Kyle Mooney showed up on Weekend Update Saturday for another appearance in character as veteran stand-up Bruce Chandling. Chandling did a long riff on the premise that women don’t understand sports, before veering into tragedy when Michael Che called him out for his bad jokes and lack of preparation:
Not only do people not want to be around me ’cause they think I’m boring, but it probably doesn’t help that I’m also very poor.
The sly look Chandling gives as he finds a way back to the safe ground of his terrible routine is perfect. But the segment fell noticeably flat with the audience, perhaps because the terrible-stand-up-comic routine is nearly as old as Chandling’s “women do not get sports” joke. Norm MacDonald, who’s occasionally classified as this kind of anti-comic, has written at length in a now-deleted series of tweets about his hatred for the term and the style:
… these people are not comics, and they ridicule comics and do not like comics and satirize and parody comics. … “I have found a form of comedy I find bad so I will do it, but I will do it intentionally bad,” is their credo. Because, goes their thinking, “intentionally bad is better than unintentionally bad.” I could argue either way on this but I know one thing. Both are bad. Anti-comics, when you come right down to it, are critics, which may be why they find favor among, guess who, critics.
It’s a fair point, and it’s fairer the closer an anti-comic comes to parodying a specific, existing style of comedy. But there’s no accounting for taste, and searching for the psychological reasons something strikes you as funny is a great way to no longer find it funny at all. So, for people who find botched punch lines, hostile audiences, and dying on stage inexplicably hilarious, here’s a brief anthology of ill-advised acts and terrible jokes.
MacDonald also made the case that Andy Kaufman, the father of this kind of comedy, is miscategorized as an anti-comic, because “he used comedic techniques, he ridiculed no comedic techniques.” That seems like a difficult argument to make about Tony Clifton, who got his persona from somewhere. Kaufman’s Foreign Man act, on the other hand, is its own thing, gloriously absurd even before the Elvis impersonation.
Maybe the most punishingly bad act of all time. Chippington begins nearly every joke with the same setup: “Walking down the road the other day…” But that’s not the bad part. The bad part is his musical performances, positively ingenious in the ways they drain everything good from the songs he covers (and indeed, music itself). By the time he’s finished his sedate version of “She Loves You” in this set, he’s lost the crowd entirely. Which is understandable, since they’ll never be able to enjoy the Beatles again.
Greg Turkington created the character of Neil Hamburger, “America’s Funnyman,” in the early 1990s, and it’s been downhill ever since. His jokes are structured like jokes, not punch-line-free deconstructions—but picture the ideal audience for a joke like Hamburger’s “Why did God let John Denver die? Because his records aren’t selling anymore.” What moves Hamburger past bad to sublime is his horrible delivery, complete with disgusting throat-clearing and his trademark catchphrase, “But that’s my life!” Hamburger’s Twitter feed is also a treasure, where you’ll find him interacting with his favorite brands and, every few weeks, retweeting a brigade of random Twitter users complaining about getting food poisoning from Taco Bell.
Tom Kenny played Matthews—Winner of the San Diego Red Owl Rye Laff-Quest and College Comic of the Year, 1992 (Southwest Region)—on Mr. Show, aka the most appalling gap in HBO Now’s library. And Matthews is terrible (and probably the direct ancestor of Bruce Chandling, given his mugging). But in this case, the joke is that the audience can’t get enough of him, and only Bob Odenkirk sees through his act. If there’s one thing that’s indisputably funnier than bad stand-up, it’s Bob Odenkirk not getting what he wants, and his reaction to seeing Matthews killing singlehandedly justifies the idea of deliberately bad stand-up. Am I right, Slate readers? You know what I’m talking about!