Monday, July 09, 2012

Handicapping the Best Comedy Emmy

I’ll be very curious to see what shows get nominated in the Best Comedy category for the Emmys. There seems to be two very distinct camps this year – the mainstream group and the off-beat contingent.

The mainstream group would select THE BIG BANG THEORY, 30 ROCK, PARKS & RECREATION, (I’d say TWO AND A HALF MEN but no one’s going to vote for that), THE OFFICE, MODERN FAMILY, and new challengers like THE MIDDLE, HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, RAISING HOPE, HOT IN CLEVELAND, and NEW GIRL. (Sorry 2 BROKE GIRLS, WHITNEY, ARE YOU THERE, CHELSEA?  If any "trash talking girl" new show sneaks in it will be THE B... IN APT 23)

Then there are the fans of the more adventurous sitcoms. LOUIE., GIRLS, WILFRED, VEEP, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, NURSE JACKIE, IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, and MAGIC CITY (that’s not a comedy? Really? Have you seen it?).

The problem with these shows is that you have people who passionately love them, others who actively hate them, and a large majority of voters who have never seen them. Remember, many older Academy members may not be employable but they’re not dead.

And then there’s COMMUNITY. Here’s a show with a loyal fan base, but a very small one. It’s a critics’ darling and a fanboy favorite. Added spice is that creator/showrunner Dan Harmon got Ann Curryed. So in the buzz department this show is in the stratosphere. But COMMUNITY also has its detractors. They point to its unevenness and the fact that it’s geared so exclusively to younger demographics that it’s almost like they don't want anyone over thirty watching it (and they're getting their wish).

On the other hand, there are a lot of younger Academy members. Might they just tip the scale? Very possible.  But my question is this: If you’re voting for COMMUNITY are you doing that because you think it’s the best comedy or because you want to make a statement? You want to stick it to NBC for firing Harmon? You want to prove that just the sheer muscle of an internet campaign can influence and maybe decide an Emmy?

Emmy wins have been used to save shows. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT had a longer life because it won the Best Comedy Emmy. At one time an Emmy win would translate into higher ratings. That was certainly the case with CHEERS. But not with ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. The people who didn’t respond to ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT could not be swayed by a gold statuette. So even if COMMUNITY should win, would that result in a big uptick in its numbers? I’m guessing not. I believe the Academy was somewhat embarrassed that ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT’S win had so little impact and they wouldn’t relish that scenario happening again. Would that influence voters? Would some think “why waste a vote on this?”

For the most part, members voting for shows like LOUIE and GIRLS are doing it to make a statement. Comedy doesn’t have to be familiar. It can be daring and take new forms. And that’s great. But I don’t see experimental sitcoms as a “cause.” To me the Emmys are not an occasion to storm the palace gates.

My only yardstick is what sitcoms were the FUNNIEST? At least to me. I voted for shows that make me laugh – regardless of network or coolness factor. Who did I vote for? I’ll let you know when the nominations came out just how in or out of sync I was with the Academy.

But however it shakes down, at least there’s some real suspense this year.

(Okay: Hint. I didn’t vote for WHITNEY or ROB!)


nerkul said...

Community is not just my favourite sitcom of all time but also the only show that genuinely made me happy. It deserves to win on quality. It obviously won't be nominated because Emmy voters can watch The Big Bang Theory or Two and a Half Men without wanting to shoot themselves in the head. They're a different kind of people: not television lovers or humanists in any particular way.

Harley said...

The problem with Community and ratings is Community episodes only cater to their fans and do nothing for the casual viewer. That's also why I think it's one of the best shows on television.

Anonymous said...

Ken has learned that trolling Community fans will get him pageviews. He's not as stupid as his inability to list the correct names of shows (Louie) might indicate.

leor said...

i was going to point out in a much nicer way than Anonymous did that Louis CK's show is actually just titled Louie.

it's a fair enough mistake, hardly something worth calling Ken stupid over. but then again, an Anonymous troll is probably one of those pageviews s/he is referring to...

Bill McCloskey said...

