Blog 32 – Rip Off

Originally Posted 5.17.10

Much has been made in my comments on the last few episodes of Franks and Beans on the subject of parody and just where it fits in with the concept of comedy.  While I’ll qualify my claim by saying that when it comes to parody, there can certainly be too much of a good thing, but as a general rule, I’m comfortable with making the assertion that all good comedies have at least an element of parody in them.  Really, I defy anyone to name a good comedy that doesn’t have some parodic content to it.

Let’s take a recent example and look at last year’s comedy smash “The Hangover”.  While certainly laying its own groundwork, where would it be without its nods to “Rain Man” and “Three Men and a Baby?”  Going back 20 years to one of my favorite movies, “UHF” is chock full of parodies, musical and otherwise.  If you really want to go back to the early days of film, all you have to do is look to the Three Stooges – lost among the eye pokes and face slaps is a parody of the social class structure that 1930s and ’40s America was struggling to break free from.  I don’t claim that Franks and Beans holds much of a candle to any of these cinematic gems; I merely want to point out how important a concept such as parody is to comedy in general.  When used properly, it’s a tool that really can’t be matched, because parodies are built on information we’ve already assimilated into our own cultural lexicon.

Self-parody is just another form of this type of comedy, and our wonderfully self-referential 30th episode, “Rip Off”, plays right into this concept.  What separates self-parody from regular forms of parody, though, is devotion.  Self-parody doesn’t come along without a substantial store of very specific material.  While parody lives off of the never ending supply of popular culture, self-parody relies completely on the singular body of work it parodies.  Franks and Beans could have its ever popular “No!” endings from the first episode, and we did, because we’re mocking overplayed cliffhangers and those have been around as long as there have been cliffs to hang from, but for us to use self-parody, we had to have enough material to serve as a solid foundation.  Thirty episodes in, the result is “Rip Off”, an ambitious and context-laden episode that, in many ways, highlights some of our better moments while making fun of everything we do.

“Rip Off” welcomes back old friend of the show “Hardcore” Mark Moncheck, who is getting sincerely less hardcore the longer I know him.  Seriously, the guy’s married, has a steady job, gets regular haircuts…it’s a misnomer, I tell you.  The perfect role for Mark in any episode of Franks and Beans is that of the obsessed fan, because it’s not much of a stretch from who he is in real life.  Sometimes I think that Mark, Larry and I are the only ones who watch Franks and Beans – perhaps I’m not too far from the truth with that thought – but even if that were the case, Mark has the enthusiasm to simulate dozens and dozens of viewers.  Hell, it got him a recurring role on the show, so I guess it’s working out for him, too.

Joe Kromer is new to the show and, at ten years younger than both Larry and myself, newer to life in general.  Another fan of the show who was granted entrance in through our golden gates, Joe has since disappeared from the face of Brownsville, never to be seen again.  Seriously, I have no idea where to find this guy.  For a one-time character, though, he sure picked a memorable episode, and did a decent job with the “next time on Kielbasa and Kraut” line.  It probably took us all of five minutes to come up with that new title.

One of my great joys in working of Franks and Beans is writing lines that other people – of their own free will, mind you! – speak and act out.  Recreating the episode “The Sandwich” scene for scene, as short as it is, was great fun, even more so because we were using different actors.  Mark’s take on the “No!” ending was especially fun, because Mark couldn’t – for the life of him – not burst through the door of the room without looking really excited.  He was just playing it natural, I guess.

The premise for this episode is fairly simple – Larry and I find people stealing our ideas, and we decide to kill them, but then we end up doing the same thing they did in the first place.  Violence, another great comedic element, certainly has its part in Franks and Beans the series, and perhaps never is that more evident than in this episode.  I’m not sure how effective our out-and-out “I’m gonna kill them!” lines were – you’re supposed to show, not tell, after all – but even those served as means to an end.

Speaking of killing, Larry’s poor, wounded Jeep has finally been put out to pasture, though it still has a few more appearances before we give it its proper sendoff.  One of the reasons for its demise, however, might have come from the filming of this episode.  If you look for it, you’ll see it – as Larry is frantically backing up out of his driveway, the car makes a grinding sound, a thin waft of smoke can be seen, and then it kicks into gear.  I’m not saying that the Jeep wasn’t on its last legs as it was, but…oh, how we suffer for our craft.

