Laugh Track: Nov. 19, 2010

Comedy has gotten much more democratic over the years: It’s no longer limited to guys in clubs or major-network TV shows. With a bit of free time and minimal iMovie know-how, everyone from budding young comics to name-brand stars can carve out some Internet space for their sense of humor. At the same time, traditional outlets like comedy CDs and DVDs are growing in breadth with the art form itself. It’s a great time to be a comedy fan, and Laugh Track, The A.V. Club’s weekly comedy blog, will round it all up—new and noteworthy stand-up, sketch, and online video, much of it courtesy of under-the-radar comedians with a little too much time on their hands.

Internet: Vag Magazine
The mark of bad social commentary is when the comic feels the need for a figurative wink (or in the case of hilarious stand-up comedian Sarah Palin, a literal wink) to the camera. But there’s no desperation or “See what I did there?” in Vag Magazine, a six-part series that details the launch of an exaggeratedly feminist rag. The women on the editorial staff fight about what makes for a compelling Vag story, while demonstrating wobbly political beliefs and an understanding of feminism mostly as a fashion statement. The staff’s idiosyncrasies get magnified by Meghan, the one Vag-er who keeps her head. While everyone else is off complaining about how the Victorian-inspired cover shoot wasn’t “steampunk enough,” Meghan asks follow-up questions that turn these caricatures into tragically funny characters. The sixth and final part of this densely written series hits the Internet on Monday. The first five are available on the Vag Magazine website. Have you heard the word “vag” enough for one day? Listen to the opening credits first:

Internet: Backwash
Web series aren’t subject to expectations, seeing as they’re usually given zero marketing dollars and feature few actors noteworthy enough to warrant pre-launch interviews. A rare exception is Backwash, a 13-part series created by Aaron Sorkin darling and iCarly guest star Joshua Malina and launched by Crackle.com earlier this week. Directed by Danny Leiner (Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle) Backwash features heavy-hitters like Jon Hamm, Allison Janney, Joe Lo Truglio, and Michael Ian Black

Yes, there were expectations for Backwash, but four episodes in, that’s pretty much all it has going for it. Co-starring with Michael Panes and Black, Malina plays the eccentric caretaker Val to Panes’ Jonesy, a manchild not in the Judd Apatow way so much as in the 10-year-old-trapped-in-an-adult way. Other actors portray one-note players in this already cartoonish world, with the only sense of grounding coming from the intros and outros to each episode, which take the form of Masterpiece Theatre-like monologues. These are by far the best part of Backwash, as they allow Ken Marino and Hank Azaria to portray exaggerated versions of themselves.

The idea behind Backwash isn’t distilled enough for the web. It feels like a half-formed TV show idea that Malina decided to experiment with online, likely because 1) episodes didn’t have to be very long, and 2) it’s easier. (Plus, as The Social Network demonstrated, the Internet is a place to make a billion dollars and embarrass members of Harvard’s crew team.) At seven minutes or so a pop, these episodes are patience-testing, made worse by the characters not embarking on the road trip the series is ostensibly about until episode four. The rules for comedic web videos are still being written, and Backwash is a fascinating case study of web comedy gone wrong.

Of course, if the sight of bearded Don Draper is enough for you, then by all means:

Bonus: Jon LaJoie’s “WTF Collective 2”
Montreal comic, Internet darling, The League co-star, and everyday normal guy Jon LaJoie put out a new album this week. The first single has hit the web in the form of an extended character-based sketch-song. “Show Me Your Genitals” it ain’t: This new track rocks, and demonstrates LaJoie’s knack for the absurd:

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