In the US: Thursdays, 10pm ET/PT, FX
Sometimes, it can be hard to tell not only if something is funny but if it’s actually trying to be funny. Consider the clown. The very name ‘clown’ evinces the ides that humour is his raison d’être. Yet all he does all day is dress up very weirdly, squirt others with water from a flower and have big shoes.
Do you know anyone who finds clowns funny? I don’t. Do kids, the alleged target audience, find clowns funny? Most seem to get nightmares about them and their horrifying nature is supported in all manner of movies.
Yet clowns continue to exist.
Consider then the irony of Baskets. It’s written and created by Zach Galifianakis and Louis CK, both noted names in comedy. It stars Galifianakis not once but twice as twin brothers Chip and Dale Baskets, which again suggests the show is a comedy. And Chip Baskets is himself a clown, having gone to a prestigious clown school in Paris and who styles himself as ‘Renoir’.
All indicators, surely, of comedy?
Yet sitting through it, I had to ask myself many many times: “Am I missing something or is this just not funny? At all.” Is it supposed to be funny that Baskets has enrolled in a Paris clown school but doesn’t speak French? Or that the first five minutes of everyone else’s dialogue are in unsubtitled French? I didn’t laugh. Maybe it was because I could understand what everyone was saying and you’re not supposed to be able to, I thought.
So is it funny that when he has to return home to the US because he’s run out of money, the Frenchwoman he loves agrees to marry him but with the proviso that “I don’t love you. It’s only because I want a Green Card. I do not find you attractive, so if I find someone who is attractive, is it okay if I go off with him?” It’s dark. Very dark. It could be funny, if a little xenophobic. Maybe I’m supposed to laugh. I don’t know.
Is it funny when Baskets has to get a job as a rodeo clown? Or when he has a crash on his moped and he meets a very low key, underplayed, monotone insurance agent (Martha Kelly) and asks to borrow $40 from her so he can pay for his fiancée’s HBO connection? Is Louie Anderson in drag playing Galifianakis’ mum funny? Is Galifianakis being pronged by a rodeo bull funny?
I. Just. Don’t. Know.
It might well be that this is hilariously funny stuff for some people. The kind of people whom Aaron Sorkin thought would lap up commedia dell’arte sketches in a primetime Saturday night sketch show.
But not me. Is that funny?