Wet Hot American Summer First Day Of Camp Is Great And Absolutely Not For Everyone

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Sam Wilkinson

According to a faithful reader, I'm Ordinary Times's "least thoughtful writer." So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

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  1. Avatar aarondavid says:

    Can I ask you a question Sam? Why do you (if indeed you do) find the movie funny? I watched it over the weekend, and while it wasn’t excruciating, nor was it particularly funny or original. Just hackneyed.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      Without getting into the old “all art is 100% subjective” debate, in my experience comedy is the most subjective of all.

      Also, you never love anything more than when you perceive it as being on your wavelength, while the rest of the world just doesn’t get it.

      Anyone ever see The Ten, from some of these same cats? It was like Kentucky Fried Movie for a new generation. Like that movie (or any comedy that follows a sketch/anthology format) , it doesn’t all work; but when it hits, it hits.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      @aarondavid

      I will try and answer.

      I think the big issue with WAHS is that so many jokes are Jewish to varying degrees that people who grew up Jewish and in the Northeast especially have an inner edge. My general experience is that sleep-a-way camp is more of thing in the Northeast than anywhere else. My other general observation is that sleep away camp tends to be more of a Jewish person thing. The first ones were created by middle-class Jews who wanted to get their kids away from the city over the summer (pre-Salk*, cities tended to be breeding grounds for polio over the summer) When I have interacted with non-Northeasterners especially if they are not Jewish, the reaction tends to be “What are talking about with sleep away camp?”

      I think Wet Hot American Summer is unrepentant in its Jewishness. The movie and Netflix series name-drops references to towns and high schools in Long Island and Westchester. All the characters have Jewish names like Arty “the Bee Keeper” Solomon, Gerald Cooperberg, Gail von Kleinstein (a Jewish name trying to be non-Jewish with the aristocratic von), Abby Bernstein. Even the first name only characters tend to have names like Ben.

      Also what @glyph said. You just have to accept the absurdity of all this stuff happening in an extremely short time period. In my own review, I mentioned the gag in the movie where the characters descended into Heroin addiction in a hour and emerged unscathed.

      I also wondered about whether the unrepentant Jewishness of WHAS would turn non-Jews and non-Northeasterns off from the series.Report

      • Avatar Sam says:

        I’m only just now remembering the movie’s roll call scene, in which each name uttered by Janeane Garafalo gets more and more Jewish until eventually she’s trailing off, bored with the whole thing.Report

      • Avatar aarondavid says:

        Thanks @saul-degraw but oddly enough both my wife and I were camp veterans, though we are CA kids to the core. She finds the movie hilarious, and she is of Polish Catholic extraction. So the Jewish part may make it super funny for you, but it doesn’t exclude others, which is nice.Report

        • Avatar Sam says:

          I’m not even sure the camp matters, outside of being a reasonable place to assemble these characters. My point from the original post – there really ISN’T a literal camp genre of film (outside of the horror trope), is there? – is still floating around. This is a satire of something that doesn’t really exist.Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

            @sam

            Meatballs!! Porky’s!!!

            Think of WHAS as a parody of teen sex comediesReport

            • Avatar Sam says:

              I’ve considered both but I’m not sure – aside from broad swipes at both franchises – that what’s happening here is what was happening there. There are obviously references to movies throughout but nothing close enough to make a direct, prolonged hit (at least in my viewing of it).Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq says:

              Salute My Shorts on Nick. There was also a summer camp sitcom during the 1960s.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        The first sleep away camp was actually formed by WASP Yale College student in the 1890s for WASP boys bored during summer vacations in 1890s New England. It was supposed to make them manly. Jews just took over the concept.Report

    • Avatar Sam says:

      1. The movie is neither funny or unfunny, original or unoriginal, hackneyed or unhackneyed, excrutiating or unexcrutiating. It’s just a movie. Whatever you thought about is reflective of nothing broader than your own response to it (just as whatever I thought it reflective of nothing more than my own response to it).

      2. I think the movie is very funny, although I’m not sure I’ve put years of thought into why exactly that is. It is the production of a bunch of people who seem to simply not care about anything more than putting on the screen what they think is funny. And in this case, what they think is funny overlaps what I think is funny perhaps because The State was a formative comedy experience for me growing up. Wain, Showalter, Black, Marino, Lo Truglio happened to be on television doing comedy just as I was starting to watch television looking for comedy. It’s a chicken/egg scenario, perhaps, but I like the idea that these folks were doing their own thing.

      3. I don’t know how to account for what I think is funny though. If I tell you that I love the softball scene from the movie, for example, I’m not sure where that gets us, just as if I tell you that I love Paul Rudd’s spasmodic freakout about having to cleanup a mess that he voluntarily made for no good reason, I don’t know where that gets us either. I find it funny.

      4. And you don’t. Which is fine. Nothing is for everybody. I like that their inherent position accepts that and moves on. “We’re going to do our thing, and we’re fine with it appealing to Sam but not to AaronDavid.”Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        The movie is neither funny or unfunny, original or unoriginal, hackneyed or unhackneyed, excrutiating or unexcrutiating.

        I could potentially agree with this, if you remove the “original or unoriginal” clause.

        Surely, that is a claim which can, at least in theory, be objectively evaluated or measured.

        If I write simply “dog bites man” (like I just did), there is nothing, at all, “original” about my “story” – I have to elaborate on those three words somehow, draw events out, add pathos or humor, splash some paint on it…something.

        To whatever degree my elaborations (or combinations of elaborations), are unique and new to the world as far as we know, my work may be said to be “original” (with the obvious caveat that nothing may ever be 100% known to be “original”, and also 99.9% of everything may not be “original”, and of course any given person is free to say “I don’t care if it’s ‘original’ or not”).Report

        • Avatar Sam says:

          Perhaps there is a way to win that game, but all I see is a spiraling nested comments section in which dueling debaters insist upon their own positions endlessly and with certainty. And of course, it will depend on the combatants’ dueling definitions of originality, which will almost certainly not be agreed upon in service of the arguments they’ll want to make.Report

      • Avatar aarondavid says:

        @sam
        The problems I have with it may stem from having seen many of the prototype(?) films it stems from in the time they were made (meatballs, etc.) and not finding them funny two months latter (HBO in the early ’80’s played that stuff over and over and…) and it could be that I was kinda cranky when I saw it and when I queried you.

        That said, thank you for responding to my crankiness. And also for answering my question.Report

        • Avatar Sam says:

          @aarondavid It’s a film/series/world that is very easy to dislike. My wife aggressively rolls her eyes at my doubled-over laughing. “It’s not THAT funny,” she insists, but it hits me right in the funny that these performers inadvertently helped to develop. I really don’t think that this is a comedy for everyone, or that those who don’t like it should believe otherwise.Report