It’s Not Comedy

I’m not a huge fan of portmanteau, so consider this a factor of bias.

Dream team

I was reading the APR a few days ago and someone made a comment on how Shirobako is a dramedy. It was like a trigger, in that I thought several things in rapid succession, like, what drug is Mike on? What is dramedy anyway? Is Shirobako a what? What was it again? What does it even mean? I guess he is based in Socal so the language flows a certain way? Is this just me overreacting?

Well, in a specific context, the term dramedy means the same as, and as far as I can google, dramatic-comedy or comedy drama or any combination of those two terms. It also means more or less what it says–a hybrid of sorts specifically in the TV/radio drama sense. In a more rigorous scheme, many dramatic-comedies are probably still just dramas. The term (or the hybrid genre) grew as a factor of mass marketing and a need to distinguish different types of TV shows.

Because, truth is, everything is to a degree comedic. Most sad stories have moments of levity and humor. Most happy stories contain serious themes. It’s not something categorically you want to spin out meaningfully in earnest discussion. And again, really something specific to American mass entertainment (TV/movies) and its subsequent development thereof.

The “triggering” nature of this line of thought stayed with me a while and I ran into a couple pieces which reflects these. For starters, there’s an interview with comedian Chris Rock that might be worth reading for various other reasons, but let me pull one part here. [Bold for interviewer, some formatting removed]

I don’t think people understand how hard it is to write comedy. The gestation period, the trying out of jokes, the whittling them down — a lot of people may not understand that, in some ways, drama may be easier.

It’s not may. It is easier.

Go on.

It just is. Hey, man, I loved Gone Girl. Loved it. But you could probably get other directors — I’m not saying they’d make it as good as Fincher, but you could get it from beginning to end and get a reaction out of it, where you can’t really do that with comedy.

Every moment has to pay off.

In this sense, comedy’s really fair. It’s not like music, where you can hire Timbaland and he gives you a beat and a song, and even though you can’t sing it’s a hit. Comedy, especially stand-up comedy, it’s like: Who’s funny?

It’s a ruthless marketplace.

It’s the only thing that smacks Hollywood out of its inherent racism, sexism, anti-­Semitism. It makes people hire people that they would never hire otherwise. Do they really want to do a show with Roseanne Barr? No, they want a thin blonde girl.

But she’s funny.

She’s just funnier than everybody. I’m not even sure they wanted to do a Seinfeld show, but he’s just funnier than everybody.

He’s not a matinee idol. He’s Jewish, nerdy. And recently he said publicly he was somewhere on the autism spectrum as a comedian.

He bores easily. I bore easily. Not because I’m on some spectrum, but because I hear so many conversations again and again. So many people come up to you, and not enough people try to take into account what you’ve heard already.

Let’s put it this way. Take Anchorman. Now switch the directors of Anchorman and Gone Girl and give them their movies to do. Adam McKay’s going to get closer to Gone Girl than Fincher is going to get to Anchorman.

Absolutely.

It’s not even close.

Okay, but Woody Allen—

I don’t even think Woody does comedy. I think he does dramas with jokes. They’re all sad at their core.

It’s pretty clear, in my opinion, Shirobako (and majority of TV anime) are dramas. Sure, they have jokes and can be funny, but that don’t make a comedy by itself. It’s the Teekyuus and Azazels of the world that are comedy, when I (and others) lament that nobody blogs about comedy. Because it’s friggin hard to write about comedy. It’s friggin hard to make a good comedy, let alone doing this whole Japanese cartoon dance across the Pacific (and Atlantic in some cases).

Which comes back to Shirobako. The director of the show, Tsutomu Mizushima, is known for comedy. His auteur voice honed in Crayon Shin-chan, which is pretty much the home of modern children comedy cartoon in Japan. Long story short, Mizushima brought his comedic touch to the humorous moments of Shirobako. And Chris Rock says as much. [Some formatting removed, Bold for interviewer.]

I would love to be a 60 Minutes correspondent.

What would you want to cover?

I would cover anything. I mean, I’d be in Ferguson right now, and it would be in-depth, and it would be funny.

It’s hard to do funny in journalism.

No, it’s not. It’s all in the cut.

What would you do in Ferguson that a standard reporter wouldn’t?

I’d do a special on race, but I’d have no black people.

Shirobako’s dramatization aside, isn’t it just presenting to us the everyday realities of the anime production desk? Since the 90s there has been a lot of otaku-oriented stories with otaku and people we desire within; but this one is about industry folks, not you and me. It’s not to say racism in America parallels the moe cancer, but the way we tell either story follows the same principles behind telling stories. I can see why someone can think Shirobako is a comedy. It’s in the cut. And Mizushima cuts it a certain way that brings a certain levity. But it is not, say, the Office. Or Wagnaria. I feel that Shirobako can seem light because we are cutting pretty close to the bone and to home; it’s also part of the dramatization package to protect both the show and the people it talks about. Most of all, the humor helps to make a dry topic fun to watch.

I don’t fault Mike (who is a swell guy AFAIK) for dropping the most cromulent, triggering portmanteau (for me) in a random internet comment sort of thing, but that’s just misleading TV gossip language and it makes me sad. Which is to say a lot of people out there probably don’t even know good comedy if it punched them in the face, because they don’t even have the life experiences, the current events, all that current-events wherewithal that Chris Rock referenced, to really get it good. Nothing wrong with that; we all have to start somewhere. So let’s. And in my opinion the first step is to get out of that consumer-oriented mind set, that overly database-minded idea that comedy is just yet another flavor like slice of life or sports, a row in a table. It’s a wholly different animal.

But really, the language, the level of discourse on comedy, on the anime social network stuffs, is so rudimentary that if something stood out it’s not even recognizable. Do we ever get beyond timing and puns?

PS. Wikipedia on dramedy is redirected to comedy drama. If you read the talk pages, dramedy basically gets laughed out into tragicomedy, which is really more than what anyone needs to know.


2 Responses to “It’s Not Comedy”

  • Digibro

    I’m tempted to take this as a sort of challenge. If you’ve never heard of it, there’s an excellent youtube channel called Every Frame A Painting which analyzes film, mostly in terms of shot composition and editing. He’s done videos on why Edgar Wright is such a great comedy director, and on why Jackie Chan is the best at action comedy, and goes into a depth that I don’t think anyone goes into on comedy. Channel is here: https://www.youtube.com/user/everyframeapainting/videos

    People are afraid to analyze comedy, not only because it’s hard, but because of all that bullshit about “ruining the joke.” I hate that concept more than anything, so I’d be much obliged to start trying to break down comedy more myself.

  • Komatachia

    Dude, I love you and your blog. Thanks for blogging – I aspire to be like you.

    On another note, when I think of good comedy I think Noucome and D-Frag!, not Shirobako.

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