by Evan Hall
By entitling their recent venture into the world of TV Studio C, BYU’s Divine Comedy crew has subtly but intentionally drawn comparisons to the humor of the show on which it is based: Saturday Night Live. Each episode of the show, which airs on BYUtv, is comprised of a series of unrelated skits, much like SNL, that parody different themes. In terms of talent and production costs, no one would honestly impose a critical comparison between the two shows, but the connection between the two raises viewer expectations, and whether or not this was intentional, it inevitably informs every experience with Studio C.
Saturday Night Live, like Studio C, is a weekly show that thrives on quality writing that will generate laughs. However, where SNL derives its true genius is in its topicality. Every skit and every joke in every skit is contextualized in the cultural climate of the week in which it’s produced. You will never turn on Saturday Night Live in the months leading up to a presidential election without seeing a sketch centered around that election. Sketches about the rising popularity of Zooey Deschanel were only applicable as long as Zooey Deschanel’s rising popularity was a topical theme in pop culture. In 2012, you will be hard-pressed to find scenes about Sarah Palin, just as in 2009, you would be hard-pressed to find scenes about Tagg Romney. SNL is conclusively and consistently about the now, the current moment.
This is where the strength of Divine Comedy’s live, non-TV shows has yet to translate to its television production. Except for an occasional outlier like the Oregon Trail bit in episode 2, the sketches that fill the show are certainly not antiquated, but they’re also rarely edgy and even more rarely are they momentous. A sketch about an Amish-like community going green in episode 4 references Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth as one of its climactic jokes, but what would have been an understated, clever remark in 2006 is hardly laugh-worthy in 2012. The same can be said of a Harry Potter sketch in episode 3 and a Ninja Turtle piece in episode 1. While they garner laughs, the sketches miss opportunities for more incisive humor because of their outdated conceits. Happily, those rare sketches that attempt to breach topical elements achieve real comedic brilliance, but they are far too infrequent.
In its live stage shows, Divine Comedy employs a wide array of jokes that are all relevant to the BYU student experience. Jokes about socially desperate Sunday School teachers and Hollywood personalities in a singles ward environment resonate with the audience of Mormon students. Although Studio C has thus far attempted to broaden its scope so as to attract a wider demographic of viewers, that capacity for relevant humor is conspicuously absent.
That said, the medium of television has in many ways liberated Studio C’s prodigiously talented cast. The facial expressions of the actors had been until now a comedic treasure available only to the viewers sitting in the most front rows of the JSB. Now, in sketches like “Facebook Philanthropist” in episode 2, DC actors like Matt Meese can demonstrate their full range of non-verbal jokes, many of which would be far too subtle to catch in an auditorium.
The transfer to a new medium presents the DC crew with intriguing possibilities, and so far they have shown at least a general understanding of the ways they can exploit those possibilities. For anyone who has watched both Studio C and Divine Comedy’s live stage show, the hope is that the Divine Comedy crew can translate all and not just some of the established excellence of the original into their new venue.