Along with their love of sleeping late and attempting nothing ambitious during daylight hours, millennials seem to have an unending appetite for nostalgia. Comedians have been capitalizing on this for some time, making jokes about vintage Nintendo games and comic books. So it only makes sense that someone finally came along and put together a comedy commentary show surrounded by (relatively) vintage Saturday morning cartoons and commercials of the '80s and '90s.
We caught up with event Cartoons and Comedy organizer Christopher Baker to chat about why it's not regressive to enjoy cartoons and a bowl of cereal on a Saturday morning, even as an adult.
Westword: Is this event a mock-fest of old cartoons, or does it lean closer to nostalgic appreciation?
Christopher Baker: It's a little of both. The first time I put this show on, we showed the Ghostbusters cartoon, and there was a good ten minutes where none of the comics said anything, they were like, "Guys, this is just good." But some of the stuff is just so terrible, like The Smurfs. Pee-wee's Playhouse went over really well. The commercials are where the comics riff the hardest; those commercials from the '80s and '90s have these very specific gender roles, G.I. Joe's and all that. So it's both, it's making fun of these things, but there's also the "oh, I miss that," feeling.
But this is a kind of Mystery Science Theater format, right? Where we watch these clips, but there's also a funny commentary.
Yeah, the first time I did it the comics weren't riffing during the clips, but it happened organically from the crowd. So the second and third time I added the mics for the comics and it made all the difference.
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So it was just the cartoons when it started?
Yeah. I'm from Indiana, and used to regularly get together with my buddies on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons and eat cereal. Now I work at Comedy Works, and one night I approached Sam Tallent and said, "Hey, you like standup, do you like cartoons? Could that be a show?" And he made it happen at Deer Pile.
Are the comedians cartoon fans as well?
Oh yeah. I'm open to anybody, but I like to use comics who are around my age group, around 27 to their 30s. It's a pretty specific thing -- a lot of the time if someone's a year older or younger than me, they had a completely different experience of cartoons when they were young. I encourage the comics to deliver material inspired by the cartoons we're watching, or just about nostalgia in general. Jordan Doll was on the second show, and he told a story about going to grade school in Scotland, which was great.
When you used to watch cartoons back in Indiana, were you watching classic cartoons from your childhood, or was it more modern cartoons?
It was always old cartoons. It's funny, I get requests for the show to do things like Dexter's Laboratory. And it's like, I was in high school when that was on. So yeah, it's always been the cartoons of the late '80s and early '90s, with commercials from that era, too.
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Is there something about that era that made particularly ridiculous cartoons, or is this just sentimentality? Do you have a fondness for that aesthetic that transcends nostalgia?
That era had a very specific type of Saturday morning cartoon. These were the cartoons that everyone could watch, you didn't need basic cable, everyone could watch the network channels. In '91 or '92 there was this company DIC, and a few others, that just pumped out these cartoons that only ran for one or two seasons. There was one called Pro Stars that had Wayne Gretzsky, Bo Jackson and I think Michael Jordan. There was a Back to the Future cartoon that only ran for a season or two. They were just pumping them out to sell toys or sell cereal -- or if there was a big movie or video game, it would have its own cartoon. I was between the ages of six and twelve during that time, and so this show has a huge nostalgia factor for me.
And I assume it does for most of the audience, too, since they're probably around the same age. But even if they don't, you have some really great comedians on the bill, too.
Yeah, other than the comics being hilarious, that's my favorite part. The commercials are what really make the audience gasp, you hear people saying, "I owned that!" or "I wanted that so bad!" They're these things that you haven't thought about in fifteen or twenty years. I usually spend a couple days each month going through YouTube clips of old commercials, looking for weird little gems. And then also good stuff like Crossfire -- everyone remembers that commercial.
A lot of the time conceptual comedy shows can be tricky. The standup format is usually something you don't want to mess with, because the results can be disastrous. But I imagine the narcotic of childhood Saturday mornings can open up an audience to additional humor in a way that something like mixing live music with comedy cannot.
That's true. The first show I did was at 11 a.m., and that was a huge mistake, because no one wakes up at that time on a Saturday in Denver. And then the second and third one was at 2 p.m., which is what it is now. But I might start doing it in the evenings, a lot of comics think it might work better then. I want to find an in-between. Doing it early in the morning really fits with the nostalgia of being a kid and watching cartoons first thing during breakfast, before your brain is really awake.
What are some of the cartoons that you've shown, or will show, that really hit that button for you?
On the first show I did Muppet Babies, that one is really something else because it has all these pop-culture references -- it was really ahead of its time. With this one I'm going to show some Animaniacs, which has the same qualities. I would compare it to Pixar movies where you can watch it as a child on one level, and then as an adult you can get a whole other line of commentary. Ren & Stimpy is another one I'm excited about, because that show is so freakin' weird. I don't know how they got that on TV, it was so graphic. They would cut to a scene real close when something disgusting happened, and they'd use those water-color paintings. When I showed Pee-wee's Playhouse it was really fun, because that was something that I watched as a kid, but I had a blurry memory of. I watched it a few weeks before the show and I was like, "wWat in the world in this?!"
Last month I showed something called Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue. It was commissioned by the White House as an anti-drug campaign, and it had Alf, Ninja Turtles, Looney Tunes. It was so weird, so bad. That's something I love to do, too, things that are so awful that we watched, and we remember now and go, "Why on earth was I watching this?"
Sam Tallent was on that show, and there was a moment where the boy was doing drugs, and his little sister was like, "If I want to be friends with my big brother, maybe I should do drugs, too." And Sam was like: "funny story, that was how me and my sister made our friendship work out."
Cartoons and Comedy starts at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 13 (and runs every second Saturday of the month), 206 East 13th Avenue, and features Elliot Woolsey, Chris Charpentier and Jim Hickox. Click here for more information.
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For more comedy commentary, follow me on Twitter at @JosiahMHesse.