There were some concerns expressed in the comments section of my last Canon post about my usage of the word “critical.” Some readers were worried that I was going to bash the Boys. While I understand that the term “critical” carries a negative connotation, please be assured that bashing the Boys is the furthest thing from my mind. I use the term “critical” in the sense of “exercising or involving careful judgment or judicious evaluation.” I intend my critical eye to mean that I am always evaluating and analyzing the things I watch and experience, not to mean that I always find fault with them. Criticism is not always negative, though many critics would have us think so. The reason for this being that it is simpler to write negatively about something rather than to write insightful or enlightening commentary. I hope I am never guilty of this, and trust that the Revelers will keep me honest.
Join me for the discussion after the jump!
The term persona, which means, “mask,” refers to a social role or character played by an actor. Every human being has a persona, qualities unique to him or her that others associate with that individual. Actors must submerge their own persona into that of the character, or use their own persona to enhance the character they play. Some actors are so successful at submerging their own persona that they are radically different with each role they play; others carry specific personal qualities from role to role. A great movie star of the past that would exemplify the former type would be Spencer Tracy; Clark Gable would be a great movie star of the latter type. Both gentlemen were hugely talented, but both were very different types of actors.
As stated in my previous post, in my opinion, comic actors fall into one of three types. There are the comic actors who are in and of themselves funny, there are comic actors who play a particular type of character or persona, and there are comic actors who play a wide variety of different funny characters or personae. The actor David Hyde Pearce would be an example of the second type of comic actor, one who plays a particular type of character. Many of us are familiar with his persona, that of the tightly wound, intense, overachiever who occasionally runs hilariously amok. This kind of character is very difficult to play. It’s not easy to be clipped and brittle without also being irritating. Any actor attempting it must have many stellar qualities to offset any negative ones. Mr. Pearce has stellar qualities, and so does the Jonas Brother who is playing this persona in JONAS: the youngest, Nick. Nick is himself an over achieving, famously serious, preternaturally mature 16 year old. His natural persona is tailor made for the comedy persona that he is creating on JONAS. Fortunately, Nick’s underlying good heart, his music, artistry, and boatloads of charm help him over any rough spots. The other thing that is always clear about Nick is that, as hard as he is on others, he is twice as hard on himself. This quality makes us love him.
A clear glimpse of Nick’s persona is seen in “Groovy Movies” after Joe asks their Mom what she wants for her birthday:
Mom: Oh honey, I have everything I need. As long as my family is safe, healthy and together.
Nick: Why does she have to make it so hard?
This line is repeated in the later dinner scene, when the boys are apologizing to Mom for destroying the movies. After they all done groveling:
Mom: I love you boys more than anything in the world.
Immediately after this line, Nick purses his lips, sighs, and picks up his fork. He is building his slow burn. Then he says, while squeezing his fork in a death grip and then tossing it away:
Nick: Why does she have to make it so hard?
Nick’s slow burn is perfectly done, something not easy to achieve. Overt anger is easier to play because the energy used to generate the emotion is expressed to the audience without changing it. Portraying suppressed anger is more difficult, because the anger must be created, then suppressed, before being expressed to the audience.
Later in the episode, we see Nick angered again, this time with slightly less control and even more potential for humor. During the scene when the guys are reenacting and filming their Trick or Treating, Nick is growing more and more annoyed at Joe, whose continual messing up of his lines is gradually fraying Nick’s nerves to the point when he can no longer stand it:
Nick: All right, uh, action!
Joe: Trick or…Trick or…
Nick: Treat. It’s Trick or Treat.
Joe: Everybody says Trick or Treat. I want to take my character in a new direction.
Nick: You’re a Halloween cowboy. There are no other directions to take it.
Joe: What about a zombie cowboy? A zombie cowboy would say Trick or…Brains!
Nick: (Ripping off the head of his Tiger Costume and stalking away) I can’t work under these conditions!
This is funny stuff: the sight of Nick dressed in an adorable Tiger costume, but acting like an uptight diva. These two juxtaposed ideas create the comedy in this moment. Juxtaposition is a powerful tool in comedy. Two opposites are forced together, and the audience reconciles what is wrong by their laughter. Nick plays another instance of juxtaposition in the episode “Slice of Life.” When he is trying to sneak out to see Maria, he is caught, questioned by Joe, and feigns innocence:
Nick: Can’t a guy get dressed up for his evening snack?
Joe: Oh please! I can smell your body spray from here. What is that? Le Babe Magnet?
Nick: For your information, it’s called “Growl!”
Here the juxtaposition is Nick refuting Joe’s dissing of his body spray and indignantly supplying the correct name, which is itself a ridiculous moniker: “Growl.” Because the audience can envision the cheesy tiger-print bottle, the moment is funny. When a tightly wound character looks a bit foolish, it’s funny.
Nick has some more fine moments of irritation in “Slice of Life.” When the guys are waiting for Maria to arrive to hang out:
Nick: Maria should be here any minute. OK, best behavior, right gentlemen?
Joe: But what if one of us starts to flirt?
Nick: We should have a code phrase. Something like… “The phone is ringing.”
Kevin: Oh, I’ll get it!
Nick: No. That’s the code phrase. If one of us says “The phone’s ringing”, that means you’re hitting too hard on Maria.
Nick plays that exchange beautifully. There is a wealth of suppressed irritation in the “No” and accompanying tight-gripped pulling of Kevin’s shoulder to stop him from going to answer the non-existent ringing phone. And of course, it’s hilarious to watch Nick’s dogged insistence on using the agreed upon code phrase to try (unsuccessfully) to stop Joe from coming on strong with Maria, even when it’s making Maria think Nick is crazy, or deaf, or both.
Nick clearly has a handle on the perfectionist, annoyed side of this particular comic persona, but what about another side: the part that occasionally snaps and goes crazy? We see it exhibited most in “Keeping it Real,” during the trash-taking-out montage, the panicked phone conversation from the midst of the fan throng, and my personal favorite “Nick loses it” moment: when he starts wailing on Joe while they’re both dressed in Santa suits. These are all hilarious bits, and Nick plays them well.
The comedy persona that Nick is ably portraying in JONAS is wonderfully rich, like Nick’s own personality. The shows writer’s are making good use of Nick’s artistry and musical talent to show that underneath his controlled exterior beats a passionate heart. This is another powerful juxtaposition but one that will generate not laughter, but sympathy.
Nothing is more provocative than a strong willed character showing vulnerability. It’s riveting for an audience to watch. This process is exhibited in excellent fashion in the episode “Wrong Song.” We discover that Nick loses his heart with alarming alacrity, and little heed for the consequences. We can see the handwriting on the wall when he doesn’t simply fall, but rather plummets for Penny. We witness his heartbreak when he discovers that Penny belongs to Jimmy, and we cannot help but be moved. Nick plays this whole episode beautifully, and our hearts just ache for him.
Watching Nick explore the comedic opportunities in his persona and find the balance between his older-than-his-years-self, and his very young and vulnerable heart will be funny and enjoyable. I can’t wait to see more.
I’ll leave you with some Nifty Nick shots to savor:
“Mac Dang it, you’re good!”
“I’d recognize it anywhere.”
“She’ll be all sweet…and loving!”
..“I’m the serious one!”