Stefon: An Unexpected Love Story for the Ages

We have all heard of SNL. The long running late night comedy show has been running for about four decades and offers comedy in many forms such as satire, sketches, news updates, and more. One of the most popular story lines, however, is that of a guest star on weekend update: Stefon.

When Seth Meyers hosted Weekend Update, Stefon came on as a guide to New York City, offering crazy tourist advice covering parties, activities, and food. But Stefon became way more than just a side character, as the skit went on to receive multiple reiterations and formed into a full blown story.

Dramatic Comedy as applied to Aristotle’s definition (at the least) is a meaningful art form because it allows us to see humanity in exaggerated circumstances, and it is open enough to shape to what society wants. Stefon is an extremely exaggerated character, pointing out the almost absurd hipster customs and lifestyles of certain New Yorkers, as well as mocking the way they talk and dress. But despite the completely ridiculous satirical sketches, the audience started to become very connected to Stefon as a character, specifically when it came to his relationship with Seth Meyers. As the seasons went on, people watching the show recognized a flirtatious attitude forming between Stefon and Seth Meyers. Noticing this, the skits started to shape towards that potential romance. And in the pair, the audience members found a story to hold on to. Stefon as a concept is funny on his own, with the talents of Bill Hader and the writing of John Mulaney supporting the character, but he is also very human. And, what started as just a characterization, turned into a comic hero, with the story reflecting what society wanted.

What is so cool about this “dramatic comedy”, is that the story was never set in stone, perhaps because it was never really supposed to be a full story. But, as the sketch went on, and the people responded, a story was created out of it. Because of this, a very real very natural romantic comedy was formed out of almost nothing. And what is also wonderful about this example is the writers/actors ran with it. The comedic form is very open, and allows for these kinds of spur of the moment twists and changes. Stefon could have just stayed a simple side character, but instead turned into a whole character with a love interest and, (spoilers) in the end, a husband. When Bill Hader left the show, the writers concluded the skit the way it had built up until that point, with a dramatic episode ending in the marriage of Stefon and Seth.

Why We Need Comedians Like Wanda Sykes…and More Inclusive Specials

While I was thinking of different movies and shows to choose from, I realized that a lot of my favorite humor has come from stand-up specials and old SNL sketches this past year (and they are about the same length as movies at this point so I consider that long-form). As Netflix and Amazon have been making a more conscious effort to include original stand-ups from womxn and people of color, I’ve watched a lot of them. The comedy realm is yet another world, profession, and space in Hollywood that has become dominated by white cis males over the years. While most people can recognize comedic veterans like Robin Williams, Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, and Colin Jost, a lot would struggle to put a face to names like Chelsea Handler, Tiffany Haddish, Aidy Bryant, Wanda Sykes, Ali Wong, Iliza Shlesinger, Lily Singh, Samantha Bee, Ilana Glazer…and while the list could go on forever. In this sense, I think comedy is one of the most powerful mediums in understanding the human condition. While there is still a long way to go in giving representation to everyone, it gives a voice and a stage to people who might not get one otherwise. We get to hear- and most importantly laugh at- experiences specific to genders/races that are different from us. And stand-up specials adhere to the definition of comedy because they are a form of reflection after a life-changing event where the comedian is a better person afterwards.

Given the current political climate, many comedians have used their shows as a chance to speak out against injustices. They use careful humor as a way to shed light on political issues and encourage people to vote (i.e Ilana Glazer in “The Planet is Burning, and Dave Chapelle in Sticks and Stones). But my favorite example from this past year is Wanda Sykes in her special “Not Normal”. Sykes- a regular on Curb Your Enthusiasm- has spent a lot of her career commenting on politics. She was even the first African American womxn to host the Correspondents Association dinner. Her pushback against Trump is smart, funny, and increasingly relevant. She educates her viewers, and shares a point of view we rarely see in comedy, let alone in Hollywood. As a female of color and a part of the LGBTQ+ community, Sykes has shown how important it is to use a platform of fame wisely and what we can learn from it. This is why we need comedy and it’s also why we need representation; we need to learn about experiences that are different from ours and have alternative outlets of educating ourselves. And we need someone with a platform to call out corrupt politicians like Trump, and humor is a great way to do that.

“Love Actually” as a Treatment for Society

2003’s “Love Actually” is a heartwarming romantic comedy revolving around many British characters of various social and economic groups during the holidays. With how wide of a net it casts romantically, it has something for everyone to slightly relate to. The movie follows roughly nine subplots all seamlessly intertwined with one another without barging in, but for the sake of understanding the importance of comedy, the plots to follow are between Harry and Karen.

