Doubly awesome
March 14, 2007 8:23 PM   Subscribe

comedyfilter: So, a question about double acts .

So there are tons of comedy acts on tv and in the movies that use the comedy foil technique. Think Leslie Nielsen in Airplane or Tracey Jordan from 30 rock (for the straight man part). I was wondering, though, if there are many movies/tv shows out there in which either part of a double act acknowledges the absurdity of the interaction. For example, Jon Stewart cracking up unintentionally while responding to some absurd statement made by one of his correspondents.

I suppose it's kind of a double act meets the fourth wall type scene. Any suggestions?
posted by jourman2 to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think Conan O'Brien does this with his stupider skits. He makes fun of how poorly done the costumes are and stuff.
posted by magikker at 8:30 PM on March 14, 2007

Duddley Moore was famous for corpsing in his skits with Peter Cook.
posted by adamt at 8:32 PM on March 14, 2007

I've seen many a Seinfeld episode where Jerry or Elaine crack a smile out of character.
posted by Zaire4Ever32 at 8:41 PM on March 14, 2007

Saturday Night Live regularly has moments where someone breaks character. Unfortunately, it's often funnier than the real thing.

The Carol Burnett Show was also famous for this -- Harvey Korman couldn't keep a straight face if his life depended on it.

Jeff Dunham, the vetriloquist, regularly breaks the fourth wall with his dummy characters -- having the dummy look at him and go, "Hey! Where is your other hand?"
posted by frogan at 9:27 PM on March 14, 2007

There are moments throughout Police Squad! where Leslie Nielsen will, for a beat, seem to react to a gag "out of character" (except it totally works, so it's not really out of character?). It's often takes the form of him appearing to not know how to react to the absurd thing that just happened/was said. A sort of speechless-beat, if you will.

The freeze-frames at the end of the episodes also end up being pretty fourth-wall-breaking. They often have a hard time keeping a straight face due to the strain of the freezing.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:08 PM on March 14, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions so far, I'll be sure to check a bunch of these shows out. However, what I'm more interested in is a sort of planned thing where an actor/actress acknowledges "man this is a stupid joke" to the camera or something like that. Most of the above references seem to be like the Jon Stewart example I gave above, of unplanned instances. Perhaps that wasn't the best example.

More unplanned stuff is awesome, but planned stuff would e even awesomer. Thanks all.
posted by jourman2 at 11:16 PM on March 14, 2007

I'd call the Police Squad! stuff planned, though it is perhaps more subtle than you're looking for. If you haven't watched the series (all six episodes … sigh), do so at your soonest immediacy. I mean now.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:21 PM on March 14, 2007

Malcolm in the Middle? I've only seen the show a few times, but it seems like Malcolm's asides to the camera were more than just naration.
posted by clh at 11:23 PM on March 14, 2007

Jourman, have you seen The Office? Both the brit and yank version do that all the fucking time.
posted by klangklangston at 11:37 PM on March 14, 2007

Best answer: Monty Python is of course the schoolbook example of breaking up the standard comedy routines. Their refusal of doing punchlines goes so far as to have an Army general interrupt sketches for being 'too silly', and the whole cast and extras of The Holy Grail being arrested, thus ending the movie.

Vic Reeves (Jim Moir) and Bob Mortimer, although often incredibly deadpan in their insane sketches, ocassionally break out of their characters unexpectedly. Examples I can remember from their series are the brothers Stott and their interviews in Bang Bang. Vic Reeves has a hard time keeping a straight face when asking celebrities if they leave fingerprints on parsnip, or if they regularly have a 'nice, relaxing poo' after a hard day's work.

In The Smell Of season two, the 'Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding' skit is no longer pre-recorded, but performed live in the studio. Including a cupboard that keeps closing up on Vic Reeves, and his moustache falling off. Once again, Mortimer can keep a straight face, but Reeves has a hard time.

Tommy Cooper, as a one-man show, would perhaps fit this as well. He basically ridicules himself throughout his shows.

