Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Joke Dissection 1.03 [Web Exclusive for Sit Down, Shut Up]

A lot of the humor in this piece comes from the obvious gulf between the emotion that's intended to be conveyed and the one that's plainly visible through body language (something the animation department for Sit Down, Shut Up is going to have to figure out how to simulate for these two voice actors post-haste).

By now, everyone who is a Will Arnett fan is aware of what he's doing here: contrasting his gravelly, leading-man voice and general belligerence against his blatantly insecure physical presence and general stupidity. It is the man's bread and butter.

So, instead, I want to focus on Jason Bateman's performance and some of his contributions to the straight man archetype. Namely: focused, measured and self-serving rage under a gossamer onion-cloth of feigned politeness; the ridiculous extremes of his insincerity, like his repeated suggestion that, maybe, the embarrassing details he's disclosing about Arnett should be run by him and possibly cut; the conspiratorial half wink when he says, "You have to keep your eye on" Arnett's various hair pieces ...

I'm sure there are previous examples of this unreliable straight man routine (Oliver Hardy's blame-skirting moments comes to mind). However, what's interesting about Jason Bateman's anal retentive, unhappy and vindictive straight man is that he always comes across as superficially well-adjusted and successful. He's like a life-long eagle scout going through a bitter mid-life realization that working hard and following the rules hasn't gotten him where he wants to be.

(Actually, thinking about the long fallow period in the middle of his career arch, I wonder to what extent this is the comic archetype he was born to play.)

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