The house Larry and I eventually burst into, breaking up the beginning of the famous “Mustache” sketch (keep an eye our for fake F&B’s crappy camera in the background…because they’re filming another rip off episode, not just going about their daily lives in a way that just happens to synch up with an episode of Franks and Beans), is actually Larry’s grandmother’s house.  We knew that we couldn’t film their scenes in Larry’s house (“the studio”), and our other options were fairly dim, and I think this new setting worked out really well.  It didn’t look like a house an 80-something-year-old woman lives in, did it?  That’s the magic of Hollywood, baby.

The fight scene that ensues was fun to do – so much fun, in fact, that I apparently had a hard time not smiling the entire time I’m physically assaulting Joe.  You can look at this in two ways: either I am a sadistic bastard who takes joy in causing others physical pain, or I should really be more aware of what I’m doing as I’m acting out a scene.  Pick your favorite!  It’s like a “Choose Your Own Ending” tale where one choice covers up my mental lapses.  The ‘punching’ sound effects make their return in this episode – they’re favorites of mine, and, for better or worse, I use them in a good handful of upcoming episodes.  There’s just something about them.

Tearing up a comic book is something I never thought I’d do – I’m more of the bag and board type – but I have to admit, tearing up the Punisher 2099 issue I bought for, oh, 15 cents or something ridiculous, was lots of fun.  It was like eating the forbidden fruit, only you weren’t REALLY eating it, because it was just for a show.  I hope that Stan Lee doesn’t revoke my Merry Marvel Marching Society card.  Yes, those exist.

The real humor in this episode takes place after the big fight scene, which is unusual for us.  Usually the punch in the face IS the joke, but this time it’s in turning the tables and doing exactly what we got so mad about in the first place.  I think it works, and even the line “I can’t find the Internet!” is pretty amusing.  We’ve set up the possibility for future conflict as Mark, nursing his black eye with a frozen bag of peas (a popular television remedy), expresses his hate for us.  Perhaps we’ll look back in on this theme one day, if only we could find Joe to make it happen.

Big props go out to Larry for all of the design work he did this episode, most notably the Funny or Die website parody “Laf or Perish”, which he created from electrons in the air.  It got me thinking that we should buy the domain name http://www.laforperish.com, but that’d be foolish.  Unless it’s be a BRILLIANT MARKETING TOOL!  Hmmm…

How could we top this blow-out-the-walls episode?  Why, it’s simple – with nudity.  Really, it had to happen.  Ever since iChat and its level of success (it continues to be the one episode everyone remembers), it was only a matter of time before we brought the big square censor bar back, and its effect is obvious.  Seriously, you didn’t think we’d do it eventually?  Well, here it is.

Blog 31 – Death and Taxes

 

Originally Published 5.14.10

You know the old phrase, “don’t believe everything you see on TV”?  Or, wait…maybe it’s “don’t believe everything you read on the Internet”.  No, it’s about hearing stuff, right?  “Don’t believe everything you hear”.  Oh, whatever – the point I’m trying to make is that there’s a phrase that people repeat often, and it has something to do with not believing stuff…that you would…otherwise…

Oh hell, let’s just cut our losses and move forward in this long-awaited discussion of Franks and Beans’ edutainmental 29th episode, “Death and Taxes”.  Do you like what I did there?  I combined three separate words to make one fantastic new one: educational, entertaining, and mental to create “edutainmental”.  “Mental” just because it fit so nicely.  Write it down, you saw it here first.

I wouldn’t say that Franks and Beans is necessarily a parody of anything in particular, though it does obviously have some parodic moments – the consistent “No!” endings being the best example – and this episode certainly falls into that category nearly from start to finish.  It’s hard to choose which of the many parodies is the most obvious, even, so let’s just start with the first one, in which we go so far as to even use a line of dialogue to point out the fact that we’re mocking some other form of pop culture.

In this case, it’s the “obligatory nervous guy” who happens to populate a high percentage of movietown, so it seems.  It happens so often that I don’t know that I can even name a specific example, but hopefully I don’t have to – every once in a while you’ll see a movie – usually a comedy – where it’s one character’s job to be uptight and stuffy while another character – the protagonist, in most cases – causes mischief and wreaks havoc on an unsuspecting something-or-other.  Characters to fall into the category of “ne’er-do-well” include a free spirited grade school child, a happy-go-lucky college student, or Adam Sandler.  Characters to fall into the category of “obsessive worrier” usually represent some overbearing authority figure, including a high school principal, emotionally aloof parent, or anyone else in an Adam Sandler movie.

