, spouse, and parent look easy.
Sketch Comedy and Reflexive Flexibility
W E RE A BIG-TENT SHOW , S ATURDAY N IGHT L IVE ( SNL ; 1975-) creator Lorne Michaels often says of the sketch comedy program s tendency toward broadly appealing humor for a coalition of tastes. 1 When SNL booked Donald Trump to host in November 2015, Michaels certainly had this in mind. The outlandish celebrity was must-see television for all viewers, boosting the show to its highest-rated episode of that season. Perhaps due to the fact that many viewed him then more as a comedic curiosity than as a serious presidential candidate, SNL treated Trump with kid gloves in soft send-ups of his political inexperience and temperamental tweeting. This approach was consistent with Michaels s big-tent philosophy in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, an approach built on the general absurdities of American politics rather than on specific critiques of any given candidate, party affiliation, or cultural identity.
Then, the shocking election of Trump to the US presidency set off waves of protests and political discord that, appropriately enough, proved to be a boon for American television and comedy. Late-night talk-show hosts feasted on his erratic and egomaniacal behavior, while scores took to social media to critique Trump with satirical memes and sardonic slogans. Regular political parodies buoyed SNL s popularity after the election too, but did so in a way that exacerbated, rather than downplayed, Trump s divisiveness. Michaels s big tent had not collapsed as much as those gathered (and increasingly gathering) beneath it all congregated in one corner. SNL firmly situated itself on the anti-Trump side of America s cultural divide with sketches savaging his impulsiveness and penchant for peculiar outbursts online. Just tried watching Saturday Night Live-unwatchable! Totally biased, not funny and the Baldwin impersonation just can t get any worse. Sad, the forty-fifth president of the United States tweeted in response.
The sketch that best exemplified SNL s flexible politics in the fall of 2016, strangely enough, made Trump himself into mere background noise, reflexively positioning sketch comedy stars Dave Chappelle ( Chappelle s Show , 2003-2006) and former SNL cast member Chris Rock as its primary identification points for political dissent. In Election Night, Chappelle watches election returns with and sarcastically comments on his white friends confidence that Hillary Clinton will win. Rock joins Chappelle in joking about their white friends increasing dismay as Trump s lead grows. This is the most shameful thing America has ever done, a white character obliviously proclaims when Trump s victory becomes official. The sketch ends with the two black comedians laughing together, knowing that white liberals are only beginning to feel a fraction of the anger and resentment that African Americans have long lived with. Then, the episode quickly pivots-as it has done for nearly half a century-to a prerecorded parody sketch, a live musical performance, and Weekend Update.

Fig. 0.1. Sketch comedians Dave Chappelle (left) and Chris Rock (right) laugh at the idea that electing Donald Trump is the most shameful thing America has ever done.
This book examines sketch comedy as a genre within the American commercial television industry and as a cultural forum for comedians to articulate myriad ideas and identities. 2 I argue throughout that sketch comedy is defined by reflexive flexibility . By reflexive , I mean sketch comedy shows tendency to joke about their own creative processes, differences from previous comedic traditions, and roles as arbiters of broader cultural debates. Perhaps more so than any other genre s relationship with the medium, television sketch comedy is first and foremost about television and sketch comedy, as when SNL solicits former cast members and other sketch comedians like Rock and Chappelle to host. By flexibility , I am referring to sketch comedy s malleability and modularity both as cultural texts and economic goods. Live sketch shows like SNL regularly swap out guests, cast members, and subject matter in order to address current events, while others like Chappelle s Show experiment with formal conventions and comedy taboos that critique dominant representations of race and gender. Television networks have also used sketch comedy to meet their ever-shifting industrial needs, inserting sketch shows into the schedule to initiate an edgy rebrand or removing selected bits from them for distribution online.
Of course, many other screen media formats are reflexively self-aware or have sudden changes in subject matter or scheduling. Taken together, though, reflexive flexibility makes sketch comedy a uniquely intense site of cultural struggle that manifests in comedians and networks fighting over their respective identities. This struggle over identities is so fierce that sketch comedy invites viewers to be reflexively flexible about their own identities too. As I explore later in this introduction through the work of cultural theorists like Pierre Bourdieu and Stuart Hall, sketch comedy uniquely captures the ways we occupy identities that are in the process of formation instead of being fixed and discrete. Sketch comedy-more than any other television genre-lays bare the process of identity formation, pokes fun at its contradictions, and invites us to debate its terms.
SNL s election-season treatment

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