Sunday, March 15, 2009

In Which Stephen Colbert Makes Me Go to Mass

Stephen Colbert's liturgical song and dance ("The King of Glory," clip below) made me homesick for church this week. Specifically for weekday Mass, which, meaning no disrespect, can be something of an improv comedy club.

Three out of three Catholics I asked know this hymn and will immediately launch into it, if you get them started. Bink said her Catholic charismatics group danced an Israeli folk version of it in the 1970s. (It seems to be a hymn with a lot of variations.)

This Colbert clip is from the ending credits of Strangers with Candy (season 2, episode 9, "The Blank Stare, Part 2," guest-starring Alan Tudyk, who plays Wash, the pilot of the shaceship Serenity, on Firefly. "Serenity" is currently the frontrunner in NASA's public vote to name a new ISS module, which "Stephen Colbert," the faux-news character, is lobbying viewers to get named after him. [If you want to vote, the NASA link is at the end of the article I link to here.] How's that for a Venn diagram?)

Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris (David's sister, you know), Paul Dinello, and Mitch Rouse created Strangers with Candy for Comedy Central; aired 1999-2000.
You can watch SWC on There are only 30 episodes, about 22-minutes each, so about 11 hours worth. You could watch them all in two days. I did.
In the show, Amy Sedaris plays a "stupid junkie whore" who is returning to high school after 32 years as a runaway teenager. Colbert plays Chuck Noblet, the uptight history teacher who is spookily like my uptight ninth-grade history teacher. He's married with children and carrying on an affair with the art teacher, Geoffrey Jellinek, played by Paul Dinello.

The show is rude and crude satire, and a little hard to take because, like the original British version of The Office (I haven't seen the U.S. version), its ugliness is a bit too accurate. I found myself remembering parts of high school that I would rather not. If you get bogged down, just skip to the end--the last episode is very gratifying, if you hated high school. (If you didn't hate high school, I can't believe we know each other.)

After watching SWC, I looked for the trio's earlier show, Exit 57 (1995-1996), which isn't officially available, but many of its comedy skits are on youTube. Including "Down in the Basement" (500 + views). This 5 minute skit about squirrel sculpting is much more popular in its 45 second version (8,000+ views), which cuts out the skit, leaving only the parts with Colbert and Dinello kissing. Note squirrel in foreground. [picture source here]
I watched all of SWC wondering, are these guys ever going to kiss? and I was surprised when they didn't-- it's not like the show holds back on anything else. Maybe they decided unrequited teasing is more fun?
Anyway, it's kind of as if Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner played cowboys who kissed each other on Bonanza before they went on to play Spock and Kirk, whom we never see more than making eyes at each other. (And before anyone thought, how is this going to look played endlessly on youTube, remixed and set to "The Look of Love"?)

Now I have to sign off because I am going to Sunday Mass for the first time in ages. Sunday mornings are usually not as much wacko fun as daily Mass because the intensity--and hence the comedic potential--is watered down by the presence of large numbers of people who don't much want to be there; but they're still pretty good.
(I should write more about this--I don't want to mislead: I used to be a regular daily-noon-Masser myself and deeply love my fellow loonies. They're my people. But my ride is waiting.)

Thank you, Mr. Colbert, for showing me how homesick I was for this church, of the nuts, by the nuts, and for the nuts. (Or squirrels.)


momo said...

OK, now I must immediately watch Strangers with Candy. OK, after I take a walk in the sun, or I'll get stuck in a hulu jag and miss this beautiful day. I love to see this free and joyful version of Colbert in contrast to the version I only know from his latest show. And hearing the giggles everyone is trying to suppress at the end of the clip.

I did not grow up catholic, but I've been to mass often enough to enjoy its ritual pleasures.

fresca said...

Hi, Momo!
SWC is a weird show--I even hesitate to recommend it, though it made me laugh a lot.
If you don't want to spend the time (I totally got sucked in the hulu black hole), watch just episode 2 of season 1 ("A Burden's Burden") and then skip to the last episode of the show ("The Last Temptation of Blank"), and you'd see the best of it--the rest is a lot of variations on a theme.
And even though it's satire, some of the stuff they're mocking is so ugly and real, I thought it was too disturbing to be entirely funny.

I get tired of the character "Stephen Colbert" on "The Colbert Report" pretty quickly too--again, a bit too real not to be grating.

Wasn't it a great day? The sun! I walked around the lake and didn't mind at all that the bottom of my pants legs got soaked with mushy melted snow.
("Should I wear my trousers rolled?")

momo said...

Today I stepped on the ground and sank--it wasn't frozen! It was real mud!!!

fresca said...

Yes! And I walked around the lake, again, and then sat in the sun for a while, and when I got home, my face was a little sunburned! Hooray for spring!

Jennifer said...

I never got into SWC! As you say, at the time it was running the parody had a bitter edge I wasn't ready for, and I never got back into it.

Speaking of Colbert and geekery, you might enjoy some of the this interview with Neil Gaiman, where he spontaneously launches into a recitation of "The Lay of Tom Bombadil." :D