Almost a week after the Oscars, people are still buzzing about host Seth MacFarlane’s performance. He’s being skewered by critics mainly for his offensive jokes towards women and minorities. I think the show was unsuccessful in a couple of ways (too many musical numbers for one) but I take issue with MacFarlane for another reason: his lazy comedy writing. Regardless of how offensive his jokes were, my personal opinion was that they fell flat because they lacked substance. For instance, the concept of the “I Saw Your Boobs” number felt like listening to a drunk guy’s creepy pick-up line set along to music. His joke about Daniel Day-Lewis being so in character for Lincoln he could free Don Cheadle felt like he was rubbing in the fact that African-Americans were enslaved. His jokes point out the obvious without any larger hook and seem like a step-above name calling. Offensive humor can work, but mainly when the offense is turned on it’s head. Slate did a great article on why comic Daniel Tosh’s rape joke backfired and how horrific events can sometimes be funny if done right.
While MacFarlane’s humor appeals to a lot of people, the comedy I appreciate most is a well-crafted joke with a punchline you didn’t see coming, making its payoff all the more satisfying. To me, the ultimate model of this an episode of Seinfeld. Each episode is of a series of events “about nothing” that wrap up into a tight joke in the end. So today I was stoked when I came across an interview Jerry Seinfeld did for New York Times Magazine in which he takes us through his joke writing process. I was stunned to learn that he sometimes spends years on a single joke. Seinfeld is the master of pointing out the obvious in a brilliant way.