A little respect: the show is called Louie, not Louis CK. As for the comment about Community and the under 30 crowd: I'm 58 and Community is one of my favorite new shows. I actually turned my 18 year old and 22 year old son on to it. Any show that can do a parody of My Dinner With Andre is definitely NOT just trying to reach the under 30 crowd. My son got the joke because his father turned HIM on to the My Dinner With Andre film. I wonder how many under 30's understood the references from the film or had even heard of the film. Instead of making the dividing line age, how about IQ: Some shows aim at the under 100 IQ range. Community aims for the 120 and above crowd.

Nathan said...

I'm voting for "...B in Apt. 23". And it's NOT just because they hire me every time they shoot in NY.


Oliver said...

I find it odd that you don't think anyone over 30 would appreciate Community given that Community is full of 80s and early 90s cultural references (i.e. The Right Stuff, My Dinner with Andre, The Color of Money, TV clip shows, stop-motion animation, Goodfellas, Hearts of Darkness, NES videogames, Cookie Crisp Wizard, Ghost, 80s action films, Law & Order, Ken Burns' The Civil War etc).

It's a crime if the Community episode Remedial Chaos Theory doesn't win a writing Emmy.

I think Community is the most creative comedy on television. The funniest is Happy Endings (by a huge margin).

That said, I think it's a bit ridiculous to measure a comedy by its laugh-count. It's a bit like measuring drama based on heart-tugging moments. It's missing the wood for the trees.

Anonymous said...

1: I'm over 60 and think Community is one of the funniest shows out there. Uneven, but funny.
2: Since Curry was let go after D.H. shouldn't you say she was Harmonized?
3: As for the NBC exec who had to bad mouth her as a way of explaining why she was demoted, I've been watching Today since a monkey was its co-host (to all those under 30 I'm being serious). Letting Ann Curry go is your decision and makes no difference to me. Bad-mouthing a good, solid employee for no reason was also your decision. But one that has gotten me to stop watching the show. So until you're gone, so am I. We'll teach you whippersnappers manners, we will.

Ken Levine said...
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Ken Levine said...
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Ken Levine said...

Here's a trend I've noticed, and maybe I'm wrong; you tell me. COMMUNITY fans tend to be more defensive and angry than fans of any other show.

You're welcome to love whatever show you want. If you're 100 and you love COMMUNITY, God bless you. If you have an IQ of 185 and you love COMMUNITY, I'm thrilled for you.

And if you love COMMUNITY, you should be happy. Despite its low ratings NBC picked it up.

But the fact remains, it doesn't have a large audience. So you may love it, and that's terrific, but lots and lots and lots and lots of other people don't. And some of these same people who don't like COMMUNITY share your political preference, root for the same sport teams as you do, agree with you on other shows, etc.

I stand by my opinion of why I think the show is not embraced by more viewer. You can always find exceptions. But who cares what I think? If the show appeals to you just enjoy it.

Larry said...

Community is by far the best sitcom around (and yes, I'm over 30). For whatever reasons, it doesn't get big ratings, but really, how many people actually watch cable shows like Louie or Girls?

In fact, even the hits like Big Bang Theory or Modern Family get pretty small numbers compared to days of Cheers or Cosby or Seinfeld.

The audience is split into smaller factions, but it's the job of the Emmys to recognize quality, not popularity. I like Modern Family, but it's time for something new.

Charles H. Bryan said...

I'd be tempted to vote for The Big Bang Theory because who honestly thought that the show would still be on this long? And, it makes me laugh -- as in, it STILL makes me laugh, which surprises me.

The B in Apt 23 -- I'd be surprised if it was nominated this year, just because of its short run, but if it's as funny next year for a whole season it'd certainly deserve it.

Oliver said...

I think lots of people genuinely do love Community/Louie/Girls and I think the idea that people are only voting for them because they're trying to make a statement or tokenism rather than because they genuinely like the show is both rather provocative and dismissive. There are people who genuinely love those shows and think they deserve to be nominated on merit.

Similarly, I'm not sure why you don't expect people to respond to a comment like "geared so exclusively to younger demographics that it's almost like they don't want anyone over thirty watching it". This comment is just bizarre: it's a show created by a guy in his 30s, it's full of 80s and early 90s references, and half the characters are in their 30s or older. Community is not Glee or Awkward..

People are always going to get "angry and defensive" towards provocative statements. The difference is that people who like Community are very vocal and passionate and will respond to them.

