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Lunch Break

Last weekend, The New York Times Magazine had an article naming Zach Galifianakis the towering comedic genius of my generation.

Of all the Galifianakis clips, gags and sketches currently in Internet orbit, none have done more to cement his reputation as a leader of the comic avant-garde, curiously enough, than a series of three ads in 2008 for Absolut vodka. “This advertising firm from Sweden called me out of the blue and asked me to do an ad,” Galifianakis said. “The one request they had was to not make it look too ’80s, since Absolut is perceived as kind of an ’80s brand.” He paused there for a moment, clearly savoring the memory. “That’s what gave us the idea to make the skits a kind of homage to ‘The Golden Girls.’ ”

The resulting three sketches, made in collaboration with the absurdist comedy duo Tim and Eric (of “Awesome Show, Great Job!” part of the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming), attain levels of absurdity — and, at times, flat-out stupidity — that test the limits of belief, even in this golden age of irreverent, self-reflexive, cooler-than-thou advertising...There is nothing inherently funny in this scenario — with the possible exception of the obvious disdain its creators feel for the product they’re ostensibly selling — but the ads are both hilarious and, paradoxically, highly effective.

So I gave the video a shot. After all, I'm a member of my generation! But I didn't really get it. Maybe you will.

By Ezra Klein  |  June 8, 2009; 12:32 PM ET
Categories:  Lunch Break  
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It's surrealist genre-bending. Stupid, unfunny jokes that form 80s sitcom convention; drawing attention to the stupidity ("it's not funny") but for real reasons which are swept under the rug; the absurd clanking of the ice resonating with the exaggerations of "so cool"/"so quenching" conventions of 80s commercials; the sight-gags of the flask in the hair, the small chair later explained, the overflowing mini-bottle of Absolut. Dislocating conventions from genre, though within the situation of the genre; mirroring the silliness of convention by breaking conventions and pointing them up. Hilarity!

Posted by: jwb81 | June 8, 2009 1:07 PM | Report abuse

OK, but this is funny:

Posted by: bwill1 | June 8, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

i thought it was sad.
not funny.

and, having just heard of a young person who was under the influence of too much alcohol and fell off a cliff this past weekend,
and lost their life.... i guess the humor was entirely lost on me.

Posted by: jkaren | June 8, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse

The style is right out of the Adult Swim program "Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!" Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are an acquired taste, but it is what it is.

Posted by: prodzz | June 8, 2009 2:40 PM | Report abuse

So you thought that video about Cleveland was too edgy, but this wasn't?

I dunno, I can appreciate what jwb81 is saying, but I don't think the piece was any good. All three of those guys have done hilarious stuff, but I don't think this really qualifies.

Posted by: HerooftheBeach | June 8, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Zach Galifinakis is pretty good. You should check out some of his stand up, if you're not into the video. Much more accessible than this video.

Tim and Eric are a different beast altogether. They specialize in a kind of weird, absurdist anti-humor. Very dada and very polarizing. People either love them or hate them.

Here's one of their best bits, The B'ougar from Cinco:

Posted by: MattMilholland | June 8, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

The first I'd heard of Galifinakis was about two months ago. So perhaps calling him this generation's comedian is a joke in itself.

He reminds me a bit of Andy Kaufman. The schtick is absurdist humor. But he has an original presentation of the Kaufman line of comedy.

The Absolut commercial can be reduced to one idea: "how can we make this ridiculous as possible; and then how can we make this situation even more ridiculous" The joke is in pushing the envelop further and further when it does look like the situation can become even more absurd.

In the mix you have the Absolut product being used in more and more extreme ways. It's part of the absurd, fabricated universe. It's part of the joke. And it's all complete b.s.

Part of the comedy is in Galifinakis's ability to stay in character. There are points where it looks like he may break out of character, because he's pushing things to the limit, but he still keeps in character.

I'll grant that some of his stuff is almost painful to watch. His character wears his emotions on his sleeve and has absolutely no filter. It's pure id with no super-ego. He's a comedians comedian. He combines the best and the worst elements of comedy simultaneously. The great popular comedians have a filter. They care about the audience reaction. Galifanikis' character doesn't (although I'd guess that the guy we don't see probably does, or did care at one point).

Galifanikis's character is oblivious to the audience and to social norms and convention. Pure anarchy. Mainstream comedians have a filter and a censor, but at the core of the funniest comedian is an anarchic streak. Galifanikis's character simply removes the filter and destroys the boundaries between good and bad comedy -- and comedy and tragedy. It's just absurdist humor.

It's like the old saw where a person pulls a prank, but instead of saying "you've been punked" or "smile you're on Candid Camera" or "aw, just kidding man" -- Galifanikis never tilts his hand.

Even someone like Stephen Colbert who is another great actor-comedian occasionally breaks out of character. Galifanikis has come close, but in the clips that I've seen, he's never tilted his hand. You never get a sense of what the private person may be -- all you get is the public act.

Of course, that's a long explanation, and as the saying goes, if you have to explain it, the joke isn't funny. Still there were moments in the Absolut clip where I found myself laughing out-loud.

Posted by: JPRS | June 8, 2009 8:37 PM | Report abuse

Zach Galafianakis has a distinct personality to say the least. Lately I've started to notice how much more range he has than I initially assumed. Anyone interested in seeing a more reserved, understated side of him should seek out his low budget indie Visioneers.

Posted by: Last_in_Line | June 9, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

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