posted Mar 08, 2007

In the Star Trek the Next Generation episode The Outrageous Okana, it is revealed that the funniest comic in history was "'Stano Riga', a 23rd Century comic who 'specialized in jokes about quantum mathematics.'"

I've always wondered what kind of real-life situation would lead to someone being able to successfully become a comic with such niche appeal.

The answer, of course, is the Internet. In the last month I've been treated to two funny comedians that are very, very niche; one in classical and modern music, one in economics. And they are actually good, if you like the source material at all.

Suddenly, a 23rd-century comic specializing in Quantum Mechanics jokes doesn't seem so implausible. It's not that everybody suddenly loves quantum physics (which given that Star Trek humans are just the humans of today with better training and equipment, is completely implausible), it's the power of point-to-point broadcasting to effectively serve niche audiences.

Now, if only Star Trek's writers had had a clue, then perhaps we could give them some credit.

In the niche humor department, I also enjoyed the beginning of the episode summary I linked to. There are some funny and generally applicable observations in there that I might have to talk about later. I've become increasingly sensitive to the phenomenon labeled "Informed Attributes", although I haven't noticed it so much in the context of one character so much as in the context of the general message of a television show. So often, a show that I think is supposed to carry A Message actually undermines it if you actually think about what really happened and what it really means. Sometimes the authors may be trying to be subversive, but I don't think it's anywhere near all of the time that I have this problem. ST:TNG is among the worst offenders in this regard; I'd have to dig for specifics but I'll make the general observation that if the Federation is supposed to be a model human society (something at least some of the writers must have believed), then it sure has some disturbing failure states (such as the near-coup mentioned in this essay in the episode Paradise Lost).

And hey, as long as I'm here, see Wil Wheaton's reviews of Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes. Wil Wheaton of course played Wesley Crusher, so his observations about that character have a unique perspective.


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