In the case of such antagonistic characters, it’s not uncommon to bear witness to their never-ending quests to relieve their ulcer-inducing conditions with what amounts to substance abuse, either by drinking entire bottles of Pepto Bismol or by munching maniacally on nondescript pills a handful at a time.  Thus is born the crux of this episode – the acknowledgement of these characters and the logical conclusion to the question I’ve always had about them: simply, if someone would just start eating dozens and dozens of prescription pills, wouldn’t there be any real consequences beyond showcasing how wacky a main character was?

Trying to handle your own taxes come April 15th is a stressful situation for some, to be sure, but the reason we chose Tax Day as our catalyst for this episode was because of the authoritative overseer that could lead us to our second scene.  Yes, the shot of Jeff face down on the table, ever-so-slightly seizing with pills scattered all around, is a funny one (if I can say so), but it’s really just a means to take us to our second scene, where I’m dead under a white sheet.  Why Larry and his family are so nonchalant about having a dead body rotting on the couch, and why they still treat it as if it has some viable life force remains a mystery, but it sure does help to set up the final – and I think best – joke of the regular episode.

“You’re arrested” follows in line with a few other episodes in that it ends on a crisp, definitive phrase.  The timing, as with the other examples, is really what makes or breaks the joke – in addition to, of course, the idea that arresting a dead guy is still fairly impossible.  It also brought this episode’s title full circle, and it’s not every day when that happens.  When it does, though…look out.

Overall, this episode does have a few clunky lines in it (“If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the movies, they’re absolutely true”…what?!), but I think the jokes are such that everyone can relate to them, and that’s really what we’re shooting for.  Oh, and I wasn’t really eating prescription pills in this episode…the pill bottle (washed beforehand to decrease the chances that I’d be taking estrogen supplements or something similar) was full of delicious Sweet Tarts.  Mmm.

Our “No!” ending for this episode, as I’m sure comes as no surprise, is our most involved to date.  It’s also noteworthy because Larry doesn’t actually say “No!” at all – though perhaps at this point that’s forgivable if for no other reason than the expectation of it was there.

An episode like “Death and Taxes” presented us with the perfect opportunity to cobble together a parody of NBC’s “The More You Know” campaign, and the message we were trying to get across – cynical as it may be – seemed to fit right in with the theme.

I find it ironic – and perhaps hypocritical – that we as a society feel the need to emphasize how bad certain drugs are, when we are able to turn right around in a metaphorical sense and advertise for other equally dangerous drugs.  This is the closest Franks and Beans has ever come to displaying any amount of social relevance or commentary, and I realize the danger in crossing the line between sketch comedy and pandering; there’s a time and a place for everything, but I don’t know that I really want Franks and Beans to delve too deeply into dredging up many of society’s ills.  The opportunity to point out some of the absurdities in how we can distinguish between some narcotics and the more “socially acceptable” ones, though, all the while spoofing the after-school-specialness of the “The More You Know” campaign, was too alluring in this case, and hopefully we did a decent job at getting the message across.

If nothing else, Larry and I had fun with props, as is evident by the fact that I decide to “step up” on something different in every camera shot and how I take drinks out of bottles labeled “alcohol” and “nicotine”, though I’m fairly sure neither were discernable on the screen.  The line “I’ll drink to that!” was an impromptu addition that I think really serves as a capstone on what was a very different, very interesting, and altogether “very special!” episode of Franks and Beans.  Social crusaders, both of us.

YouTube makes Franks and Beans look important

 

Ever check out our YouTube page?  This is not a rhetorical question: I compel you to answer.  But take your time; I’m not going anywhere.  Here’s what I’m getting at: YouTube has suggestions for further viewing after a video cycles through, and a little while ago, after watching an episode of Franks and Beans (for…research.  Always for research), the above 12 episodes were suggested to me.  This collage makes it look like Franks and Beans has a bevy of entertainment to offer.  It also looks like some of the episodes might be funny.  If you look at the screen as a chronological story-in-pictures, it looks like I show Larry something I saw online, we make some food, I introduce him to someone else, we discuss it, and then Larry kills me.

