Venus Envy

On VH1’s Best Week Ever wannabes make fun of real celebrities.

Best Week’s lame jokes 

Best Week Ever (VH1, Fridays, 11 p.m. ET) may be the most unnecessary show on television. A tongue-in-cheek roundup of the week in popular culture, Best Week Ever uses VH1’s by now familiar “clip show” format, where snippets from the world of entertainment are deconstructed by a phalanx of largely unknown actors, comedians, and TV personalities. Like VH1’s I Love the 70s and I Love the 80s, Best Week Ever is simultaneously obsessive and dismissive. The show covers all manner of pop culture ephemera— Pimp Juice anyone?—but takes special delight in dissecting, deriding, and then discarding Big Name Stars. The unspoken premise is that biting, snarky humor is the only defense against the ineluctable creep of celebrity culture, but after a month of watching the panelists take down the likes of Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, and Ben Affleck, I started to wonder: Are celebrity jokes funny anymore?

The humor on Best Week Ever is lazy and reflexive. “Janet is notorious for multitasking,” says actor-comedian Doug Benson, referring to the cover of Janet’s new album, which features a photo of the singer clutching her breasts, “She was doing a photo shoot and a self-examination.” Later, during a segment on Britney Spears’ Onyx Hotel tour, the comics rag on everything you’d expect, from Britney’s slutty personae to her lame stage show. “If you’re upset about Britney lip-synching,” says actress and Daily Show veteran Rachel Harris, “consider the alternative.” The on-air talent, which also includes another former Daily Show correspondent in Mo Rocca and a professional wrestler named Jericho, appears to be having fun, but that doesn’t make them funny. You could easily arrive at the same material with your friends over a few beers after work.

And the problem is, we’ve heard it all before. In 1992, Robert Altman’s The Player and Garry Shandling’s comedy series The Larry Sanders Show rewrote the guide to show-business humor. Films like Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950) may have satirized Hollywood, but Altman and Shandling made everyone an insider. Today, wisecracks abut the dark side of fame—the childish backstage behavior, the runaway egos, the desperate career moves—are so omnipresent that agent jokes appear in TV commercials and asides about the weekend movie grosses crop up on Nickelodeon. “Look, Ben, nobody forced you to be in two movies with J-Lo,” says comedian Christian Finnegan during a bit about the career vagaries of Affleck. “You brought this on yourself.” But it’s hard to laugh; we’ve been inside too long now. The knowing wink has become an annoying facial tic.

The real joke, of course, is that the pundits who appear on Best Week Ever would kill to be even half as famous as the people they mock. Surely they would give their best one-liner for the most embarrassing talk-show appearance or blockbuster flop. But they are caught in a trap that I refer to as “Rocca’s Paradox.” That is, if you present yourself as superior to celebrities, you ruin your chances of becoming one; there’s no way to act the scourge while simultaneously putting in the ugly work it takes to become famous. The panelists on Best Week Ever have cut off their own access to fame—and there’s nothing funny about that.