Sunday, May 14, 2017


I've been revisiting SCTV. I watched it quite a bit through high school and a little while thereafter. Its got me thinking about satire and what makes it good and what makes it not so good. One of the reasons I've been thinking about it is because I was equally acquainted with Monty Python, both the show and the films, but I never found them funny, never got them, in spite of trying. I had friends who were total Monty Python geeks and I wanted to get it, but didn't. But I found SCTV very funny, and sometimes found it so funny the show seemed a miracle.

I'm pretty sure this is what makes good satire: the one wielding the scalpel can wield it, by necessity, only from the source of some initial openness that is uncomfortable because it is a place of anticipated humiliation, and the anticipation is already humiliating. It can't be conjured. Evelyn Waugh was such a great satirist because he had this ability, which within the satirist feels like a disability. You see it especially in the acting of John Candy. I watched an interview of him on Letterman in which he seems to be painfully aware that he's starting to come across as a bore, and suddenly, almost in spite of himself, he turns it into a source of laughter for the audience. It's like he didn't even need to try. He was just funny. Joe Flaherty and Martin Short were also great in this regard. Those three guys were just so damn funny.

Monty Python always seemed too easy, too towering, too one-sided, too overbearing. SCTV though had a certain light regard that was a two-way scalpel. That special zone they were able to create, light as a feather, was like an endless progenitor of cutting satire that was deadly funny yet didn't injure. And that's the greatest laughter. The more it cuts, the more the healing laugh, and vice versa.

Today there is absolutely no good satire whatsoever - at least not mainstream. Certainly there are good comedians out there. Kevin O'Brien is one actor/satirist who I find very funny. But mainstream like the way SCTV was mainstream, there is nothing. All of it is just a competition to see who can out-vulgarize the other.

I wonder what that says.


Terry Nelson said...

I'm the same way - Monty Python was not my humor but SCTV still cracks me up. I watch segments over and over. I never tire of some of the bits - and that was improv. If it wasn't for the Trump administration, comedy would be completely lost for me right now.

Paul Stilwell said...

That's right, they were improv weren't they? I forgot about that. That is amazing. There are skits where one would swear they rehearsed at least ten times over. The timing and material and acting, to get that all right is one thing, but to be genuinely funny in the end is quite another. They were a tight group I think.

I know what you mean about watching segments over and over. They're just so good. And yeah, Trumpadmin. You can't write that stuff.