South Park: "Funnybot"
C+

South Park: "Funnybot"

C+

South Park

"Funnybot"

Season 15, Episode 2

Short of Maxim’s Hot 100 becoming an actual ceremony, there are few awards shows as pointless as Viacom’s recently launched Comedy Awards (though I suppose they’re safe from rock bottom so long as Spike’s Guys Choice continues to exist). Not only was the whole endeavor shamelessly self-serving in its favoring of Comedy Central shows—as Trey Parker and Matt Stone said when South Park won for Best Animated Series, it’s a lot like “being Student of the Month when your mom’s the teacher”—there’s an inherent paradox at play that was articulated tonight. Namely, if someone accepts an award for being a comedian, that means they’re taking what they do seriously—and what’s funny about that? As anyone who saw Eddie Murphy accept his Icon Award can tell you: Nothing. Nothing is funny about that.

You can easily imagine Parker and Stone dreaming up “Funnybot” on the drive home from that strange little ceremony, having just spent several hours trapped in a scene that, for all its mildly subversive acceptance speeches from Stephen Colbert and Louis C.K. and the chance to see Bill Murray in person, was mostly a surprisingly dull, dry circle-jerk, the kind that only leads to mass chafing. And even though it’s something of an inside joke (who, besides the people who are forced to report on it, were even aware the Comedy Awards existed?), it's not too much of a stretch to think it could be a good starting point to mock the groupthink and other inscrutable factors behind the business of comedy and declaring something “the funniest,” when we all know that comedy is completely subjective and nothing can claim to be “the funniest” all the time. (Again, look at Eddie Murphy.)

And so that’s what “Funnybot” did, restaging the Comedy Awards as a presentation by the “Special Ed Department” at the behest of resident handi-comic Jimmy, whose first trophy naturally went straight to himself. From there, it was on to even more meaningless accolades—such as Tyler Perry's Kathy Griffin Award for celebrity likeliest to show up and anything that is awarded to a Ben Stiller movie. Then it was time for one of South Park’s signature hard turns, veering off into a subplot about the Germans getting pissed for being named the least funny people in the world, when everyone knows it’s [FILL IN COUNTRY YOUR ANCESTORS HAILED FROM], am I right?

After the huffing mad German government failed to impress with the old saw about the sausage maker buying a box of cereal, Germany invades South Park Elementary, demanding a recount in light of their newly unleashed secret weapon: Funnybot, a gag machine with the head of a Star Wars interrogation droid, the body (and extermination fetish) of a Dalek, and the utilitarian comic ability to do everything from host Saturday Night Live to star in sex romps with Eugene Levy. Indeed, he is the perfect comedian.

At its root, “Funnybot” was a satire about the artificiality and disposability of so much modern comedy: Armed with his programmed catchphrase (“AWKWARD!”), Funnybot quickly becomes the biggest draw in America, despite the fact that his scatological riffing is essentially a random matrix of 4chan-ready insults (“I wouldn’t let Adam Sandler suck my saggy tits for $1 million worth of Oprah’s tampons”) when it isn’t freeform Dadaist poetry (“Don’t you hate how Mexicans always complain about turtles in their vaginas?”). Based on this, there are probably some who will likely draw comparisons between Funnybot and Charlie Sheen—and certainly the scene where Funnybot decides it would be funny to mow down his entire audience with machine guns, with the audience only seeming to love him more for the abuse, is reminiscent of Sheen’s occasionally disastrous yet bafflingly successful live schadenfreude tour and also that time he shot Kelly Preston. And of course, when it comes time for the boys to put a stop to Funnybot’s growing comedy empire—which has put every comic from Louis C.K. to Dane Cook to Zach Galifianakis to Russell Brand out of business, apparently even taking 7 Up commercials away from poor David Spade—they go and visit Funnybot at his office in CBS, which is right next door to a One And A Half Men poster, wink wink.

But that would be reductive, when, really, “Funnybot” was weirder than that—and in truth, far more scattershot. Much of the episode was built on little half-jokes like this, while that expected grand thesis statement (or any statement, really) on the state of modern comedy never really materialized. Even having all those famous faces who found themselves deposed by Funnybot taking the kids hostage never went beyond the boilerplate, besides insinuating that Jay Leno is a big angry baby. And strangest of all, it seemed to have a fairly murky idea of the kind of comedy it was mocking: In laying out his reasoning for eradicating humanity as the ultimate final joke, Funnybot declares, “Today’s comedy is all setup, punchline, then awkward”—which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, unless by “today’s comedy,” you mean “specifically the comedy of Emo Philips, circa the late 1980s.” Rather, the most cogent points made by “Funnybot” were that Tyler Perry is a pandering jackass that even black people (in this case, Token and President Obama) are embarrassed by yet somehow can’t help giving their money to, and that the Comedy Awards are dumb, dumb, dumb.

Which are both valid, if unnecessary points to make—though however pat they were, the scenes of Token hypnotized into handing dollars over to Madea in spite of himself were definitely among the highlights. But ultimately, “Funnybot” was a bit too “NON-SEQUITUR” for me, sticking to easy jokes about easy targets and then—like Funnybot himself—padding out its kernel of an idea with random nonsense that left the whole thing feeling a little slight, even if there were some genuinely funny bits in there. And we all know that South Park can be so much better than that. After all, it won a Comedy Award.

Stray observations:

  • Speaking of scattershot, how rushed and obligatory were those nods to the Bin Laden announcement? I almost wish they hadn’t even acknowledged it and maybe reserved the opportunity to address it more directly in a later episode.
  • Good to see that Timmy has kept up with his music career.
  • “Knackwurst, knackwurst…”
  • Seriously, though, are Germans funny? Here’s a clip of popular German comic Hape Kerkeling as a starting point for discussion.