Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dick in Hollywood: the Pleasures of Ironic Viewing and Structure

Connor Burke

 Does anyone remember MTV programming back in 2000-02? That’s probably a stretch but the network picked up then-rising star Andy Dick’s brainchild, The Andy Dick Show, a short lived sketch comedy show. You know the same Andy Dick who constantly appears in TMZ for alcohol, drugs, and indecency, yet you probably have no idea why anyone would consider him a celebrity? While his status and list of mainstream work isn't very relevant (he's pretty B-list like Pauly Shore..), Dick’s demeanor and wit is what basically what landed him a 20 minute time slot for his own sketch show on MTV. He is literally fucking insane but manages to keep the viewers’ attention via repeated and spastic actions, vocal tones, which ultimately also reflected Dick’s insecurity and need for validation as a celebrity at that point in time. Although the show’s sketch-like format can seem perplexing, Dick’s outlandish selection of sketch topics and actions help to create a cohesive narrative structure that appeals to a wider audience and age group than that of MTV. Specifically, The Andy Dick Show’s sketches and format employs Dick as an ironic viewer, critiquing celebrity stardom and culture, while providing the viewer with the comfort of his own personal insecurities and emotions. 

Each episode typically begins with Andy working or relaxing on set, seemingly normal, yet his demeanor towards the crew is almost always pretentious, characteristic of his ego that “exists on the show.” He will interact with various members but the scenarios revolve around producing segments for the show. These behind the scenes moments occur three or four times per episode and set the show’s structure, allowing us to get a sense of how he sees himself; a semi-fictionalized of his “A-list” self. He’s a dick. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell when a sketch is actually taking place, and it can get confusing but the show will then progress into an entirely different gear to reinforce ironic viewing. In one sketch Andy converses with the cameraman about how he is about to meet his younger brother for the first time, anxious as to how the brother will handle Dick’s fame and stardom. When they finally meet he realizes that his brother is actually Molly Sims, someone with more fame and strikingly better looks than Andy. For the remainder of the sketch Andy and his “sister” go out to eat, where he beings to express his insecurities as being the lesser-celebrity via telling the waiter to bring her whiskey and plates of fried chicken. The show tackles these types of confrontations between celebrities of different statuses with many other sketches where Andy plays a semi-fictionalized, yet real life version of himself, which ultimately comforts the viewer. 

Through the show’s structure, we first witnesses Andy talking down to crew members which distances the viewer; we see how he takes on the enigma of a snooty celebrity ‘off set,’ (where he’ll treat his assistant like shit, or punch and kick his stuntman because ‘he can’) and choose not to identify via ironic viewing. But then Dick takes a step forward and will have his insecurities and place challenged as he encounters celebrities with higher stature, thus baiting the viewer back to identification. Sometimes (in these scenarios) he is subtly put off, while other times he vents his frustration by trying to piss off or annoy various celebrities. Before one sketch with Da Brat (yes I know, relevant), his producer mentions something about how Da Brat said she would have preferred to work with Tom Green but settled on Andy’s show, which causes him to dress and pretend to be Green during the sketch (without Da Brat knowing). While pretending to be Tom Green they go to a grocery store parking lot where Andy steals people’s groceries, screams one word sentences, and ultimately freaks out Da Brat. He’s a dick but his nasally voice and string bean body seem to paint and validate these type of actions as cries for attention and compensation for insecurity. As a small Dick pit among the glitzy hole that is Hollywood and celebrity stardom, the show uses interactions between Andy and famous figures to basically give the audience the nod that, “I know that you know that I think this is bullshit.” Though unlike the ironic viewing cast in reality television, the show’s only main star establishes trust with viewers by letting them see how he ironically views Hollywood.

To progress a step further, as the show is not only made up of semi-fictionalized Andys, each episode consists of parodies of then-popular television shows (Blind Date, True Life), or parodying and fictionalizing weird aspects of real celebrity lives. In one segment he’s Tom Cruise’s wedding planner. A camera follows him around as he tries to set up the perfect Scientologist wedding, we hear him making phone calls to inquire about a choir of Scientology children to sing during the ceremony. It’s ridiculous, but helps to level out a lot of the raw, insecure emotion present in the semi-fictionalized sketches. In another segment Dick is shown as part of the next big teen movie which is basically just a rip off of American Pie, and eventually at the end the voice over claims, “because you teens will do anything we say!” While these types of sketches lack substance, they serve the important function of maintaining and teasing the viewer with the fact that it’s alright to be ironic, but look how ridiculous all of this is. One of the more well known segments features Andy Dick as Christina Aguilera’s sister, Daphne, a burned out pop star caked with an abundance of makeup and the voice of a chronic smoker. The focus on Daphne (Andy) resonates around trying to maintain her social life among Hollywood elites, as well as reconnecting with her African-American son (“I dunno, I think Dennis Rodman’s the father, one of them”). Essentially we are presented with a bunch of ‘what ifs?’ that flip the world of celebrity glamour upside down, and allow the audience to examine personal values all while simultaneously being guided by Andy Dick.

The narrative structure of the Andy Dick show is never set in stone which can make it hard to pinpoint correlations between different bits, but instead of an entirely coherent show we are given a flurry of segments each consisting of various different layers of irony and complexity. You are presented with the way in which Andy sees Hollywood and stardom in conjunction to how he actually fits within that world. From there we are given an abundance of various segments that confront the celebrity demeanor via Dick’s own ironic viewing habits, which allows us to comfortably laugh and employ ironic viewing to our own insecurities and reality. While the show only lasted three seasons, I’d argue that it was way ahead of its’ time, and in truth the show could very well have been Andy Dick’s warning to the rest of the world about the effects of stardom. 13 years later he’s been to rehab around 13 times and only publicized when he’s picked up for flashing his penis in public or intoxicated and shaming his image on television (see Andy knocked off Jimmy Kimmel show). It’s ironic, maybe we should be more critical about ourselves, but then again he’s still a dick.

Episodes referenced: s1e1, s1e2, s1e4, s2e1, s2e4, s2e5, s2e6, s3e2, s3e5

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