Not So Above AverageBy: Joel Marino
We have a very complicated relationship with Lorne Michaels.
On the one hand, the Canadian-born producer has gifted the world with some of the most riotously funny movies and TV shows of the past half-century (whatever you think has been the best seasons/film spin-offs of Saturday Night Live). On the other hand, he’s also delivered a host of epically embarrassing clunkers (whatever you think has been the worst seasons/film spin-offs of Saturday Night Live).
Michaels’s long career is tainted with this hit-or-miss record, and that’s a problem haunting even his latest ventures. Case in point: the online comedy showcase Above Average.
Launched in 2012, the multichannel network has tried hard to claim a stake in an arena already crowded with funny farms like CollegeHumor and Funny or Die. Of course, having Michaels at the helm doesn’t hurt. His deep comedy connections means the site is never short on big-name-talent appeal. Several SNL stars have contributed videos, most notably a Kanye West parody by current cast member Jay Pharoah that’s racked up nearly 1.5 million YouTube hits.
The videos by known comedians usually work. After all, these are performers who’ve honed their craft, have found their voice and are already under a national spotlight. They know what’s expected of them, and that’s what they deliver. Videos from much lesser-known talent? Not as heavy on the LOL moments.
Take Above Average’s latest offering, the six-episode web series That Couple You Know, starring newcomers Josh Ruben and Jocelyn DeBoer as a pair so infatuated with each other that their gushiness reaches extreme levels of awkwardness. Jokes that likely looked good on paper (Ruben praising the virtues of his Hispanic maid: “Consuela never steals from me”) are sabotaged by a rushed, wide-eyed delivery. And bits that were most likely improvised stick out too obviously: the young stars (especially DeBoer) flail trying to come up with instant punch lines.
Another of the site’s newest additions, Charles, Your Hangover, also suffers from the poor execution of an otherwise bright premise. The webisodes are the continuation of a 2011 short starring Tory Stanton as the titular Charles, the personification of a morning-after hangover. Here, squirm-worthy physical humor takes the place of a coherent storyline as Charles finds creative ways to torture his victims. Puke, people falling down, accidental undressings—there’s no cheap laugh this series won’t go for.
Watching these original Above Average productions feels like viewing extended audition tapes. It’s as though the young cast know Lorne Michaels is watching, so they go out of their way to please the big-name producer. Seen as a résumé booster, perhaps the strategy works. After all, Sasheer Zamata, SNL’s latest cast addition, paid her dues on the website before moving up.
Seen as a valuable piece of comedy, though... Well, let’s just say Michaels can add one more clunker to his roster.