Funny about comedy. The more you try to analyze it, the less funny it seems, which may be the main problem with Channel 2's new Litzhok O' Lamut (Laugh or Die), featuring the kooky Guri Alfi dying to know what makes people laugh.
No joke - that's how the series, which airs Saturday nights at 10:10, begins.
"The first thing that happens in our show is that I die," explains Alfi, to the applause of his staff. However, the way Alfi dies - with his legs folded behind his head after a poor choice of moves while passing under a limbo pole - is hysterical, perhaps the funniest part of the program, especially when his wife bemoans his death because "I don't remember where we parked!"
"Take a cab," are Alfi's last words.
Cue the voiceover: "He was a comedian who died in an idiotic way - now that he's 'in limbo' between heaven and hell, he decided to investigate: What's so funny?"
Cute opening, no? Too bad what follows doesn't able to sustain that level of freshness and fun.
At first, the analysis of just what makes people laugh is cute. We learn that kids laugh an average of 300 times a day, which explains why we keep asking them: "Do you think that's funny?" after they've just shoved French fries up their nose.
Alfi and his zany laugh-lab assistants demonstrate how humor involves surprise, exaggeration and repetition, each time revolving around the assistant getting hit on the head with a bat or having a pie thrown in his face.
But things start to go downhill when Alfi decides to gather a group of comedians - surprise, several from Eretz Nehederet, which just happens to be on Channel 2 as well - to analyze what makes a joke funny.
While some of their stories are funny, the pace drops off considerably.
Trying to prove that humor involves sharing a collective experience, with a skit showing the clueless Guri going with a date to a literary evening and making a fool of himself because he doesn't get the lecturer's jokes, didn't really do it for us.
Going back to the data was better. First Alfi explains that the ventral prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that controls our sense of humor, showing a clip of a US epilepsy patient who, when stimulated there, laughs hysterically until the stimulus switched off. Alfi also explains that the average IQ for comedians is 138.
Going back to the comedians deadens the pace again, despite the fun in knowing - as we already do - that most were lousy pupils in school, with Miki Kam noting that her success in comedy was a good way to get back at teachers who thought she'd amount to nothing.
Sadly, once Alfi heads to New York City, the mecca of comedy, the show really drops off. Visiting the set of Saturday Night Live - interspersed with far too many clips of Belushi, Akroyd, Chevy Chase, etc. - he first makes sure we know that "it's not easy to get into Studio 8H at NBC." Then he exchanges rather boring remarks with star Darryl Hammond before sticking us with more "cheeseburger-cheeseburger-cheeseburger-Pepsi" footage, as if someone knew this would be funnier than anything the Channel 2 folks turn out.
What did we learn from the visit? That (gasp) what looks most spontaneous and funny in comedy is actually the most planned out. Thanks, Guri, but we didn't really need you to tell us that.
Still, in the dead of winter, with Iran and other issues on our minds, anything light is welcome, and we're willing to give Alfi a chance to tickle our funny bones. Just one word of advice: a bit less slapstick, a lot less interviewing (we saw in the preview of coming shows that a Conan O'Brien meeting lies ahead) and more comic genius as shown in the opening, please.
Note: Fans of Avoda Aravit are rightfully disappointed that the show's timeslot has been kicked around by Keshet for weeks now. Latest reports indicate the series, which has about four episodes left, is due to get a permanent slot Monday nights, but keep a lookout to be certain when it really airs.