Growing up without cable, my cultural education has always been somewhat lacking. For instance, I had never seen a single episode of The Twilight Zone. Obviously, this is a travesty. I started watching the series on Amazon Prime, but they didn’t have the fourth season, so I went back to Hulu for that. This means that I ended my viewing mission on a low, blatty note entitled “The Bard”.
If you share my deficiencies, you may think of The Twilight Zone as that old, creepy show, which is mostly true. But there were a few “funny” episodes in there as well. In this particular case, the scare quotes on “funny” could be seen from orbit. Truly grating and obnoxious main character, a soundtrack that called out every remotely funny moment by pausing for a tuba, and an ending that robs us of the usual Twilight Zone brand of poetic justice ensuring that horrible people meet horrible fates.
There was actually one moment I found genuinely hilarious, one which escaped the attentions of the psychotic wind section. Starting at 35:41, Burt Reynolds does a flawless impression of Marlon Brando:
But I suppose this highlights one of the reasons that it’s so hard to do comedy. Comedy is not only heavily contextual, but also heavily cultural. Perhaps audiences fifty years ago would have found Julius Moomer hysterical, perhaps not. And hell, the Brando impression wouldn’t be funny to someone who hadn’t seen any of his films of that era. It seems rather appropriate that this observation comes from an episode featuring Shakespeare. The actual Bard was one funny fucker, but at 400 years’ remove, most of us need heavy annotation to understand the dick and fart jokes. That might be why the only comedy remembered by anyone but scholars is the one where the guy gets a donkey head, while his tragedies have found much more enduring fame. Similarly, none of the “funny” Twilight Zone episodes have had nearly the same cultural impact as the dramatic ones.
It’s true what they say: Tragedy is easy. Comedy is hard.