Aukerman and Black (Photo: IFC)

Sketch comedy, like fruit, is a gamble. You know that going in. When it works, it transcends the script, lights, cameras—a small piece of magic unfolds. It feels alchemical and fleeting, which is what makes it so powerful and exciting. When sketch comedy does not work, however, the artifice is obvious and glaring. So it is with “Jack Black Wears an Embroidered Cowboy Shirt and Ox Blood Sneakers,” a largely unfunny effort with little cohesion and an underutilized guest.

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LaToya wrote beautifully last week about the effect a superior, surprising guest has on a show like Bang! Bang!. This season has seen a variety of fantastic guests, both from within and outside of the comedy scene. Bang! Bang! is usually particularly effective at playing to a guest’s comedic strengths, be it with timing, energy, or wit, which is why Jack Black should be a home run of a guest. Manic and equipped with a wide range, Black rarely fails at zany guest spots and cameos (“That’s how I roll!”). Despite his reliance on schtick, I’m actually a big Jack Black fan (I know every word to every skit on that first Tenacious D record), so to see him so underserved by the material is a huge disappointment.

Unfortunately, the two centerpieces of the episode, Black’s spot and the stunt budget plot, both fail on basic concept levels. Black comes out and dances with Aukerman and they immediately talk about King Kong’s “bing bong.” Of all the obvious gags from all of Black’s movie, a dick joke feels particularly flaccid.

This transitions into a bit about Jack Black skincare products, which, it turns out, is actually a real thing. This might have played better were this not a show that also features Reggie milking his third nipple and spraying digital milk everywhere. The skincare bit feels more at home on something like The Daily Show, not an insane sketch show. Unfortunately, there is also a long bit about Black maybe playing a song, but then not being up for it, but then Aukerman not wanting to hear one anymore, etc., etc. It works on paper, but it’s boring on screen. The payoff, a now tired joke about having the rights to sing “Happy Birthday” feels stale. (I think “we don’t have the rights” jokes are way funnier to folks in the business. I’m not sure they resonate beyond that, however).

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Black did nothing for me and it fundamentally undermines the success of the episode. Meanwhile, for the main plot, Bang! Bang! has two sacks full of cash (nice touch to have them jingle, but be filled with bills) that Scott and Reggie have to spend down on stunts (and stunts only). They get two stunt men who keep trying to steal the cash, end up unintentionally doing stunts in the process, and then getting the cash for doing the stunts. It doesn’t work, even the premise is thin, and the joke is repeated about three times for diminish gains.

Adam Scott shows up, which always makes me smile, in a bit of “stunt casting,” (get it?) and I did like it when he just starts shooting his gun up into the air. But that’s mostly what he does. “Return The Cell” is a very long walk for a very small joke, but it’s one I appreciate. The “Nice Work/What A Jerk” is the type of sketch that feels right at home on Bang! Bang!, a nice premise and then an even funnier left turn. The equivocating of the announcer about the lady in the wheelchair who steals the phone is a nice higher-minded joke that lands well.

Then enters J.W. Stillwater aka Eddie Lee Capers played by prolific podcaster Paul F. Tompkins. In this great interview with Tompkins about the creation of the character, it is clear he relishes getting to play with his newest creation. Stillwater and Auckerman talk about hammers, about boats, about balls and pean, about his name, and it is all wonderful. Stillwater is unhinged firing off in every direction. Auckerman does his best to keep up, and it is so fun to see the two try to break each other. There is no real plot or bit to Stillwater’s appearance, he mainly just talks about…hammers. He talks a lot about hammers. If J.W. Stillwater hosted a show on hammers, I would absolutely watch it. It all works so well and that magic of sketch comedy is in full force here. It is exciting to watch something special unfold.

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Stillwater saves an otherwise stillborn episode, but “Jack Black Wears an Embroidered Cowboy Shirt and Ox Blood Sneakers” fails to impress overall. Unfortunately, the pun in the beginning about needing a writer to “punch it up” was not a joke at all. Back to the filing cabinet, I suppose.

Stray observations:

  • Scott’s onscreen credit: Koosh Rubberstrand (I used to love Koosh balls but they made your hands smell weird)
  • I did enjoy the shout-outs to Jack Black’s guest star in X-Files from 1995. (Fun fact: That same episode, “D.P.O.”, features Giovanni Ribisi, Blake Lively’s dad, Chuck Lorre’s ex-wife, Paul McCartney’s first cousin, and the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog. How’s that for stunt casting?)
  • “Ever see a gator do a double take?”
  • Yes, that was Colossus from the latest X-Men flick
  • “Influenced by The Bling Ring no doubt.”

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