Try, try again

The jackhammer comedy of The Whitest Kids U’ Know
By ADAM REILLY  |  February 5, 2008

VIDEO: The Whitest Kids U Know

When, not too long ago, I was belatedly introduced to the Whitest Kids U’ Know, I felt the same way I did when I first saw The Simpsons in 1991. First: this stuff is sore-throat funny. And second: why wasn’t I informed earlier?

So hopes were high when I hunkered down with an advance viewing copy of the Kids’ homonymous TV show, which has its second-season premiere this Sunday at 11 pm on the Independent Film Channel. (Season One ran on the FUSE network.) It quickly became clear, however, that my expectations wouldn’t be met. The good news is that the Whitest Kids can be very funny. The bad news is that they can also be really, really boring.

Here’s the problem. Although the Kids generate what seems like a remarkable amount of comedic material, their basic MO is simple: they pick a single joke and repeat it over and over and over. If you have a certain sensibility — if, say, you enjoy watching David Letterman repeat a bombed line ad nauseam — this may sound like a recipe for success. But the beat-the-dead-horse school of comedy is trickier than it looks. At its best, it’s the time-honored comedic convention of the callback — the echo of a word or phrase that doubles the laughter with each repetition. But it’s not just the repetition that makes Letterman’s lame lines get funnier — it’s the contempt he oozes as he repeats them. Or take Dave Chappelle's scatological riff on R. Kelly, which was masterful because Chappelle provided so many crafty variations (“This is the remix edition/Of the song about pissin’ ”) on the same crude theme. Repeating the same joke isn’t enough — you’ve got to repeat it with a twist.

Sometimes the Kids get this. The running gag, in the first show, features a hapless dude (Sandwich native Sam Brown) whose testicle keeps popping out of his pants. This is sort of amusing in the first instance, when his buddy (head writer Trevor Moore) disgustedly points out the problem. But it’s way better when, a few bits later, said nut escapes — through his shirt! — on a Blind Date–style matchmaking show.

Often, though, the Kids seem unaware of the pitfalls of their method. Another sketch involves a meet-the-parents scenario in which Moore’s character makes lots of loud farting sounds with his mouth, complete with running commentary. (“Oh God! This is a wet one!”) Then, when he’s done, he tells his horrified dinner companions that he wasn’t really farting. And then — wait for it — he does it all over again. As you watch, you keep waiting for the breakthrough moment where hilarity ensues. But it never does. Instead, you just start to feel kind of embarrassed for everybody involved. It is, after all, just another fart joke.

My introduction to the Kids was a reimagining of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in which Lincoln is a boorish, abusive theatergoer who’s murdered by a justly irate John Wilkes Booth. This is fine, subversive stuff — and if the Kids show they can create more Asshole Lincolns, I’ll keep watching. If they go heavy on the Mouth Farters, though, I think I’ll take a pass.

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  Topics: Television , David Letterman, Abraham Lincoln, R. Kelly,  More more >
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