Harry, played by Alan Rickman, is a high ranking director of a design agency and happily married to Karen, played by Emma Thompson. Karen stays at home to look after their children while Harry works in the office. A new secretary named Mia (played by Heike Makatsch) is hired at the office, and immediately begins to show attention to Harry. Throughout this plot, Harry grows increasingly more fond of Mia and begins to have an affair with her, despite having a wife and children. His wife catches on during Christmas where she expected to receive a necklace that she found in Harry’s jacket, but instead receives a CD. She soon finds out about the affair, but decides to think of her kids and stay with Harry. The reason why this plot is so significant is because it uses comedy to normalize familial trauma and difficulties. By using comedy, Love Actually, removes the stigma from the conversation of divorce and infidelity. It starts a conversation by not putting the conflict between Harry and Karen in a dark depressive tone, but instead a comedically tragic one. Comedy, in general, but specifically in this case, is necessary for society because it helps us process and eventually accept pain. While this comedy isn’t necessarily trying to make us laugh, it does take a slightly lighter tone to the sometimes heartbreaking truths of reality.

Satire in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

When I was thinking about this project and the piece of work I would pick, I thought of all the really good comedies i’ve seen. And instantly, I thought of the Oscar-nominated, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. And the more I thought about it, this film has many different satirical elements that make the movie so good. For starters, Tarantino really employs the use of parody in his movie. The entire film is set in the 60s and he pays homage to his favorite spaghetti western movies by having his actors almost mock the feelings of the actors in the time. For starters, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character has been rumored to be based off a ton of different actors from the 60s. His constant outbursts and breakdowns shed light on how hard a changing industry can be on an actor.

SPOILER ALERT:

But probably the most apparent use of Satire is the ending with the Manson family. Tarantino is known to rewrite history in some of his movies and that is exactly what he did involving the tragic murder that took place in Hollywood 50 years ago. At the end of the film, three of Charles Manson’s cult members came to murder Sharon Tate and a few of her friends because Charles Manson had a problem with the person who owned the house before them. But before they could get to Tate (like they did in real life), Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) violently murdered all three of them. Booth having his dog maul one and bashing the head of the other into a brick wall, and Dalton blow torching the third person. This whole situation is very hyperbolic considering they could have easily hurt them and called the police. But the point of this scene is to show how this tragedy could have ended in a completely different way. By making the death of these three murderers so gruesome and overdramatic, he is giving respect to Sharon Tate and he’s showing that if more people paid attention to suspicious people like that, things like this wouldn’t happen.

Jojo Rabbit – A Nazi-Mocking Satire

Jojo Rabbit is a 2019 American movie that takes comedic drama to an unexpected place: Nazi Germany. Its protagonist, Jojo, is a young boy coming of age during World War II. His thoughts are revealed during conversations with his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler. As a devoted German youth, he reveres Adolf, creating an imaginary version of his hero which is fanciful and absurd. Ultimately, when Jojo learns that his mother has been hiding a Jewish girl in their wall and is a member of the resistance, he has to come to terms with his allegiance to his country and the family he loves.

Aristotle defines comedy as a story of the rise in fortune of a sympathetic character, which in this case is Jojo. He is a young naive boy, blindly devoted to the Hitler of his imagination; his confidante who he leans on for advice and guidance. JoJo’s Hitler dances, jokes around and is lighthearted. When Jojo joins the Nazi Youth he realizes the imagined version of his hero is not the reality. He sees firsthand the brutality of the war and treatment of the Jews. At the same time, he forms a relationship with the teenage Jewish girl Elsa whom his mother has been hiding. He asks her to reveal her “Jew secrets” so he can write a book to please the Nazi leader Klenzendorf. While listening to her story he grows to like her, breaking down the Jewish stereotypes he has been taught. So, Jojo’s rise in fortune is not the monetary kind, but the enhancement of his moral character and perspective.

Jojo Rabbit encompasses every type of comedy. It is farcical in the way it depicts Hitler as a zany, comically absurd character. It is a romantic comedy with a budding relationship with likable young characters, who seem made for each other. It has strong elements of satirical comedy, in Jojo’s youthful admiration of Hitler as a superstar and in its portrayal of Nazis. It is clearly a black comedy that invites us to laugh at events that are horrifying and grotesque.

