When I first saw a link to The Treasure of Foggy Mountain’s trailer, I was beyond excited. Not because of the film’s name but because of what came before it : Please Don’t Destroy. Immediately I remembered the three-person comedy group that I first discovered through cut-for-time SNL sketches on Youtube, whose sense of humour was impressive enough that I remember their name until now. But then again, I know them from SNL sketches, and as far as I can tell, they haven’t made any long-form content before, so will their style translate to the big screen? If we want to know what to expect, we need to take a closer look at the group’s humour and what we know from the trailer.
Humour is hard to define, but having binge-watched all of Please Don’t Destroy’s skits (including some deleted ones), I’ve got a decent grasp of it. In short, they lean more towards Gen Z humour than Millennial humour. Millennials saw a world that seemed gloomier and gloomier, so they used irony to cope, making dark jokes about how awful life was. Being introduced to internet later in life, too, they developed memes and repeated formats as a humour style. Gen Z, on the other hand, has always been surrounded by doom-and-gloom sentiments that make life feel meaningless. Add to that the fact that they grew up with the internet, jokes die far faster as they are replicated and consumed impossibly quickly, dating them in weeks or days. As a result, humour has become increasingly absurdist. This is a known artistic response to hopelessness - Gen Z humour has even been called Neo-Dadaist - and it also allows for joke to stay fresh as they are subverted and rehashed into meaningless oblivion. Now, jokes can be funny because they aren’t jokes at all and the uncertainty of whether something is ironic or sincere becomes humorous in and of itself.
One of Please Don’t Destroy’s sketches is a fairly good example of this difference in humor between the generations. In Three Normal Goths, we can see some level of Millennial humour in the dialogue as the characters ironically refer to one of their wives as “the old ball and chain” and use memetic language like “treat yourself” and “adulting”. The Gen Z humour lies in the framing of the skit itself though, presenting itself as an 80s sitcom through its music and artistic choices - it’s not clear if they want to mock the format or genuinely find it funny, which adds to the sense of subversion and meta-irony. Additionally, the idea that three people who dress goth are otherwise entirely normal and basic is absurd, another feature of Gen Z humour.
Another of their sketches, Chelsea, is a good example of how Please Don’t Destroy uses Gen Z humour mostly though absurdity. In it, John Higgins, one of the group’s main members, brings up his ex-girlfriend. The other two members, Ben Marshall and Martin Herlihy, respond by trash talking her. The expected joke is that John and his girlfriend got back together, making the situation awkward, and that happens. The absurdity, however, comes from the fact that the ex-grilfriend was actually sitting right next to John the whole time without anyone noticing and heard everything. Ben and Martin try to play it off as though they were talking about another ex-girlfriend… who also magically appears. Slowly more and more people randomly appear and it’s treated as completely normal, adding to the sense of absurdity, until Martin asks how everyone is magically showing up. This doesn’t kill the absurdity, though, it adds to it as we see some characters accept reality as others question it, forcing us to reconsider the rules of the universe in which the sketch is taking place. Jokes are set up and constantly subverted, making it a good example of Gen Z’s absurd humour.
They’re blisteringly funny, but understanding their humour brings us back to the original question : how will this translate to a feature-length film? In their short-form content, the absurdity is cut off early enough that it doesn’t reach the incomprehnsibility that some memes do in Gen Z’s hands. When the joke goes on for more than an hour, though, things might start getting weird. We can already see this reflected in the film’s trailer as the characters start out being yelled at for being losers and deciding to look for buried treasure… only to end up in a cult and skydiving. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but pulling off that kind of escalation isn’t easy. There comes a point where it just falls flat. One way to solve the issue would be by subverting expectations and having moments that fail to escalate, which would fit Gen Z’s style of humour. Regardless of how or if they handle it, though, the pacing and tone is what I’m most worried about.
Still, there are good signs for the film’s success. The trailer has some of Please Don’t Destroy’s signature absurdist style, such as incredibly calm commentary about a crazy cult and a failure to realise oneself is tied up. What really makes me feel less worried, though, are the celebrities who have signed onto the project. Bowen Yang likely knew the group from SNL has had moderate success in film, and Conan O’Brien is not only an experienced performer and comedian, he’s also a master of absurdism himself too. More than Yang, having O’Brien on the project indicates that he saw real potential in it, and since he knows the style well, I can only hope he’s right. In any case, we’ll have to wait until November 17 to find out. Until then, if you want to familiarise yourself with some of Please Don’t Destroy’s other work, you can find them on Youtube - I’d definitely recommend watching Rami Malekact bizarrely cat-like first.