As for ratings, Community's ratings are modest for a network show but aren't that low overall: shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Episodes and Hot in Cleveland get lower ratings and get Emmy nominations. The highest rated episode of Mad Men ever got lower ratings than the lowest rated episode of Community. Matt LeBlanc was nominated for lead actor last year for Episodes, a show which gets less than half a million viewers (and is terrible, but Emmy voters love their inside baseball and established names, I guess).

Besides, 30 Rock got lower ratings than Community this season and Parks & Recreation barely gets better ratings for Community. No-one is watching any comedy on NBC, so I don't know why Community especially stands out in that regard (I'm deliberately ignoring Smash as it's an unintentional comedy).

Michelle said...

Ahhhhh! You knocked Episodes. I love that show. It counts as one of the 2 or 3 three shows that I will watch when it airs. For some reason I feel that, moreso than Girls, the situations in that show are pulled from someone's actual experiences.

Also a fan of Community. I like the fact that they are willing to not follow convention. I don't mind that the episodes can be a little uneven. I find that I can appreciate the effort of the bad ones. After all, when you swing for the fences you can still... well, there's a baseball metaphor in there somewhere.

I, for one, am glad that Community was picked up for another year. Woo hoo!

I wonder what the overlap would be between people who watched Arrested Development and people watch Community?

-bee said...

Cougartown is the funniest sitcom on TV* and has at least MY hypothetical vote, dammit.

Running a somewhat distant second are Suburgatory and How I Met Your Mother, a show I came late to so am not seeing how its 'so not what it was' as long-time fans complain.

I think "Don't Trust the B" has a good shot because a major character is an actor, and it seems like Emmy folks like to vote for things that hit close to home (ergo no Emmys for The Wire).

(* I don't have cable so can't speak for those shows)

Mike Schryver said...

I'm all for COMMUNITY, although it has every chance of being a zombie next year.

But claiming that it's not just for younger viewers because it has '80s and '90s references sounds a little silly to me. If the pop culture references are a defining feature of the show, and they only go back to the '80s and not earlier, that to me is evidence that the show is targeting a younger audience, and not vice versa, as Oliver is trying to say. Older people would get references from much farther back than the '80s.

Bradley said...

I don't understand what the big deal is about Community (I just don't find it funny), but I agree that its fans are devoted ones. Part of me thinks the chatter around it being so low rated is perpetuated by the producers in order to coax its ardent fans to become more vocal in online communities and show their support by sending letters to NBC. Oliver makes a good point by saying it's not the only low rated comedy on NBC that keeps getting renewed, yet it is the one that manages to land magazine covers and endless Yahoo articles, all pointing to its "will it or won't it?" renewal status. Brilliant PR, if you ask me.

I wonder, Ken, if you've had a chance to go back to Veep and give it another shot. I can't think of a comedy series that's made me laugh as loud or as often all season. It took me a few episodes to fully get into it, but now I think it's the best show on TV, comedy or otherwise. I went back and re-watched all 8 episodes and laughed even harder the second time around. The way the actors click with each other and the material is magic to me.

Baylink said...

FWIW, Every. Single. Time this season that I belly laughed at a bit, it was on Community.

Ok, Bin23 may have gotten one, TBBT may have gotten one. Community got like 20 or 30.

And I just turned 47. It's not solely age, I don't think, Ken.

Emily Blake said...

Community season 1 ep "Modern Warfare" (Paintball) was easily the best half hour of television produced that year, and it was not nominated. Then there was that episode where they played Dungeons and Dragons with Fat Neil. Not nominated.

I don't expect them to ever be nominated, but they will always be the awesomest in my over-thirty heart.

Emmy Voter said...

There's no doubt that we Emmy voters are sometimes a strange lot. Does anyone remember Ellen Burstyn's nomination for a performance that was less than 30 seconds of screen time a couple of years ago? A wonderful actress, but, come on. In her defense, she had nothing to do with it, and I think even said something to that effect.

I respect "Community" and nominated the script with all the alternate universes this year, but when it came to a series nomination, I thought the season as a whole just didn't hold up and I left it off my ballot. I'm hoping the acting branch remembered the work of the outstanding cast, though, especially Joel McHale and Danny Pudi (who gives a more convincing portrayal of someone on the autistic scale than Jesse Eisenberg did in the Facebook film last year).