Jojo Rabbit is a meaningful dramatic comedy that enhances our understanding of a brutal time in history. It shows a different take on the Nazi youth mindset, and their blind devotion to Hitler. It also delves into the dark conscience of a child trying to make sense of his world, when everything is not as it seems and Hitler is not the hero he believed. Comedy makes the subject more palpable and easy to absorb. It juxtaposes the brutality of war, with the innocence of youth, through a comedic lens.

Why The Interview Got Cancelled because of Too Much Satire

The movie, The Interview with actors James Franco and Seth Rogan is a comedic action movie about how secluded North Korea is, and what happens when two outsiders enter the country. Two American men go to North Korea to meet the leader, Kim Jong Un. As you all know, North Korea is a very secure country, no one is allowed in or out. However, in this movie, Kim Jong Un in a big fan of Franco’s and Rogan’s character’s television show. He loves it so much, they are invited to North Korea, which is very strange, but exciting for the United States to get some insight on the country and the dictatorship of North Korea.

Currently, it is kind of unknown how North Korea runs as a country, but in this movie the satire really shows how we stereotypically think. Hyperbole is often used by over stepping boundaries that are a risk to be said throughout the film. There is a lot of exaggeration throughout the movie, but the world doesn’t know much about North Korea, some of it could be true. Regardless, the movie is not afraid to use humor and exaggeration to make the film as real and raw as possible.

The humor used in this movie is not carefully placed at all. The actors have no filter, hence why this movie got cancelled. It was too dirty and mean that people were threatening attacks on movie theaters that played the movie and it was also nicknamed “the movie of terrorism.”

Roman Holiday: A Roman-tic Comedy

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INCLUDES SPOILERS
Roman Holiday, directed by William Wyler, is possibly one of the best romantic comedies of the twentieth century. The film stars Audrey Hepburn as the touring European royal, Princess Ann. Her co-star, Gregory Peck, plays the American reporter, Joe Bradley. While on her tour of Rome, Princess Ann essentially has a mental break down about the “wholesome” values that she is forced to adhere to, as well as the tiresome schedule that she must follow day in and day out. Running away from the palace, Princess Ann runs into an American journalist that is desperate for a fresh story. In order to capture the princesses scandalous story without her knowledge, Joe pretends to be chemical salesmen. Princess Ann spends her Roman Holiday, smoking her first cigarette, eating gelato, cutting off her luscious hair, and crashing a Vespa. All the while, Joe begins to fall in love with the princess’s energetic spirit and begins to feel hesitant about leaking her story.

One of the key elements of Aristotle’s view of a comedy, is that it must be a story of the rise of fortune for a sympathetic central character. In the case of Roman Holiday, both of the central characters experience this. Though Princess Ann lives a seemingly lavish life, on the inside, she struggles with the pressures of conformity. By spending time with Joe, Princess Ann is exposed to the simple pleasures of life. By the end of the film, Hepburn’s character has gained a more worldly view and has a newly hopeful outlook on life. Joe Bradley undergoes a similar transformation. At the start of the film, Joe is in dire need of a scandalous newspaper story that will elevate his reputation and get him out of debt. Just before Joe is about to leak this exposing piece of journalism, he realizes that his emerging love for Princess Ann is worth much more. Though he does not rise in fame or status in the eyes of his fellow reporters, the audience can perceive that Joe is ultimately appeased and proud of his decision.

Unlike the traditional Shakespearean comedy, this particular film does not end with marriage or a relationship of any sort. This peculiar and heart-wrenching ending adds to the nuance and the brilliance of the comedy. The ending does not fit the typical cliche format of many popular romantic comedies. The realism of the ending provides unique a substantive quality to the story line. In essence, the director does not prioritize the romantic story line over Princess Ann’s sense of duty and responsibility to her position. Joe’s character even has respect for Ann’s choice to return to the crown, and resume her duties. This mutual recognition and acknowledgment for one another, makes the film even more valuable. And though the audience is left disappointed that their relationship does not succeed, the film leaves the audience with an image of a healthy relationship in mind. In many ways, Princess Ann’s return to the throne provides a feminist undertone. Instead of completely falling for her “prince charming”, Ann dutifully sacrifices her relationship, and returns home.

Not all aspects of this comedy surround romance though. What makes this film even more unique, is that it integrates comedy into dramatic, emotional, and action-packed scenes. Earlier in the film, Joe was forced to go to comedic measures to get the, accidentally-over medicated, Princess back home. When one of the members of the royal guard attempted to take Princess Ann back to the palace, Hepburn’s character retaliates by smashing a guitar over his head. These small and quirky scenes may not add to a larger theme about society, but they do provide an unparalleled level of entertainment.