That is all.

Blog 30 – Deus Ex Machina

 

Originally Published 4.18.10

Here it is, the episode Larry can’t pronounce and I’m not sure I understand.

If I had it to do all over again, “Deus Ex Machina” would have had a much more subversive ending to live up to the title.  Now that I think about it, there are probably more than a few things I would change with this 28th episode, but my baggy grey sweater is not one of them.  Seriously, look at that thing – it’s all comfy and non confrontational.  It’s like it’s saying “take a nap, I won’t judge you.”  Also, Larry is in this episode.

The opening shot of this episode harkens back to “iChat” in that we just kind of…begin.  There’s no lead in at all, and this is less of an artistic decision and more a product of the fact that thinking of some kind of relevant opening is actually really difficult.  That doesn’t mean we should just accept that as a creative limitation, but the truth is we are sometimes more concerned with the joke than we are with how we get there.  I won’t say that it takes something away from this episode, but it’s not something I really want to see continue.

I’ve mentioned this before, most recently in my commentary on “Replacement Larry”, but this is probably the best example of Larry using Franks and Beans as a showcase for his new obsessions – because in this case, there are two.  The first is the video game used for the opening shot, a highly addictive game called “NHL 3 on 3 Arcade”, which as you can tell by the name is a martial arts “Double Dragon”-style side scrolling game.  Or…wait.  Maybe I’m thinking of something else.  Anyway, the filming of this episode was predicated by an hour or so of “research”, in which I totally owned Larry game after game after game.  This is usually how things happen.  Larry buys a game and plays it for days at a time; I come for a visit, play once and completely destroy him time and again.  It’s a gift, really.

The second instance of Larry and his product placement just happens to be the main focus on this episode.  I will say that I’ve never – not once – seen Larry use his Bluetooth headset/ear-thing in real life.  This might be because I’m usually not standing right next to him when we’re talking on the phone, but this also might be a case similar to his weeklong trial with a Blackberry phone.  It’s new and exciting, yes, but does it seamlessly integrate into Larry’s life?  If not, then chances are it’s in a drawer somewhere in his house, waiting around to be unearthed in ten years’ time to be used in a Franks and Beans reunion movie, filmed entirely in glorious 5-D!  Wait, did I just say that Franks and Beans will no longer be filming new episodes in the year 2020?  NEVER!

While I sometimes have problems thinking of unique and acceptable openings for the show, I apparently never have an issue in deciding how Larry will leave a scene – he’s always going for something to eat.  ALWAYS.  This is not necessarily all that different from real life, in which sandwiches are never far out of reach.  They are pretty good, though.

Once Larry leaves the scene, we get into the heart of the episode, in which I am taken for all I’m worth by some invisible predator (not to be mistaken with the creature from the movie “Predator”.  It’s easy to mix them up).  This joke, admittedly, takes way too long to get to, and the build up isn’t necessarily worth the payoff that we get once we make our way to the end.  Having a one way conversation is challenging and, all things considered, I think this one worked out all right (I’m sure the audience appreciated looking at a still shot of me talking to myself, earpiece dangling precariously from my head), but looking back it seems that things played out exactly like you’d have expected them to.  Sure, this enforces the idea that my character is hopelessly ignorant in any kind of technological capacity and as such it has something of a “don’t open that door!!” parodic quality, but to me it seems a bit too predictable, and one thing I never want the show to be is predictable.  That “I guess I’ve gotten freaky” line was pretty good, though.

But let’s talk about this episode’s name.  What a name, right?  And it just came to me.  “God from the machine”, “Deus ex machina”…perfect!  Now if only we had an episode to match.  And no…that’s not my real Social Security number there at the end.  If by some fantastic coincidence I happened to guess someone else’s, please feel free to sign up for all the credit cards you’d like.  Once Dateline works its way back to me and this episode is played on network television, we’re sure to get that big break and the thousands of views we’ve been looking for.  Take that, random happenstance!

Once you are done watching this episode, I hope that you enjoy the simple wonderment that is our “No!” ending.  The surprise – unpredictability, perhaps! – of Larry using some goblin-like high-pitched voice catches me off guard nearly every time I watch it, and that – that! – is funny.  And just how many Steeler jerseys does Larry have, anyway?  Quite a few, my friend…quite a few.