When local screen comedy hit viewers’ sweet spot
Viewers who diss and dismiss comedy shows on local TV as a livid, lurid and slapstick-y mess shouldn’t conclude that our homegrown laughmeisters are a hopeless lot.
There have been more salubrious times in the evolution of our country’s pop culture that laughter pealed with greater wit and style.
Yes, local comedy was initially borrowed or copied from American vaudeville shows, which delighted in slapping comedians to elicit “automatic” yelps of “humor.”
In the ’50s, however, some comedy films aspired for more organic and integral wit—and hit the mark.
They were paced by the movies of the antic likes of Romy Villaflor, Ben Feleo and Carlos Vander Tolosa, who didn’t go for the cheap jugular, but made viewers laugh at “the comedy of life.”
They bothered to come up with funny situations and interrelationships that they then proceeded to expand and detail into various risible or gauche setups, skits, jokes and punchlines.
This is a big departure from slapstick comedy, which shoots out an unselective series of eschatological gags and goony insults, to beat viewers into giggling and unthinking submission.
Situational comedy enabled humorous films to present and arrive at significant insights into the human condition that, at its best, could rival the power and persuasive force of drama.
Much later, situational comedy gave way to social satire, the earliest supreme exemplar of which was Manuel Conde’s “Juan Tamad Goes to Congress.”
That exceptional film is no longer extant, but veteran laughsmiths still point to it as the way to go in making viewers arrive at pithy insights into their shared condition as manipulated and victimized citizens.
Even later, the acerbically truth-telling films of Danny Zialcita followed suit, with similarly spot-on satirical accuracy.
And, on TV, martial law saw the rebellious rise of shows like “Mr. Minister,” “The Sic O’Clock News” and “Abangan ang Susunod na Kabanata.”
Zing and sting
Even on replay, decades after the fact, these bold and brave predictions still evince zing and sting, a proud testament to their abiding truth, courage and relevance.
So, what happened? If some of the efforts of the past were so “proud-making,” why have some or many of today’s comedy writers and directors opted, not for the integral and organic approach, but just to collect with 50 separate gags, puns and blackout skits, inspired by or downright copied from other sources, to come up with an hourlong “comedy” TV show?
We can put the blame on the TV medium’s insatiable hunger for new material, which forces writers to come up with “anything and everything,” long after they’ve exhausted their own “capital” of relatively original humor.
Some comedy shows have sunk so dismayingly low that dissatisfied viewers need to collectively speak up and read them the riot act, to persuade or even shame them into improving their comedic act and service.
If they still don’t get it, we can make it even clearer by opting not to watch their slipshod and thus unfunny shows—so, the laugh’s on them!
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