Vantage point

Monday, February 25, 2013

Problem with Seth MacFarlane - He Insists Upon Himself

Last night was Oscar night. For a couple of weeks leading up to it, I was tweeting about how choosing Seth MacFarlane to host the Oscars was a horrible mistake because he was overrated, unfunny, and by and large a talentless hack who just got lucky getting the right breaks when he did. Many people, especially Family Guy fanbois, responded with indignation.

But then, last night was Oscar night. The mainstream press reviews as well as the overall twitter feedback was unanimous - Seth MacFarlane sucked!

And he was bound to suck. Because he is an overrated, unfunny, and a by and large talentless hack who just got lucky getting the right breaks when he did.

Here's the problem with Seth MacFarlane.

Apart from being overrated, unfunny, and a by and large talentless hack who just got lucky getting the right breaks when he did.

His jokes are just a manifestation of his immense self-indulgence and a meta-idea of how funny his jokes are supposed to be seen as.

His jokes aren't funny because of their content or humor quotient. He thinks his jokes are funny BECAUSE he thinks he is being so cool and edgy and counter-cultural by the virtue of the topics he is addressing. So it isn't so much what the joke is saying that is supposed to amused us, but the topic of the joke itself. Seth thinks that we should find any joke he makes about topic X funny only because most straight laced people wouldn't dare joke about topic X, and he was cool enough to do so.

Except, that's not what makes jokes funny. Or that's not all that makes jokes funny. Yes, there is an edgy appeal to tackling subjects that most straight laced people wouldn't dare joke about. But the jokes themselves have to be funny and clever. Let me give you an example from last night.

Talking about Lincoln, Seth said, "”I would argue that the actor who got most inside Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth.”

I yawned. And when he got a lukewarm response from the audience, Seth's reaction was "too soon?"

No, Seth, I don't personally think joking about an assassination that happened almost a century and a half ago is "too soon". The problem isn't that your joke was "too soon". It's that the joke was simply way too lazy, pedestrian, and something you expect to hear in 3rd rate comedy clubs with 2-drink minimums. It's an oh-so-predictable use of the "getting into one's head" metaphor and the fact that Booth was an actor.

When I find something funny, it's because someone made an observation and phrased it in a way I never would have thought of myself. And I wish I had. This joke was just lazy and stupid. If MacFarlane chooses to believe that he got a poor response because the joke was somehow edgy, politically incorrect, or whatever, he is just deluding himself.

And that's the problem with Family Guy too. For the first 3 seasons, Family Guy was a reasonably funny show. It had amusing and reasonably novel storylines supported by quirky characters, and frequent pop-culture references.

Then maybe MacFarlane ran out of story ideas. The show just became consumed by those pop-culture references. So just making a joke about topic X was supposed to be the amusing part, forget what the actual joke was. Family Guy decided that it was somehow the premier voice of wise-ass counter-culture. Which, well, it could have been. If it had written funny jokes. But it didn't.

MacFarlane decided that a joke would be funny just because it used a random topical or pop-culture reference. And 4th season onward, you could see these randomly unfunny jokes coming a mile away. The writing process itself got distinctly lazy. Something that South Park accurately spoofed -

To use Family Guy and Peter Griffin's own poorly phrased words, when it comes to making topical or pop-culture jokes, the show "insists upon itself".

And essentially, that's what MacFarlane did at the Oscars. He insisted upon himself. He insisted that by the virtue of who he was and the topics he was tackling, he should be hailed as a comedic genius. It was as if manatees were picking up random supposedly controversial pop culture references, and adding random nouns and verbs to make it a joke. And if we didn't find his jokes funny, we were just moldy curmudgeons who were too stuck up to get the jokes.

Seth MacFarlane doesn't realize that whether someone finds the selection of topics too risque or not (and I never have), his jokes simply aren't funny anymore. And that's what led to him bombing so badly at the Oscars. He thinks his limited fake voices and accents can inject an illusion of humor into his lazy jokes.

But all he does is, he insists upon himself.