It's not like I force everyone I meet to watch this, but it's just one of those things that will come up, sooner or later, over the long course of a friendship, and when it does I just take a time out and make sure we're on the same page. There are other bits/jokes/riffs/songs I think about a lot, of course, but there's something special about this one.
The character of the annoying waiter is very well-established in comedy, but it requires an annoyed customer character, someone to take the role of the audience and process our frustrations. You could say that the "point" of the annoying waiter riff is to take a situation we've all encountered (someone is rude to you) and build it up to a high-pressure absurdity that short circuits our emotion and causes us to jump from being mad at an individual direct to laughing at a situation. But "Dipping Areas" barely has any customers in it at all, and their main "I'm annoyed" reaction shot is from a nightmare sequence inside the waiter's mind. The situation the sketch assumes that we've encountered before isn't "someone is oblivious to you" but "you love something that others might find trivial". And even if we've never encountered this feeling before ("I'm new here"), we're warmly supported and welcomed in.
You could say that the soft soothing voices of the waiters and our mousse-eye view of them in many shots is an early precursor to ASMR. But it isn't just the dessert that's being lovingly cared for-- the waiters are thoughtful and attentive to each other, to the customers, and to themselves. Initially I thought it was odd that the other waiters allow Dave to label his own suggestion (to get rid of the chocolate dusting) as "stupid". But now I feel like the waiters allow themselves to call out a bad idea as both a belief in their own judgement and a great faith in their team. They knew that Dave could take the heat, and though he gets a little defensive, he quickly agrees: "it would be a crime to compromise on the chocolate dusting". Kevin's appearance as the customer gets the biggest laugh, and we're primed not to like her via her steely facade. But the writers elide any impropriety by letting her refer to her younger male companion as her "protégé" and to allow this to go unquestioned. Later, they let her alone solve the riddle of the dipping areas, which is a great relief to waiter Mark. You can tell that Mark wants to tell her the whole story of the discussion, but he keeps it to himself, another thoughtful act.
When I first saw this as a teenager it was really shocking. I watched a lot of comedy as a kid and I felt like I had a handle on the rules and customs of the domain. I memorized jokes and catch phrases and formats and references, and I had a child's stupid desire to emulate something perceived as strong-- I assumed that to be funny meant being a little bit mean. Obviously I found Dipping Areas really confusing. It seemed like it was going to go mean, and we're set up to laugh at everyone, but so quickly we turn to "that's me" and then "this is me at my best". I liked it, but it broke my model for how things worked on TV. No one is on top, no one is made to look foolish, it's totally horizontal. The big laugh at the end is shared with every single person on screen! I really couldn't figure it out. Why did I like this even though it was the opposite of everything else I perceived as good?
As years pass I like this more and more. And I think of it as an example of something weird simple slow and nice that was allowed to exist in a landscape of fast mean garbage. We've been in a fast mean garbage holding pattern for a while now, I hope all you dreamweavers out there are taking some of this terrifying time period to disconnect from your hustle and marinate on utopia a little bit. And I'm not talking about re-branding as a finely-tuned spirit warrior or yoga evangelist, I'm talking about allowing yourself to dive in to that which is truly good even if its corny or laughable. Do something nice, allow yourself to be patient, make your friends laugh, a herd of loose blueberries, and finished off with a light chocolate dusting.
Links / Misc
- There's a lot of great "annoying waiter" content out there, but it's so established now that for modern comedy you mostly see it in twisted / inverted form. In addition to "Dipping Areas", which is basically the annoying waiter bit set in a loving universe, I can think of Steve Martin playing an annoyed waiter in the Muppet Movie, and Belushi / Ackroyd playing annoying customers in Blues Brothers. I'm sure there are a ton more.
The only place to see the riff in its pure form is in more reptilian displays, like kid's shows or fetish sites. Here's a classic example from Sesame St: [youtube]. Here's another one from a kids show but it's British, and seems to have been re-edited by a "crazy waiter" fetishist (safe for work, no children involved) [youtube]. I'm not really sure what's happening but I guess we're learning about counting.
The rest of the fetish stuff I'm seeing (no links but easily found) tends towards "messy waiter"-- for people who love to fantasize about things being spilled on them. I'm not selecting any links for this but some of it is just adults getting slimed on Nickleodeon, some is new footage made on purpose, direct to market. Seems like a pretty harmless fetish to be honest and it seems like everyone's having a really great time so God bless. I'm guessing there's tons of stuff that went from popular joke to cornball to kids media to fetish... actually maybe that's the main route? Furries were born in Kafka, with an Animorphs larval stage. Quicksand, being tied to a railroad track, whips, all that stuff was corny in the 70s, stuff you'd only see in cartoons. But it's way back there in the brain and still paying dividends for some people.
OK, I admit, I checked in on slime fetishists, but mostly to see if they were using 80s Nickelodeon green slime (which would support my thesis) or modern DIY slime, and actually what I saw the most of was pink Ghostbusters II slime (which is a transitional step between the two). I know I said I wasn't going to post a link but here's a good example from the first page of search requests, no nudity whatesoever, no aggression, pure reverie. Good vibes only (positively charged slime). I was hoping the music would be either Jackie Wilson or Bobby Brown, but it's neither, it's a really incredible choice (Satie, "Gymnopédies") [youtube]. Imagine waking up Satie's ghost and telling him he's on "Linda Slimed In Her Office Outfit". You know he's psyched!
