FASTER, FUNNIER, YOUNGER
Much like sports comedy is a young person’s business. It’s not that it requires the physical strength and the muscles that don’t tire, but there is no question real comedy is aimed at the young and the groundbreaking stuff takes place on their turf.
It doesn’t mean the over forty-five set can’t still be funny. But it’s different. People don’t care as much and for the most part what they do ceases to have much cultural impact.
I remember my friend Arnold Margolin telling me this when I started out in my late twenties. He was approaching his fifties, despite several decades of hits he knew he would soon be stuck on another shelf. He had years of work ahead and much to say. But would people still care as much? No, he told me.
I know this to be true, as I had to put a different spin on my career serve when I reached my late forties. I could still get it in the court, but the audience was different. And eventually I switched games.
This was hit home to me this weekend at The New Yorker Festival. Last night I went to hear New Yorker writer and author Tad Friend interview Ben Stiller. Tad has recently done a very interesting though not always flattering profile of Mr. Stiller in the New Yorker. I was actually shocked Stiller would allow himself on a stage mano a mano with the better educated, erudite Friend. So kudos to him for putting himself out there in that way.
What came through in the interview, aside from Tad Friend owning the stage, was Stiller is quickly entering the land of yesterday. His tent pole films will still make money and he will still get jobs. But they just don’t say much any more. And I’m not sure looking at his greatest hits they ever have. His is not a probing comedy, he’s facile and easy to digest.
They showed clips from several of his films. The zipper scene in Something About Mary remains a comedy classic and will for decades. Zoolander looks as old as it is. Comedy has moved on, issues have changed and a newer crop is taking over.
And Stiller as opposed to really opening up and sharing his deeper thoughts and process and real feelings about life and the details of what he does, was guarded, measured and not very forth coming. He can do a great double take and send a joke the audience’s way. But when you walked away you did not feel like you had seen anything special, or that you knew anything more about him, movie making, what he wanted to say, how he wanted to say it, or what was the psychological basis for his comedy. And Mr. Friend did ask him questions that would take him there, he merely side stepped them.
This is not always true of older people, listen to Mike Nichols speak on anything and you walk away with enough to chew on for years.
Maybe it’s just Stiller. But I think if you had Will Ferrell up there or Owen Wilson or any of the top funny men who peaked at that time you might have gotten the same thing. They are middle aged and trying to hold on to what they have. They are no longer fearless; thus what they have to say is no longer meaningful to their audience. So I left last night saying, he’s forty-five, he will continue, but soon he will be Billy Crystal.
Then today I went to hear the new voice of her generation: Lena Dunham.
In two years the twenty-six year old Ms. Dunham has taken herself from obscurity to the most important female writer, director and actress of the moment.
Twenty-six, the exact age it hits, you can look at most comedy careers and twenty –thirty is when they kick in.
But what she has done is fearlessly gone out there and broken ground. She has travelled places no one as gone before and in doing so she has accumulated an extraordinary fan base that travels with her from films to her controversial, worshipped by many TV show, Girls.
You have to do something new and most of the time you have to be young because you have to go out there and stake your claim while you have nothing to lose.
Stiller can’t do it anymore because he is in the business of being Ben Stiller. Someday Dunham will enter a room and her past will arive first. But these days it’s her present, her presence and her future that are on parade.
She owned the room. The audience hung on to every syllable. She has earned their love by being their spokesperson, by being the first woman without a great body, in fact a rather mediocre to bad body, the body of the average American and she has taken it naked to TV, and not to tantalize or get attention, but she is deeply attached to showing the imperfections, fears, and problems of her generation by using her body and her life as the canvas. And boy do her fans LOVE her for it.
Ms. Dunham reveals all about herself, unlike the guarded Mr. Stiller her whole life is on display, feelings, broken hearts, bad skin, cellulite nothing is hidden. ” I will show you all of me, and in the process you won’t feel so alone.”
Girls goes places TV has never gone. I have watched it a few times and while I like it, it’s not directed to me. It actually makes me nervous for my kids and jealous I am not working in TV today when you can have men masturbate on the screen and show semen on their chest. But Dunham makes a point of saying the scene is not there to shock or be pornographic it’s there to show a certain humiliation and emptiness young women are faced with.
Sex does not always make great art. But sex makes it real. And when it’s people who are far from photo shopped it makes it more real still. And when their dreams don’t even approach the land of true, it makes you feel for them and identify with them even more. And in this lies her genius.
Stiller made his mark getting his penis caught in a zipper and letting the world see it.
Dunham is making her mark by bearing her body and soul to a very confused generation and they are turning up and tuning in and she is making a difference. Every woman who stood up said you are showing my life. You so understand me.
She ended by saying her goal is to corner the panic of today’s young people. The only generation to date which has had most of their romance through devices, the first crop of grown ups to have been raised on Ritalin and Adderall. The first group of college graduates to face a jobless market and most likely in many cases face a lifestyle that is less than they grew up with.
There is only a certain time when you can do that, write about that, bring those things to life and then as life does it all changes…..
Lena Dunham is here for sometime and from the looks of it her humanity, bravery and talent will only become more powerful and have more impact as she moves forward depicting the truth of her generation.