April 11, 2011

First Annual Comedy Awards

Comedy Central’s first annual Comedy Awards was a curious mixture of really funny and really boring, so chock-full of funny people squeezed into two hours that only a few of them stood out effectively. We’ll see about that “annual” thing.

To be sure, lots of worthy performers and TV shows won awards. The multiple prizes to 30 Rock were unassailable; but it was also nice to see a solid chunk of eccentricity such as Rob Corddry’s Childrens Hospital get an award.

The ceremony, which also aired on Viacom-owned entities such as Spike TV, CMT, TV Land, and VH1, was, depending on your point of view, either a democratic effort or a hodgepodge. South Park co-creator Matt Stone, whose show won for best animated series, commented aptly that winning a best-animated-show award from a Comedy Central presentation was “like being Student of the Month and your mom is the teacher.”

Eddie Murphy was presented with a special Icon Award and an impressive montage of his work was shown. (I had forgotten just how funny his spoken word performance “Kill My Landlord” is.) Murphy graciously thanked his particular inspirations: Richard Pryor, Charlie Chaplin, Bill Cosby, and George Carlin.

By far the most interesting moment of the night was the final one. Bill Murray got a standing ovation just for walking out to present “The Johnny Carson Award.” He said with perfect appropriateness for the times in which we live, “Now we’re gonna show you a clip to show you who Johnny Carson was.”

Murray went on to place Carson in a cultural context, citing what he saw as some of Carson’s influences “Jack Benny, Laurel and Hardy, Jackie Gleason” and observed that Carson saw America through the awkward transition from “’50s culture to a ’60s culture.” He suggested that Letterman did the same thing, but as a man who guided late night TV from America as confident empire to “a country that doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing.”

Letterman then took the stage and made a delightfully rambling speech that had moments of spontaneous jabs (“By the way, I could listen to Garry Shandling talk all night, and I thought maybe we were going to”), but rested on a heartfelt appreciation of Carson.

Earlier in the show, Tina Fey, after winning a microphone-shaped statuette as best film comedy actress (rearrange those words any way you like; the show did) for Date Night, said in her acceptance speech, “All awards shows are bulls, made up clubs that people start to give each other prizes, so I want to thank Comedy Central for realizing ‘We could do that, give each other prizes.’”

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