- As far as other surprisingly relaxing media, I recommend Great British Bake Off seasons 1 - 7. The show is kind of a stressful situation (baking competition) so they employ two comedians, Mel and Sue, to provide emotional support to the contestants. They do a great job putting people at ease, oftentimes in small but consistant ways. Very nice to see. Someone told me that when a contestant really breaks down on set Mel and Sue stand around them and swear so the footage can't be broadcast? That's a bizarre display to imagine, with a heart of true thoughtfulness. The later seasons are OK but the comedians switch out and the new ones are more about making jokes, they're nice but less supportive. People keep trying to get me to watch shows that are variations on this format but the pitch is always "it's like this but crazy and super stressful". Come on... I don't want that. I don't have a link for this but you can just download this from somewhere. It's old enough that any bittorrent of this that has trackers in it has been IDed and starved so just go for it.
I also got into this Australian lifeguard show "Bondi Rescue", which is a reality show where trained professionals who love to save people's lives do so over and over again. The majority of the time it's a tourist unaccustomed to the beach's heavy riptides- they tumble into and out of danger like big wet babies, flopped onto a rescue board and dumped on the shore. The lifeguards love each other, they love the ocean, and even when people are drunk on the beach on christmas causing problems they're like "old mate's had a big night" smiling and laughing. In some of the early episodes the producers try to spike the drama by getting the lifeguards to prank each other and the pranks are so dumb. But no one ever gets really mad, and most of the time it's like "well, it's another day at the most beautiful beach in the world". Job turnover is pretty low because everyone loves it there, and as a result you get to see the new guys become the old guys, which is really nice. Still, you never really learn about anyone's life beyond their nickname, and little things here and there. There's some blood, and sometimes you're just really looking at a pretty nasty cut, but it's more yucky than yikes. Every couple years someone on the beach really drowns and all the lifeguards get wicked sad, so CW on that. Here's a youtube link to a huge playlist, and I gotta say, this show isn't "good" but... I like it :) Actually the mega fan in this isolation pod is Sakiko, if anyone really digs this then please just contact her directly. [youtube]
- I downloaded "Dipping Areas" and keep in on my movies harddrive with all the other great video files I download. It seems extreme to save something so commonplace as a clip from a popular sketch comedy TV show, but sometimes you go looking for a video and it's gone-- might as well save the foundational documents. To do this I use the command-line tool "youtube-dl". This is a great thing to know how to do, and you can also configure it to save just the sound and chuck the video, so sometimes I use this to grab songs or whole albums from youtube and put them right in my mp3 folder. If you've never really messed with the command line maybe this is a frivolous low-stakes way to get into it? [link]
- I didn't forget about the "what are these wavy lines" contest from 2 weeks ago ([link]) to try and ID the origin of these wavy lines I've been using as horizontal rules:
My favorite guess was from wavy line afficianado Arthur Katrina, who guessed "Master Of Reality":
That wasn't it. The closest was Chris Brown who got ssssssso close! They looked at the stylesheet and found out that the lines were named stoppage.png, then based on that took a wild stab at a correlation with the Descendents LP "Liveage". Not it.
The answer is that I traced from Marcel Duchamp's "3 standard stoppages (invisible mending)".
For a dynamite essay on this piece that includes an incredible discovery about it, please see the great Duchamp site TOUT-FAIT. Duchamp hid a lot of jokes for his own amusement throughout his oevre, this is a case where the "punchline" wasn't realized until 31 years after his death. What A Fucker. Personally I find that putting in little jokes and easter eggs is a way to stay invested in the work and keep things lively, but at the same time, damn dude. Essay by Rhonda Roland Shearer and... Steven Jay Gould??? [link].
Personally I love Duchamp but there's not a Big Joke here with me using these, I just needed some nice wavy lines. :)
by Greg Harvester
Over coffee, I re-read the Cometbus interview with Al Jaffe from issue 57 where, at the age of 95 (then! He's 99 now!), he comes across as humble, really funny, kind and not-at-all jaded. A truly inspirational human.
Then I read the new issue of Erin Yanke's zine Chasing the Night ($4 ppd to PO Box 1113, Portland, OR 97207). It was written and compiled over the last month to highlight the humor, struggles, prepping and worry that people have been experiencing as this current reality unfolds. It helped to make me feel less alone as this isolation continues and that is a very important feeling.
While trying to organize my massive zine collection, I plowed through Sun Ra records, which has been almost the only records I've listened to for weeks. The ones I keep coming back to are The Magic City and My Brother The Wind. When listening to the latter, I can't help thinking about the Arkestra showing up in en masse to Trumansburg, NY in 1970 in full bonkers regalia to tour the Moog factory, leaving a trail of bounced checks and dropped jaws in town. They left with a then-new Minimoog, which Ra immediately altered and nearly destroyed in order to get the sounds he wanted from it. Other Sun Ra records that I can highly recommend during this time are "The Bad and the Beautiful", "Interstellar Low Ways", "When Sun Comes Out" (a big fave as of late) and "Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow." You can listen to any Sun Ra though because he has hundreds of records and I can't really see going wrong. Also, his movie "Space is the Place" is online for free [youtube], beginning with the line "It's after the end of the world, don't you know that yet?"
Friends have offered me streaming site passwords, but all of those choices make me feel anxious and empty. I haven't heard of anything that floats my boat, so I spend evenings watching old episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, reading books (currently Other Powers by Barbara Goldsmith) or trying to look at my friends through a computer screen and these moments, while not ideal, are helpful for me. Take care of yourselves out there, my friends.
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