Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Stand-Up Comedy of Grand Theft Auto IV

Grand Theft Auto IV is the record-annihilating bestselling video game for the XBOX 360 and Playstation 3. In it, you can run over pedestrians with an ice-cream truck, throw grenades into Internet cafes, and watch stand-up comedy.

This is what this article will focus on - the stand up comedy. The least interesting of the above choices. Sure, there's been games with comedians in them, like Gallagher's Gallery, (which was neither stand-up or comedy) but I do not think there has ever been a game with stand-up comedy in it. My, the advancement of gaming technology. Revel in it. Revel.

So, let us examine the stand-up. You have comedy from the likes of Kat Williams to Ricky Gervais. Actually, just Kat Williams and Ricky Gervais. Not too many choices there, but a good range of demographic is covered, from pimp lover to comedy nerd. Perhaps in the future incarnations of the game one can see the likes of Maria Bamford and David Cross. Or more likely, charged ten dollars to download them into the game.

The stand-up comedy is performed at a comedy-club stereotype, the "Split Sides" comedy club. The outside of the club is pictured above. You can either go to the club itself in the game or occasionally catch the acts on television...also in-game.

I think this is the first video game in which which you can sit down at your television, playing a video game in which you are watching television. The mind reels.

When you are at the comedy club itself (in the game) one thing of note is that you can't actually interact with the club or the comics. You go to the club, and basically you are treated to a non-interactive cutscene rendered in the game engine.

This is a bit of a disappointment. Not that I would like to shoot Ricky Gervais or Kat Williams and hit them with a car in real life, but GTA IV is all about doing stuff in the game world you would never do in the real world, so it feels like you are getting cheated that you can't just walk in and blast a comic with a shotgun mid-act. Or blast an annoying audience member. Or set the bar on fire.

Perhaps there was an agreement with the comics that they would only appear in the game as long as you couldn't kill them. For that I say: give the comics guns. Does anyone not want to play a video game in which you can get into a gun battle with Ricky Gervais? I submit this question to you.

Okay, well, let us put hypotheticals aside and go to the presentation as is. You go to the club, the cutscene begins, and the comic comes out and does about ten minutes of stand up. Occasionally the camera cuts back to you, Nico, sitting at your table stone-faced. That part is actually amusing. The audience, being that it's essentially computer-animated canned-laughter does what canned laughter does and laughs like people have never laughed ever in recorded history.

Also, obviously a lot of work was done with motion capture to make the comedians move in a way that represents the actual comedian's movements themselves, but they still don't look quite right in the game engine. For example Kat Williams does a bit about listening to a song about "Hustling" and how that might make him move in places like, the supermarket. So he moves but it's like looking at a well-done marionette.

Ricky Gervais I have not seen do stand-up ever and after watching him do stand-up in game I still don't think I've done stand up. He's done brilliant work writing and performing in The Office and Extras, but here, just doing straight stand-up it is just weird. Especially with the LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE coming from the NOT REALLY AN AUDIENCE in reaction to his very dry humor. For instance, he talks about how he talks about how he was incensed that a cancer patient he was doing a benefit show for was still around years later. ENORMOUS LAUGHTER. Yeah.

Kat Williams is presented as the "local" so he mentions living in the city. Since the city is a facsimile of New York, one of his bits is about living in a studio apartment and how hard it is to move around. Again, the marionette factor kicks in with a bit like this, where you are distracted by the fake Kat Williams moving around in the game engine, trying to demonstrate how small his apartment is and not actually enjoying the physical comedy. It's unfortunate that a lot of his stand-up bits are physical in this sense.

Overall, the stand-up is a nice bonus feature to an already very fun game. It's a little odd in it's implementation, but then again, it's a bonus. You can always go back to killing hookers with shotguns at any time.

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