There’s a lot of denial, procrastination, and plain old bad timing in this episode of Comedy Bang! Bang! Bookie’s leaving forever immediately after the show, moving across the country in pursuit of love, but he hasn’t broken the news to Scott yet. After decades with his dear companion, Scott put off reading Bookie’s last page until it’s too late… or is it?
So much joy is lost to delay. Scott surprises Bookie with last-minute Book of Mormon tickets they’ll never use. Reggie dawdles over the tale of a perfect game of bowling, only to end in disappointment. Rob Corddry never completed his citizenship badge, making a lie of his longtime claim to be an Eagle Scout. And in perhaps the saddest deferral of all, Scott has missed out on years of pee-pee touching.
With the tension of all this procrastination hanging in the air, it’s a relief to see Rob Corddry wish a heartfelt farewell to Bookie as soon as he walks on set. Still, Scott refuses to understand or even question its import, instead saying he’ll “ask no further questions about that and continue on apace.”
Corddry’s not wrong when he responds “That’s just good talk-showin’!” As Comedy Bang! Bang! often shows us, the talk-show format relies in part on overlooking the uncomfortable or controversial realities of daily life.
Speaking of uncomfortable or controversial realities…
It would be easy to say the visit from Bill Cosby-Bukowski, Jelloet Laureate of the United States, is a piece of poor timing, to blame its failure on a broadcast schedule that locked down this bit before Bill Cosby’s wholesome image once again came under widespread scrutiny.
That would be a contentious, even troubling argument, implying some subjects should be off-limits for comedy, and I’m not making it. I agree with comedian (and contributor to The A.V. Club) Cameron Esposito when she says nothing is out of bounds but some subjects demand particular care, thought, and attention to be funny.
Fortunately for me, my problem with the Jelloet Laureate isn’t subject matter, timing, or a sense of righteous outrage. My problem with this outing of Bill Cosby-Bukowski, Jelloet Laureate, is simpler: It just isn’t that funny.
Jon Daly has played Bill Cosby-Bukowski on the CB!B! podcast a half-dozen times, and I revisited those podcasts as I pondered the weakness of the character’s first appearance on the TV show. At first, I focused on the shift from audio to video, wondering if the image—the costume, Daly’s Cosby-esque mugging to the camera—dilutes the power of his cartoonish, sometimes weirdly successful Cosby voice.
It’s true that his physical appearance highlights a larger problem with this incarnation of the character. He enters wearing a signature Cosby sweater and a beachcomber hat (presumably alluding to The Cosby Show’s Caribbean-themed fifth-season credit sequence), carrying a bowl of lime Jell-O.
Bill Cosby hawked the whole Jell-O line, including gelatin, but he’s most often associated with pudding and pudding pops. To use lime Jell-O instead smacks of imprecision, and so does the costuming choice. The combination of sweater and hat conjures up a watered-down, vague image of a Cosby persona, lacking the specificity that parody thrives on.
If these seem like picayune details to harp on, well, it’s a critic’s job to point out small elements that build a bigger picture. Comedy lives in the details, and this isn’t a detailed depiction. The characterization feels too loose, too general. Daly’s over-the-top Cosby impression starts strong but slackens quickly. (I’ll concede Daly’s enthusiastically observed sweat—“just from nerves, baby! And cocaine!”—corresponds with my mental image of Bukowski, accurately or otherwise.) Despite the poems’ description as “a cross between Cosby lore and also the tenor of Bukowski,” they capture neither the ingenuity of vintage Bill Cosby nor the crass wit of Charles Bukowski. The premise here is no more than “What if Bill Cosby, symbol of paternity and arbiter of respectability, got raunchy?”
In this one way, Bill Cosby-Bukowski is a casualty of timing. The whole segment hinges on the juxtaposition of a pop-culture father figure with a notorious debaucher… but it’s impossible to pretend the gulf between the two images is wide enough to provoke startled amusement, much less shock. Robbed of that ostensible contrast, Cosby-Bukowski needs some other foundation to make it funny, but it doesn’t offer one.
This episode suffers from an overall lack of specificity and direction. Bookie’s goodbye provides a framing story, but the jokes it supports—his flashback to the meet-cute in Washington, D.C., the long run of book puns in the final goodbye, the revelation that he’s a later Thomas Harris novel—aren’t especially funny.
The props department gives Bookie one excellent visual joke. The Bookie of today is bigger, broader, thicker, and holds many more pages than the Bookie young Scott was given all those years ago, suggesting boy and book grew up together, not just emotionally but physically.
In fact, all of the supporting departments deserve special nods for their work in this episode. The graphics for Cosby-Bukowski’s proposed Jell-O-themed series added a great touch to an already funny idea, especially the jiggly flourish of the Shaking Bad titles. The background props for the Twinesman’s Day bumper had an excellent, understated consistency of color (coordinating perfectly with Scott’s sweater), and the holiday chyrons capped it nicely.
The sound effects for the prolonged penis-touching make a strong bit—easily my favorite segment of the episode—even stronger. Why does a metallic ding! of triumph accompany Corddry’s touch (on his own penis or Scott’s penis), but Scott’s finger on his own penis produces a squelch? These are the penis questions I try not to ask myself. Penis, penis, penis. There, I’m done saying penis.
Okay, now I’m done.
- Scott’s Onscreen Credit: Writer’s Blockerman
- Rob Corddry’s oft-practiced speech to “those sons of bitches who think Childrens Hospital is not a medically accurate and everything else, life-accurate show”: “You’re wrong, Jack. You got it all wrong. You’ve got the whole—you’ve got the whole thing backwards… and… when you should be… Make the whole thing frontwards and then say it.”
- Those unidentified sons of bitches might not think it’s medically accurate, but my cable provider does. As recently as last year, the viewing guide categorized Childrens Hospital as [children/health/news].
- I could happily have watched Scott patting Rob Corddry, and Corddry edging away from his flapping hand, for several more minutes. And don’t get me started on how much longer I could have watched Corddry tapping Scott’s penis. “Now put your hand where I was just tapping for a long time.” That’s just good talk-show penis-tapping!
- Bookie’s in love with Anna Karenina. Something tells me this won’t end well.
- Scott to Bookie’s preachy friend, Biblie: “Oh, cripes. No, thank you!”
- This is my last Comedy Bang! Bang! review of the season, but you can look forward to two more weeks with LaToya Ferguson and David Kallison. Thank you for reading! Until next time, I wish you a happy Twinesman’s Eve, specifically from me to Gary, Chris, Mabel, Karen, Gayle, and Peeta.