Awards are always suspect, though. I remember being on a panel several years ago when the episode of "Ellen" where she came out was nominated. The room was filled with a bloc of voters that guffawed at virtually every line as the episode was played (this was in the days when we gathered at the Beverly Hilton and watched everything together). They were clearly campaigning for their favorite, but anyone who has worked with live audiences is all too familiar with the "methinks the lady doth protest too much" kind of laughter that these guys were generating. All of it was forced, none of it was real, and it was downright annoying. Before I went in to judge, I had no doubt that this episode was going to win for all sorts of reasons that had nothing to do with the comedy. And it did. But I thought the "Frasier" episode was way better and I ranked that as my first choice. It just wasn't there year, I guess. Fortunately, they had other years.

Emmy Voter said...

Oops. I meant "Seinfeld" up above, not "Frasier"! Fortunately both shows were Emmy-rewarded in their time!

Little Miss Nomad said...

I land outside such labels, I guess, because I would vote for (I don't have HBO) Louie, Community, Parks & Recreation, The Big Bang Theory, Raising Hope, and Hot in Cleveland. Different kinds of comedy, but they all make me laugh.
I agree about Community's unevenness and disagree about it targeting itself at 30 and unders. If that were the case, it wouldn't have dedicated an entire episode to My Dinner with Andre. I don't think I'm defensive or angry about Community, but I am passionate about it. It's a show that gives 110%, has spectacular characters, and, when it gets everything right, makes magic. That's insanely rare in sitcoms.
Louie is just great TV. No one's voting for it to make a statement anymore than anyone's voting for Breaking Bad to make a statement. Like most sitcoms, Community might be a matter of taste, but I feel like Louie is in a whole different league.

D. McEwan said...

"the fact that [Community]’s geared so exclusively to younger demographics that it’s almost like they don't want anyone over thirty watching it (and they're getting their wish)."

I'm 62 and I've watched every episode of Comminunity. Is it my favorite show. No. (Doctor Who!) Do I think it's the funniest sit-com on? No. Is it the funniest half hour of Joel McHale I get every week? No, that's The Soup. Does it have Chevy Chase to mock my generation's cluelessness? Yes.

I think it is, however, the most creative, risk-taking, enevelope-pushing half-hour on a network. Sometimes those risks fail and a dead half hour comes out, or a tiresome one. That comes with risk-taking, but wonderful, jaw-dropping amazing shows also come with risk-taking. Playing it safe may yield consistency, even consistently good shows, Modern Family is consistently good, but isn't the willingness to take those risks, to walk the highwire over over Niagara, and without being tethered to the line as Wallenda was, what awards should be for? Shouldnt we reward the risk-takers? Shouldn't we forgive the continued employing of Chevy Chase, which is, after all, harder on them than it is on us?

Best over-all comedy week in, week out? Yes, Modern Family, but Community has more guts and courage, and that's worth a lot to this viewer. I do hope the new showrunner doesn't screw it up.

Bill McCloskey said...

"COMMUNITY fans tend to be more defensive and angry than fans of any other show."

Aw..come on Ken. Because fans are vocal in their enthusiasm, that doesn't make them defensive or angry. I'm a pussy cat but I love the show.

Here is the way I look at it: I don't expect shows like Community to even be made and shown on network TV. When they are, I'm delighted and surprised and I try to turn on as many people as possible. There are so few really great smart shows that work on broadcast tv (and you were involved in most of them): Frasier, Cheers, Seinfeld, Modern Family. Got to support them all we can.

Johnny Walker said...

I've tried to get into Communty, but it just feels soulless to me. I'll give it another go eventually.

My guesses for Ken's vote: Parks and Rec, Modern Family, and 2 Broke Girls (kidding).

I'm personally very partial to How I Met Your Mother, but is it the funniest thing on TV? Hmm.

Pat Reeder said...

I'm well over 30, but add me to the "Community" brigade. I think it's far and away the most creative half hour of comedy on TV. And I'm not angry about anything, except NBC's half-witted decision to replace the creator who makes it the special show that it is. It's called "Community," not "Committee."

