Humor is painful


The DVD I currently have from Netflix is that of the BBC television show The Extras, Season 2, Disc 1. I’ve had this DVD sitting on my coffee table for weeks. I love this show, but every time I think I should go and watch it, something stops me.

That something is my hatred of pain. It hurts to watch this show, just as it hurts to watch episodes of the BBC’s The Office. The first time I tried to watch that program (programme?), I got about ten minutes in and had to stop. I liked the humor, but I winced every time Gervais’s character, David Brent, said anything awkward — which was about every 20 seconds. Eventually I got through the first episode, and somehow I built up a thick enough skin that I could enjoy the rest of the series.

I don’t watch the American version of The Office either, because I never could get started with it. If I could just get going I’d love it, but I have to steel myself.

I liked the first season of The Extras very much. Tonight I wanted to post something about it, and on YouTube I found the above clip from an episode I haven’t yet watched (because it’s sitting on my coffee table, spurned).

Here’s a funny thing: I watched about ten seconds of the clip and stopped it. Closed the browser window. My entire insides were wincing in embarassment. I know it’s going to be hilarious to see how it plays out — but can I stand it?

Still, I can’t keep that DVD forever. I’m going to get through at least one episode tonight, even if I have to pause the disc every few minutes and leave the room for a breather. Wish me luck.

UPDATE: I got 10:34 into the episode before having to pause and leave the room. This is episode 2 of Season 3 — the one excerpted above. I was pleased to be able to stand the bit with the guy asking for change, but next scene with Maggie asking for an autograph was awesome. I love her in proportion to how clueless she is. Funny, funny stuff, but relentless. OK, once more into the breach, my friends.

UPDATE #2: I fortified myself with a cocktail and made it through the rest of the episode. Which was awesome.

I like The Extras more than The Office because it retains that awareness of social taboos and hypocracy and adds awareness of the current star/celebrity culture, yet all the while allows the protagonist (Ricky Gervais’s character, Andy Millman) to be more sympathetic, kind of a tragic figure. In this second season in particular, he has traded in his integrity for a little bit of success, and Life does not let him forget it for a moment. There’s poignancy in his self-awareness of what he has done and how he has trapped himself: a pure tragedy in the classical sense.

Also, the show is damn funny. The guests each episode are awesome. Apparently, each one was a fan of the original Office, and each skewers his or her perceived image. This season started with Orlando Bloom as guest. I’m not a fan of Mr. Bloom — he was appropriately cool and efficient as Legolas in Lord of the Rings, but too girly for my tastes as Will Turner in the Pirates of the Caribbean series — but I like him so much more having seen how he carried himself here. It was like seeing a star make fun of himself on Saturday Night Live (back when I watched that show).

About this episode, I’d read previously that Gervais asked Bowie to write a song for the episode, something on the lines of "Life on Mars." Bowie responded some way that reminded Gervais what gall he had in asking for such a thing, but then came up with a Bowie-esque song that’s perfect.

And from that scene, the show goes on to one that is so sad, and even more right on the money.

No matter how hard I find it to sit through the wincing, terrible minutes, The Extras pays off every time.

And big props to Ricky Gervais for putting himself and every personal fear a show biz professional might have up front and center, every time. I know it’s a show, I know it’s not real, but that has got to hurt. It’s emotional boxing. And he’s the champ.

5 replies on “Humor is painful”

  1. I know what you mean about how some things hurt to watch. The show Freaks and Geeks was like that to me, even though I loved it. I’ve watched it so many times now that I’ve become a little less sensitive, but there are some scenes that still make me cringe when I watch it. It’s painfully real.

  2. That feeling happens to my boyfriend when we’re watching Ali G. It makes him so uncomfortable that sometimes we’ve had to turn it off. He gets really anxious about it.

  3. Andrea: I never have seen Freaks and Geeks. It sounds really well-done, but I’m not sure how I feel about reliving teenage years. *shiver*

    Gretchen: Ali G seems even rougher than these other shows. Mean. I liked Sasha Baron Cohen’s performance in Sweeney Todd though.

  4. Josh and I were watching The IT Crowd last week and I spent half of it hidden behind his back and squeezing my eyes shut. Sometimes it’s just so hard to watch! The Office has the same effect on me.

  5. Just finished watching the first episode of Extras….hilarious but I can see what you mean. If I were the protagonist, I would be ready to jump off a cliff by now!! That won’t stop me from watching the rest though….

    BTW, I think your blog is great!

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