Overall, often comedians 'breaking character' seems more fun than the actual rehearsed routine. That's a reason live shows are so much fun. I'd advise you to check out Bottom Live (Mayall and Edmundson) (a bootleg DVD is floating around the interwebs with 5 of their live shows) and The Fast Show Live. Especially the Bottom shows are great, with a lot of (seemingly) unscripted mayhem. They even break out into a short Father Ted routine half-way through one of them.
posted by Harry at 2:13 AM on March 15, 2007

Best answer: There was quite lot of planned fourth-wall breakage in A Bit of Fry and Laurie. The Sound Name sketch is a typical example.
posted by teleskiving at 4:59 AM on March 15, 2007

Also, I'd recommend the Wayne's World films if you haven't seen them in a while, they are full of that kind of thing.
posted by teleskiving at 5:22 AM on March 15, 2007

I don't think I understand the question. What does the "man this is a stupid question" fourth wall thing have to do with double acts? A set of two comedians can either break the fourth wall or not and a single comedian can do it or not. The concepts are completely orthogonal, especially when planned.
posted by DU at 5:31 AM on March 15, 2007

Look at the old Muppet Show routines with a human guest playing the foil to a bunch of muppets. In a lot of them, the joke is that the muppets are doing something bizzare and the guest just can't keep their composure. I can't remember examples off the top of my head, but I know there are some that end with the guest appealing to the audience or the camera for help.

Really, all the jokes in the Muppet Show were take-offs on some dramatic cliché or another. They're a gold mine for this sort of meta-humor.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:53 AM on March 15, 2007

Response by poster: You're right DU, I just figured it happened most of the time with double acts. Y'know with one of the pair rolling his/her eyes at some dumb retort that the partner makes.

And klangklangston - that's exactly what I'm talking about, I thought about including it in my questions but since the premise of the shows is a "fictional documentary", I'm not sure if there's a real fourth wall to break,
posted by jourman2 at 6:44 AM on March 15, 2007

Response by poster: * the show

stupid brain
posted by jourman2 at 6:50 AM on March 15, 2007

90% of Bugs Bunny (And, really, Looney Tunes in general) cartoons do this.
posted by softlord at 6:58 AM on March 15, 2007

How about the Q series with Spike Milligan - lots of corpsing and deliberately ending sketches with fourth wall breakage - I seem to remember several where all the characters in the sketch just turn towards the camera and say:
"What are we going to do now?"
(All simultaneoudly step towards camera)
"What are we going to do now?"
(All simultaneoudly step towards camera)
"What are we going to do now?"
(All simultaneoudly step towards camera)
"What are we going to do now?"
(All simultaneoudly step towards camera)
posted by Jofus at 7:04 AM on March 15, 2007

See also the comedic stylings of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Explicit asides to the audience to comment on the content and quality of the bits were a standard feature of the show.
posted by cortex at 8:22 AM on March 15, 2007

It seems to me that the "Burns and Allen" TV show was pretty much based on the kind of thing you're talking about, especially the segments when Burns talked directly to the camera about what was going on.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:39 AM on March 15, 2007

Penn and Teller do stuff like what you are asking about, where Teller is shaking his head and being like, "This is totally dumb."
posted by frecklefaerie at 8:46 AM on March 15, 2007

1993's Last Action Hero (starring Gov. Ahhhhnold) is entirely based on the concept of scripted fourth wall breaking for comedic effect (to varying degrees of success, though I still guffaw over the "superbly trained dogs" scene). Anyway, plot is a young fan is catapulted into the alternative and highly self-referential universe of his favorite action hero.

Ebert's review explains it better than I can.

(oh man, I can't believe I just outed myself as someone who watched this movie. And remembers it. And worse, is quasi-recommending it.)
posted by jamaro at 11:19 AM on March 15, 2007

I am not sure if this counts, but you might want to check out comedian Jim Gaffigan ( who breaks from his stand-up routine to criticize his act from an audience member's perspective.

"Oh, he's pale"
"All he talks about is cake!"
posted by rmless at 9:05 PM on March 15, 2007

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