It's easily the best thing on NBC's over-hyped Thursday night. "Parks & Rec" is likable and occasionally makes me laugh out loud, but it doesn't blow me away. I bowed out of "The Office" around the time Will Ferrell stank it up, and occasional checks back in confirmed the wisdom of that decision. "30 Rock" used to be really good, but lately has become hit and miss, with too many wildly over-the-top characters and situations, and dialogue exchanges that are obvious stretches for wacky replies that have actually become predictable in their wackiness.

Of the other shows you mentioned, the one that has the highest ratio of quality and creativity to "unjust overlookedness" would probably be "The Middle."

ellen said...

I think that the 'cool' shoes are also the funniest shows on television at the moment. I just about cracked a rib watching this weeks Louie (specifically the way Melissa Leo said Obama). Then again I'm 22 so I guess Ken and I were never going to like the same thing. With regard to community, if you don't love it don't vote for it but I really struggle to understand how anyone could not love that show.

Dana Gabbard said...

Friday question:

Jennifer Weiner talked on NPR about her experiences in the writer's room while co-showrunning a show she created, complaining "very few women writing shows or in writers' rooms" and makes similar noises of not getting due recognition in the literary world.

Do you think she has a valid gripe?

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

Am I really the only person who thinks Archer is (easily) the funniest thing on TV, or does animation have its own category?

I agree with Ken times a thousand re: Community and its fans. But I have to confess my own pretty strong bias: Just seeing Chevy Chase puts me in a bad mood.

Craig M said...

The funniest episode I saw this year may have been "The Book Job" episode of "The Simpsons," a show that isn't allowed to sit at the grownup's table.

joeyang said...

I'm no expert, but I think Community is the most creative, daring, AND funny show in a long time. I think the firing of Dan Harmon is symptomatic of something wrong with the TV industry, that someone that ingenious (however difficult to work with) could be exiled from his own show. When you find genius, you don't worry about the bottom line. You just give him what he wants, and he'll give you the Sistine Chapel.

Bob S. said...

My vote would definitely be for Parks & Rec. I've seen a couple of episodes of Community and it wasn't worth bothering about - similar to Arrested Development. On another note, IFC showed the Australian version of Wilfred last year, and it is superior to any comedy mentioned here. The FX remake has been dumbed down, unfortunately.

The Milner Coupe said...

Coming to the discussion kinda late. Doesn't matter as I seem to be in a very small minority. I think Episodes was the funniest comedy last year.

I don't think you have to be under thirty to like Community, just have an IQ floating around that average. It's stupid. You can call the punchlines a scene ahead. It's like Harold and Kumar every week but without the wit of Neil Patrick Harris.

Modern Family was good as were In The Middle and The Simpsons. I still Like 30 Rock. Louie is great sometimes.

You have to be half baked to enjoy Big Bang Community Half Men Bitches. And not in a good way.

tc said...

I think "Modern Family" will win the series Emmy again, but that Harmon will win for Comedy Writing.

The real contest will be in Drama, where "Game of Thrones" and "Homeland" are new and exciting, "Breaking Bad" is long overdue, and "Mad Men" has lost a lot of its luster.

Jango said...

Modern family has become stale, they seem to be on the verge of recycling plot lines.

I'm over 30 and I love community, its definitely one of the smartest comedies out there, there is always a subtle moral to most of the episodes that is never spelled out, such as in the episode titled 'remedial chaos theory', where we surmise that it is actually Jeff, who is the leader of the group, that actually holds everyone back.

Happy Endings and New Girl are also quite good, something different, something fresh.

I just hope big bang theory does not win any more emmys, although the writing is clever at times, the plots and character advancements are very very weak, and most episodes are just not funny! It's trying way too hard.

Brian Doan said...

Ken, I love your blog, and I'm very grateful that you're here, and that you're willing to not only share your experiences and insights, but to generously interact and answer questions (trust me, there are folks out there with blogs who are much less famous and accomplished than you that never, ever do that). And I grew up watching your work on shows like M*A*S*H, CHEERS (my all-time favorite sitcom) and FRAISER. I also love VOLUNTEERS.

