Yesterday beloved Soluter Miller reported on watching some season 2 Mr. Show sketches and marveled at the changing context as their origins grow more obscure. “[I]f John Mulaney hadn’t brought J.J. Bittenbinder back into the public consciousness, F.F. Woodycooks would be incredibly obscure, and I’m coming to realize the entire infomercial comedy genre is nearly obsolete.”
On the first topic, being told to “shake the crime stick” and also visit one of the three F.F. Woodycooks ice cream parlor locations has a timeless absurdity that needs no further context. Same for the main narrative of the skit, where crimestopper Woodycooks narrates a tale of a “heroic” security guard who thwarts a burglary by screaming his head off through the encounter. But the skit gets funnier with knowledge of Bittenbinder’s public service routines on video and public television in the 90s that prescribed simple methods – not that far off from screaming your way through an attack – to avoid macabre scenarios he insisted waited around every corner.
Other beloved Soluter vomas commented on how growing up in Britain meant access to Simpsons gags that he “enjoyed for years before learning what they were actually riffing on.” I had a friend growing up who had memorized the Weird Al catalog and only years later discovered many of the original songs being parodied. Personally, I can remember as a child laughing uncontrollably at a singing comedian borrowing and literalizing the Bruce Springsteen lyric “Woah, ho-ho, I’m on fire” before I had ever heard the song the lyric was lifted from (and now I have no memory of the comedian himself nor the rest of the song, this is as obscure as it gets).
Airplane! and Wayne’s World were movies brought up in this context, where the jokes stand up even as their inspirations are unrecognizable to large segments of the population. A good joke, like any work of art, stands on its own but can be seasoned by its context.
Your turn, Soluters. What are the best parodies, gags, or characters that make you laugh even as their inspirations have faded, or whose inspirations you were unaware of at the time? What makes a joke outlast its context? Are there any dramatic moments or plot turns that fit this mold?