The Way of the Medium: A Speculative Essay
Have you ever noticed that when actors who made their start as stand up comedians (or still work as such), make movies, these films very often, if not most times, seem to violate traditional narrative integrity? That is to say, the films do not so much come out as unified, coherent stories, but as series of gag routines. Now, if you cannot relate to that rhetorical query-statement, then I suppose you might like to stop reading this now. If you do relate to the rhetorical query-statement, they you might perservere; this exposition will be quick and painless.
I have been thinking about this, and come to the conclusion that not everybody sees cinema the same way that you and I do. That's fine; after all, whose to say that cinema can only be used one way?
You know, when television was first created, the first shows were radio programs remade for television; radio programs were given visual potency. You can say that television translated the audio medium of radio into the audio-visual medium of television; and with that, perhaps, certain performers were given a broader audience. That would have been television's effective purpose before writers started producing original programs made for the television era, not just translations of stories from other mediums.
Now back to movies-made-by-stand up comedians. So often, as I said, their movies do not feel like movies with a unified, coherent narrative story to tell; they feel like a series of set piece gag routines. You see this most visibly, for example, every time someone wants to make a film out of a Saturday Night Live character (Wayne's World, MacGruber, etc). You get this with movies made by comedians Tom Green, Adam Sandler, Kevin James.
Here's the thing
If we take my translation idea, as I expressed it regarding the mediums of television and radio, as having validity and applicability to stand up comedians and the movies they make, then the following conclusion seems reasonable: At least some stand up comedians who make movies, view the films they make as translations of their stand up routines. As such, they see the movies as ways to broadcast visual representations of their stand up routines to a broader audience, thus introducing their comedy/stand up/performance art to that broader audience. Does that make sense?
The purpose of film, for them, would not be to necessarily tell a story. But you know, in the case of some performers (say, Adam Sandler and Eddie Murphy come to mind), a question arises (because Sandler and Murphy continue to make movies like this): Why is it that performers who have long ago achieved world fame, continue to feel the need to constantly reintroduce themselves in this way?
Let's try another option (and after this we're done)
What if some stand up comedian/actors who make the kind of movies I'm referencing, do not so much think of their films as transitional translations of their stand up routines, in order to attract a larger following, as much as singer-musicians think of music videos?
How does a singer-musician think of music videos? The videos are visual representations of their songs. 'Television,' then, is not seen or used as a transitional, or even necessarily, an audience broadening device. The music video is seen, these days, as the natural accompaniment, the one-two punch of the delivery of entertainment from the artist to their fans, yes?
What if the stand up comedian/actors who make the kinds of movies I'm referring to, see their movies in a similar light: not as transitional, audience-broadening devices but as natural accompaniments to their stand up routines, which also has the added benefit of carrying their performance art to a larger, international audience? Do you follow me?
Take the movie, Zookeeper starring Kevin James
Now, in a moment I'm going to ask you to visualize something. Please feel free to close your eyes, if you have to.
The premise of Zookeeper starring Kevin James is simply this: James plays a zookeeper whose old girlfriend comes back to town. He wants her back. The animals under his care, realize this you see, and commence to give him advice on the seduction of the opposite sex. Oh and did I mention that said animals speak English? Well they do but they generally keep that a secret for obvious reasons. One of the pieces of 'advice' they give him concerns the importance of 'marking' one's 'territory.' And yes, the movie really means by that, what you think it means by that.
Consider this, then. Perhaps the movie is not meant to be taken seriously as an actual story.
You can close your eyes now. Can you imagine Kevin James on stage doing his stand up routine? Can you imagine him now starting in on the subject of sex? Can you now imagine him making some kind of human-animal link? Can't you just see him saying something like 'forget about therapy, forget about self-help books, forget about advice columnist---what you want to do is take your cue from the animal kingdom. Can't you imagine Mr. James saying something like that?
You know, when you think about it, Zookeeper is a kind of pornographic version of Tarzan! By the way, can't you just imagine Kevin James, in his stand up routine, at some time, making the Tarzan connection? Can't you see him say something terribly clever about how swinging from vines wasn't the only thing the apes taught The Lord of the Jungle?
I certainly can and I just know you can too. Just for fun you might try this exercise with other Kevin James, Adam Sandler, and Eddie Murphy movies. The next time you see a movie made by a stand up comedian/actor that doesn't seem to make any sense, don't think of it as a proper narrative storytelling attempt, but close your eyes. Just close your eyes...
Thank you so much for reading!
Take care! :)