Not Feeling the Funny

Although an academic, I’m no gleek and indeed I have had very little experience with Glee – I have seen one full episode, more or less, and found it pretty uninteresting.  I haven’t been able to watch much more than that.  I know that lots of people love it, that lots of people are CRAZY about it.  I know that.  I get it.  Well, I get that lots of people love it; I don’t get why they love it, but that’s a discussion, perhaps, for another time.  This post has to do with the latest clip that the gleeks are devouring with great joy.  I first saw it through the Facebook posts of lots of friends: Jane Lynch doing her rendition of Madonna’s “Vogue.”

Now, before I get to the clip, let me just say that I think Jane Lynch is a very good comedienne.  She has quite slowly but very surely moved from quick spots on sitcoms and television dramas to supporting roles in indie films to larger roles in mainstream films.  Her strength is clearly in comedy – she’s had a fabulous run as a supporting actress in a number of films and shows in the past few years and she is brilliant at the deadpan style of playing scenes straight, even while saying the most ridiculous things.  She seems to have mastered this through her experience in Christopher Guest films, but she’s done very well in the Judd Apatow films of the last few years and now has clearly found a home on Glee.  In terms of her role and her lines, the show seems to allow her to both play it straight and wink at the audience at the same time.

But I have to say “seems” in that sentence because I don’t know the show well enough to comment on it.  Which brings me to her rendition of “Vogue.” (What you see is a reverse image of the actual video, which right now is only available on Hulu.  This is from YouTube.  Still, don’t worry, you’ll get the gist of it.)

She’s a great mimic here.  She’s got the vocal intonations down, the hand movements, the look.  She subs in two gestures toward the show – her character’s name and that of a different character – but pretty much everything else is a direct copy of the original video.  Which makes me wonder why so many people are so excited by this video?  A number of friends have written how funny they think this is.  Why?  It doesn’t seem to be a parody, but a copy.  What makes that funny?

Most likely, others will argue that what makes this funny is that it is her character doing the copying of Madonna.  My sense is that her character has opposed the glee club and that she hasn’t done any singing in the show so far – so this would be her first performance.  But I’m still not sure why that would make this funny.  Does the video’s debt to gay African-American dancing in the Atlanta area have something to do with the humor – in placing the “homage” into some sort of broader sociological context that repositions Lynch’s character?

Again, I don’t know.  What I see is a copy, not a parody, not a satire, not any sort of social commentary or even a sendup of the original.  How much of the humor here is dependent on having seen the show?  And, if it is, would we agree that this is indeed something most of us see as fundamentally funny?  Another way of saying this, in the words of a literature professor, just how much does context matter (or how much should we take context into account), when reading a text?

Talk amongst yourselves.

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