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'SNL' Review: A New Hope with Chris Pratt

The seasons have certainly changed at Saturday Night Live. The show's 40th season began with an episode that hardly resembled a season premiere, with little pomp or circumstance over SNL's impressive four-decade lifespan, and in its place a straightforward night of comedy that reflected a show well adjusted to its new lineup. Nerves did occasionally get the better of the performers—especially first-time host Chris Pratt, who coasted on his signature goofy charm, flashing that Andy Dwyer "oops" face a few times—but overall the episode charged forward with a leaner (and more colorful) cast, and a greater confidence in its sense of humor.

We aren't out of the woods just yet, though. SNL's live sketches suffer from the same [...]

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Saturday Night's Children: Chevy Chase (1975-1976)

Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 39 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member every other week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.

As much as SNL's debut season cast needed to mesh and support each other during the early years, they also needed to set precedents for seasons to come — such as abandoning the show for wider Hollywood success. Chevy Chase wasted no time setting such a precedent, leaving the show not long after his very first season; he was originally hired as a writer [...]

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Aziz Ansari on Selling Out Madison Square Garden and the Business Side of Comedy

Aziz Ansari might be a TV star on NBC's five-year favorite Parks and Recreation and soon-to-be published author, but performing live standup has always been his main love. Ansari recently finished up several dates on the Oddball tour and kicked off his own tour, Aziz Ansari Live!, becoming only the seventh comedian to sell out New York City's Madison Square Garden in the process. I recently got the chance to talk with Ansari all about his new tour as well as what it feels like to sell out the Garden, how he's working to make buying tickets a stress-free experience, and what we can expect from [...]

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The Many One-Season Sitcom and News Parodies of Comedy Central

Having previously tackled Comedy Central's multitude of short-lived reality parodies and sketch shows, this time I’ll be examining Comedy Central’s large quantity of news parodies and warped versions of sitcoms.

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37 Is Objectively the Funniest Number

In his classic book A Theory of Justice, philosopher John Rawls argues for liberalism as a political ideology with a thought experiment. The subject is in the “original position” where “…no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status; nor does he know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence and strength, and the like.” In other words, you could be anyone in this hypothetical society. Now: what political ideology would be the best?

I would argue that when using this “veil of ignorance” to render obsolete all particulars about the joke or certain context—for example, sometimes it’s funnier to use [...]

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Morwenna Banks and the Shortest 'SNL' Tenure Ever

Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 38 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member every other week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.

While there are plenty of SNL cast members whose stints didn't last many episodes — see Laurie Metcalf, Dan Vitale, and Ben Stiller — British sketch and voice actress Morwenna Banks holds the record of the shortest repertory player tenure with a mere four episodes under her belt at the end of the show's twentieth season in 1995. Four episodes [...]

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Breaking Down 'Silicon Valley's Flawed Characters and Promising Debut Season

Silicon Valley’s fourth episode, “Fiduciary Duties,” ends with Richard and Erlich as they leave Peter Gregory’s office, where they spy an old photo of Gregory with Pied Piper rival, Hooli CEO Gavin Belson. In the image, they’re about the same age as Richard and Erlich, who turn back to Gregory. “Is that you and Gavin Belson? Were you guys friends?” And the always-brief Gregory simply replies, “I thought so.”

When the show debuted at South by Southwest, creator Mike Judge described it as being about how in the tech world, "the most successful people are the ones least prepared to handle it." The show must be viewed through [...]

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The Economics of Internet Comedy Videos

Funny videos on the internet come from a plethora of sources, from established internet studios to TV networks to independent comedians. But how do comedy production studios fund their internet comedy videos? There’s no simple answer. In fact, one of the first answers I heard was “Our funding comes from everywhere.”

However, as I talked to representatives from CollegeHumor, Funny or Die, Jash, Above Average, UCB Comedy, and Comedy Central, a lot of common themes came forward. Branded content funds more than you think. YouTube revenue funds less than you think. Comedy studios, like everyone else, earn money so they can fund passion projects. Incubating new talent is also a [...]

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The Enduring Legacy of Phil Hartman

As much as Phil Hartman's work and influence lives on, the Ontario native has so far escaped the kind of mainstream legacy re-appraisal that so many other late standups and sketch players have enjoyed.

You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman, which takes its name from the catchphrase of The Simpsons mainstay Troy McClure (voiced by Hartman), aims to right that. The long-overdue appreciation of Hartman's genius, which will be published tomorrow by St. Martin's Press, looks at the arc of his career — from his little-known stints as a rock 'n' roll roadie and album-cover designer to his comedy work with the Groundlings and beyond — as well as [...]

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An Airbnb Review of Charles and Linda's Unique Private Room, by Spencer Ham

Okay, first of all, stop looking for other Airbnb rooms in San Francisco right now. Just stop, because nothing will beat Charles and Linda’s private room. I stayed in their home for six nights and it cost me a grand total of zero dollars. That's right. This large, centrally located, beautiful space is free. F-r-e-e.

Now, there are some ground rules, but that’s to be expected. You will be required to wear a uniform. I know it sounds a little weird, but hey, a free room is a free room. The outfit consists of cargo shorts, an Angry Birds T-shirt, some Crocs, and [...]

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What's So Special About 'The Richard Pryor Special'?

There's a famous story about The Richard Pryor Show — as Richard Pryor's star was rising in Hollywood in the 1970s, NBC commissioned the man to make a 10-episode sketch program to be broadcast in prime time. Family-friendly viewing not being Pryor's first priority, he clashed with the censors again and again until finally they let him off with only four episodes. These four episodes are still credited with an enormous influence over the genre of TV sketch comedy — directly cited by future blockbusters such as In Living Color and Chapelle's Show — and launching the careers of several performers, including the late Robin Williams in one of his [...]

