Saturday Night Live has often spoofed things that most people didn't realize could be spoofed. In the 70s, John Belushi spoofed Japanese samurai films. Since the viewing audience, outside of possibly those dedicated to watching the cinema, were largely unaware of Japanese cinema, it was a peculiar thing to spoof, yet, it was done. More recently, Will Ferrell, who was, at one point, seemingly in every SNL skit in an effort of Cal Ripkinian magnitude, was spoofing James Lipton in In the Actor's Studio.
This show is moderately obscure, and yet, being the movie geek that I am, I had seen this show a few times. New episodes were moderately rare. The show has been hosted by James Lipton, who Ferrell nearly captures dead on, for as long as I remember. The forum invites an actor--I remember Dennis Hopper, and then proceeds to go through the actor's history, his roles. It seems the goal is to pick a film or a role and have Lipton utter the name, and wait for the applause.
One time the show invited many members of the Simpsons cast. Hank Azaria, who voices Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the owner of the local quickie mart, whose character himself being spoofed when someone noticed that many of 7-11's were being run by those from the subcontinent. Lipton utters the name Agador Spartacus which is a role that Azaria played to flamboyant effect in The Birdcage, and the audience starts to clap, in admiration.
And who is the audience? These are folks in film school who aspire to be actors or directors or some such. Most of them want to be actors (thus the name, Inside the Actor's Studio).
The SNL spoofing must have done something to increase the popularity of what must have been an obscure show. This coincided, I imagine, with the huge growth of cable. People who were curious who James Lipton was could simply turn over to Bravo and watch the show. Indeed, as I write, here's the link to the show. Tom Hanks is guest starring on the latest episode, for a second time.
There's a similarly obscure show for NPR types, and let's face it, were it not for the lack of news content, Inside the Actor's Studio seems very NPR-ish, a bit snooty, a bit erudite. That show is called Wait, Wait--Don't Tell Me.
Once upon a time, short of listening to late nite monologues, the steady diet of political humor came from Mark Russell, who would write songs that spoofed politics. His show would come out about once a month, and it was a one-man routine, with him standing in front of the piano, belting out tunes. I remember watching and finding it hilarious, and then, not so hilarious. I don't even know if his show is on anymore.
In the DC are, there are The Capitol Steps, who also make political spoof their part and parcel.
However, I'd say the king of these shows is Wait, Wait--Don't Tell Me hosted by Peter Sagal, who I thought was, at one point, Bill Maher. Normally, the show is hosted somewhere in Wisconsin or so (I think, though that would certainly limit the people who could be on the show, unless they work remotely).
Peter Sagal has a deadpan humor. Like many comedians, he's quick-thinking which allows him to say funny things. What helps, however, is that he has many co-hosts, who are into political humor, and they can feed off each other to funnier and funnier heights.
This weekend, and quite coincidentally, they had Tom Hanks as the special guest. Usually, with special guests, they make them take a political quiz and this week it was Tom Hanks. Now, Hanks has to be the biggest star the show has ever had. And it doesn't hurt that Hanks had a background in comedy, so even as they are making fun of stuff, he, too, can join along.
Sometime before this, they were talking about an incident that occurred to Bush. He had been asked what his greatest accomplishment as President was (one of the guys uttered "I'm President??") and he said of all the things he'd done, it was catching a 7.5 pound perch in his lake, which is what he said in an interview in the German newspaper, Bild.
Then, Sagal goes "but first, I tried diplomacy", then he thought "but who can trust the word of a mad fish", trying to invoke images of Osama while telling this joke. Then, someone, I think it was Paula Poundstone, goes "when it was caught, there was the huge sign 'Mission Accomplished'---it was hard getting the aircraft carrier in that lake", trying to juxtapose a real scene (when Bush declared "mission accomplished" in the invasion of Iraq) onto a different scene, and showing the absurdity, and thus mining humor out of this. Another guy interjects and said the sign actually read "Fishing Accomplished".
Of course, one thing that makes a show funnier is when you hear people laughing. It's easier to make people laugh, when there are plenty of folks who laugh with you. Recounting this scene is not so funny, but in the context, when everyone is cracking up is indeed funny. (I'm vaguely reminded of one of these viral videos where a dad of quintuplets is filming his babies, and is likely making goofy faces, and these babies just laugh. It's rather spooky, but shows how contagious laughing is, even at that age).
Tom Hanks was partly on the show to promote the film that's been hyped up this summer, the movie version of The DaVinci Code. Much of the commentary by Peter Sagal had to do with what a nice guy Tom Hanks is. He said they were surprised to find that Hanks is a pretty competitive guy, part of his upbringing with brothers who taunted him. They brought up his old films like "Turner and Hooch" and "Mazes and Monsters", a made for TV film that I vaguely recall watching, about some mystery associated with playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. At the time, parents were concerned their kids were getting into satanism and the occult, even though it was the precursor to modern MMORPGS.
So listen to Wait, Wait--Don't Tell Me if you're into political topical humor.
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