And I say all that, not to kiss your ass, but to frame what follows: I think you're being really disingenuous when you express shock and/or dismay over people's responses to your COMMUNITY remarks. I think you make some good points about audiences and demographics, but when you phrase those points like this-- "the fact that it’s geared so exclusively to younger demographics that it’s almost like they don't want anyone over thirty watching it (and they're getting their wish)...But my question is this: If you’re voting for COMMUNITY are you doing that because you think it’s the best comedy or because you want to make a statement? You want to stick it to NBC for firing Harmon? You want to prove that just the sheer muscle of an internet campaign can influence and maybe decide an Emmy?"--then you really can't be surprised that people are getting "defensive." We can have an argument over the "fact" that Harmon and his writing staff make the references that they do to grab a younger demographic (I don't agree-- I think the references work as a gateway to the humanity of damaged characters who don't otherwise know how to interact with people they care about (Abed hides behind/expresses himself through movies in the same way that Diane Chambers hid/expressed herself through pretentious literary gestures-- that's what the whole "My Dinner With Andre" episode explored), and work as texture and color, as much as meta-reference; you might disagree. We can debate the strategic or ethical difference between younger voters trying to make a point/build an audience by supporting COMMUNITY, and an earlier generation doing the same by supporting low-rated NBC shows like HILL STREET BLUES and CHEERS. We can ponder the aesthetics of an Academy that's seen fit to reward Jim Parsons more than once.

But, c'mon-- you're a professional writer, who's proven time and again that he knows the power of words. And yours were designed to provoke. Coming back on and getting angry when they do is, well, very Pierce Hawthorne of you.

And yeah, I'm another over-30 who loves the show. And I actually think your remarks about COMMUNITY are better linked to GIRLS, a program that feel wholly designed to be a show-offy Rorschach test (and has clearly succeeded, even though its acolytes seem bunched more among gob-smacked boomers than Dunham's own twentysomething generation, who've been far more cynical in their responses to her work).

Dave said...

Louie has to be one of the most alienating comedies I've ever seen. I understand that people may not get Community. But I can't imagine they will be made as uncomfortable and possibly offended as they could be with Louie. And as with Community's weirdness (or geekyness), that's part of Louie's appeal.

I'm not sure what larger point I was going to make there. I guess it's just that Community isn't alone in being made for a fairly specific audience.

Chester said...

Despite its cleverness and its hip current and retro cultural references, Community has failed to grab me. I find the characters thin and one-dimensional. Someone else here mentioned soulless. I agree. Plus, I find Abed and Troy's obsession with pillow forts and dreamatoriums more weird than funny. It's one joke stretched over way-too-many episodes... I still have episodes from season 3 I can't bring myself to watch. As interesting as the style of each episode may be, at its core is usually a fairly juvenile and disappointing story.

Stan said...

Ken, Just out of curiosity what's your sample size on Community and which episodes did you first watch? When I first started viewing the show, I was lukewarm on it. It took me about five episodes into season 1 for things to finally click with me. Now, I put it up there with my favorite comedies of all time.

And this is from someone over 30 who counts Cheers, Taxi, Seinfeld, the BBC Office, and Saved by the Bell as his all time favorites. Give it another shot. It's great. Totally kidding about Saved by the Bell by the way.

Pamela Jaye said...

everyone I know who loves Community is over 30. but then, I thought that the networks only liked you till you were 35?
I didn't like it at all at first, just humored the brother. after a while, Sepinwall said it was Meta. He was right. I love meta. I loved St. Elsewhere. I can only remember St. E - not actually see the good parts. The opening of the S3 premiere of Community reminds of what I have heard that St E. was painting the walls a light color cause the network said it was "too dark."
Brother says that every time he has lost his breath laughing this year, it's been Community. He's 47 but we are young at heart.

bevo said...

As someone who is over 30, I find Community to be funny at times. I work in the higher ed industry and spent a semester at a community college. The jokes about community colleges and higher education are pretty dead on. However, the comedy is lazy in a lot of places. The paintball episodes are inspired. The Halloween episodes limp along.

As to the rest of the comedies listed here, yawn. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia gets my vote (if it counted) because they take a lot of risks. The jokes are crude for crude sake at times. The set up, though, is never dull.

Archer, though, would get my vote. I can easily watch an episode three times and find something new to laugh at.