Thursday, 8 July 2010

PARAPRODOKIAN: MAYBE YOU JUST HAD TO BE THERE (John and Lucy Mills, 2007) a meandering monolgue without a punchline, only moreso, herein we see a playing out of the Monty Python's Funniest Joke in the World sketch, that frustratingly perfect device in which the promised gag is withheld; For this documentary, about the comedian Alex Paraprodokian, labelled by Time magazine as 'The Funniest Man In The World, Sketching' contains no sign of Paraprosdokian himself, as the filmmakers could not track him down. We have no primary evidence of his hilarity either, as none of his jokes have been recorded, on audio or visual media. What we do have is a series of talking heads giving vaguely remembered descriptions of how funny he was, leading to the suspicion that the whole exercise is a spurious gag at our expense. One after another, screen comedians appear to sing the praises of a man who may only be a rumour. These famous, successful comedians all bow down to the almighty Paraprodokian; Stephen Wright, Rodney Dangerfield, Sandra Bernhard, and more, but none can remember an exact joke, none can bring us proof. Time and time again, we're told: I guess you had to be there.

One woman's funny mount is another's vast edifice of nonsense; for one individual, 'because it's there' is reason enough to go to the top, for another, it is an exercise in pointlessness. No one comedian can ever stand above every other, an Everest in fact and feet. I could go on about the highest mountains being below sea, but the metaphor splits in my hands, overstretched with weight. The point being: successful comedians need not be funny, but can merely offer enough of an impression of a funny person to suffice. Silly voices and faces are a start. A speculative experiment finds that, contrary to popular expectation and hope, those that might attempt to sue (to pick someone entirely at random) Adam Sandler, say, for, 'distress caused by gross unfunniness' perhaps,would only ever lose. If his face is on the poster (and it always is) then the viewer only has himself to blame, a hypothetical judge might conclude.

A Hypothetical Judge Might Conclude (1999) is a comedy that revolves around several high-profile comedians reading pre-written jokes in front of a camera (some of which are attributed to the hidden Paraprodokian), which records them. If the delivery is poor, they have the opportunity to record the joke again. When the entire sequence is complete, it is edited together into an apparently seamless and spontaneous piece, known as a 'film'. This approach is, by this point, a tried and tested formula, supported by a multi-million dollar machine that creates the best possible conditions for a successful recording. All possible problems have many opportunities to be eliminated by many of the hundred people involved in the project. And yet. And yet. 'Perhaps we are in a truly 'If you don't buy a ticket you can't win the lottery' industry, and Universal Pictures reason that the more American Pie films are made, the greater their chances of finding a joke,' says Mark Kermode. He too had no idea of Paraprodokian's existence until Paraprodokian came out, and was among the prominent critics suggesting it to be a hoax: That Alex Paraprodokian does not exist. Several comedians in New Jersey have claimed to either be Paraprodokian or to have played a character onstage called Paraprodokian, but none have proved to be very funny. Not proof of their lie in itself; but it does bring with it the ghost of a suggestion that no-one can be that funny, ever.

'Comedy is essentially anarchy, and cannot be bottled' said Bob Hope, of all people. 'The comic, like the Indian, has a piece of his soul stolen by the camera.' Which apart from bringing the story of Alex Paraprodokian to mind, is clearly the kind of mythologising bullshit we support every day; the kind of artist-as-indefinite-divinity system that invented him.

The film concludes in the woods of Conneticut, where the makers have come to find the supposed place of Paraprodokian's birth. The Mills' crew finds nothing, other than a clearing where a house used to be.

Alex Paraprodokian has his place in the OED:

Paraprodokian (n): 1. Name given to an item of brilliance that there is no accountable evidence of. 2. An unseen presence in a room of people.

Paraprodokian: Maybe You Just Had To Be There Directed, Written and Produced by John and Lucy Mills Starring Stephen Wright, George Carlin, Sandra Bernhard, Rodney Dangerfield, Don Rickles, Janeane Garofalo, Damon Wayans

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