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Jesus, You're Funny: 'Black Jesus' and the Long History of Comedic Messiahs

Wherever Aaron McGruder goes, controversy follows. Black Jesus, McGruder's new live-action Adult Swim show starring Gerald "Slink" Johnson as the title character, debuts tonight amid criticisms from Christians of what they view to be blasphemous material, based not on screenings of full episodes but on footage from an extended trailer Adult Swim posted on July 18.

McGruder's last show, the just-recently-ended Boondocks, offended practically everybody. Conservatives objected to The Boondocks' raunchy material, progressives found the show to be misogynist and homophobic, a few of the show's satirical targets didn't take kindly to being satirized and threatened to sue either McGruder or Adult Swim, and Boondocks viewers were offended [...]

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What It's Like Getting Hired—and Fired—by 'SNL'

It was late summer, 1982, and I was driving down Lake Shore Drive in Chicago with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I turned to her and said, “This must be what winning the lottery feels like.” We had just been asked to join the cast of Saturday Night Live along with Brad Hall (and Paul Barrosse, who would become a writer) and were on our way to our last performance of “The Golden 50th Anniversary Jubilee.”

The show was a collection of our best Practical Theatre sketches over a three-year period and it was a local hit that caught the attention of Tim Kazurinsky. Tim brought in Dick Ebersol and Bob Tischler who [...]

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The Episodes of 'SNL' Season 39, Ranked

With SNL's 39th season coming to a close, we're taking a look at the past season with a series of posts examining the highs, lows, and other memorable moments from the past eight months. Here, we look at each episode as a whole, ranking them in order of overall success and positive resonance with viewers.

Obviously comedy is subjective, and everyone watches SNL looking for different things — this list is just one of many you can find online. As far as we're concerned, things like musical guests, surprise cameos, and drama surrounding the show are less important than the plain-and-simple comedy aspects of an episode: How many sketches had [...]

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Need an Action Figure of a Dead Loved One? Meet Jeff Staab

Can’t Take It With You #4: Jeff Staab, Proprietor of Cremation Solutions

When it comes to grief, what’s meaningful and what’s creepy is often a matter of largely unpredictable personal preference. I recently came across a website selling 12-inch poseable action figures that are customizable to resemble a dead loved one, whose ashes you can also get sealed inside. After an initial reaction that was something along the lines of "oh HELL no" and a swift x-ing out of the browser window, a minute later I found myself back on the page, scrolling through all of the options: "Trendy Male," "Casual Female," "Male Grey Suit," "Nice Nurse," "Karate Male/Female."

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Exploring the Hidden Racist Past of the Looney Toons

I have an uncomfortable confession to make: I have never liked the Looney Tunes. Despite the cultural pervasiveness of these characters, and a lifelong love of animation on my part, they’ve always struck me as annoying, repetitive, and boring—for all the pandemonium that Bugs Bunny and his ilk ostensibly represent, their chaos is bland, their destruction is predictable, and their lineage is corporate.

To be fair, my exposure to Looney Tunes at the time bore that out pretty well: I grew up in the age of Space Jam and the slew of jerseys, sneakers, McDonald’s toys, pogs, and cookie jars that film spawned. Today is no better, with the [...]

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Is 'Modern Family' Really the Best-Directed Comedy on TV?

On Monday night, Gail Mancuso took home the Emmy for “Outstanding Direction for a Comedy Series” for her work the Modern Family season five episode “Las Vegas.” This was Mancuso’s second win in a row and the show’s fourth win in a row in this category. This year, Mancuso beat out Comedy Film School favorites Louis C.K. and Lena Dunham as well as seasoned film directors Jodie Foster (for Orange is the New Black) and Mike Judge (for Silicon Valley). Looking even further back, the last time a network show director, in which directing is historically more like house-painting than Picasso, lost to a cable director is in 2004, when [...]

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What Happens When 'The Simpsons' Becomes Dad Humor?

1. Hey-hey

Nothing lasts forever. Take me: I used to be a medium-funny guy. You could count on me to bring a reliable number of chuckles to social occasions. I wasn’t hilarious, but I made sure to get a few solid laughs at parties, galas, potlucks, and ad hoc social gatherings.

These days, I don’t know what’s going on. Every once in a while, when I crack wise or make a seemingly-sly reference, the oddest thing happens. A few people laugh, but others just look at me, their faces like ash. In those panicky moments when I wait for the bombed joke to pass, a fear grips my bowels. Perhaps [...]

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The Social Media Graveyard of Cancelled Comedies

Dozens and dozens of new shows premiere each new TV season (and mid-season, and off-season) but only a handful live to see season two. These days, a new show has to use every tool in its arsenal to attract viewers as quickly as possible: splashy advertising, big name guest stars, over-the-top promos, and of course, a blockbuster web presence, one that gathers fans on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr who will then faithfully promote the show with homemade image macros and clever hashtags born from love. But while a show might leave our airwaves, a Facebook fan page is forever. What becomes of the social media accounts of canceled shows? 

Sad [...]

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A New, Long-Overdue Breed of TV Critic

The recent launch of The X-Files Files, Silicon Valley star Kumail Nanjiani's second comedy podcast, was both unsurprising and surprising. Fans of Nanjiani's standup act who follow his Twitter feed – one of the most consistently funny feeds written by a standup – have known of Nanjiani's genuine love for The X-Files because of his tweets about the 1993-2002 sci-fi classic ("The single greatest television show ever made. For the first 6 seasons."), so that's not the unsurprising part.

The surprising part is the shape that his X-Files fandom has taken, as if it's super-stretchy, shape-shifting X-Files serial killer Eugene Tooms. After Nanjiani tweeted that he was [...]