Day One hundred and Eighty: "30 Rock Theme Parody" from Medium Rarities
As a subject for parody the 30 Rock theme offers unique, daunting challenges. How do you make fun of the lyrics of a song that has no lyrics? How do you change lyrics around if there are no lyrics to begin with? How do you mock 30 Rock in a way that’s both loving and biting, affectionate and a little cutting? Lastly, how do you do all of these things in the space of thirty seconds?
The difficulty level for a 30 Rock theme parody is high that it’s remarkable that Al’s snarky little ditty works at all.
Songs with lyrics provide a sturdy template for Al to work with, a creative roadmap for changing a radio smash in ways that completely alter the meaning and context while remaining fundamentally the same musically. Without the example of a smash hit song with lyrics to work off of Al is in seemingly uncharted territory lyrically.
The 30 Rock theme song does not have the rhythms of a song with words. It’s jazzy and peppy, all weird angles and overly caffeinated New York atmosphere yet Al somehow manages to transform this quintessential instrumental into a parody as satisfying as it is concise.
Al’s 30 Rock parody hit a little close to home for me. I reviewed 30 Rock for the A.V Club for much of its duration, an experience that came close to killing my love for the show. When Al sings,“That's right, your program is over/So now you can talk trash about it and vent your rage/On your Twitter and Facebook page” he could just as well be advising viewers to talk trash and vent their rage over at the A.V Club, where “fans” of 30 Rock expressed their love for the show by writing about how terrible and unwatchable it had become and also how I clearly knew so little about 30 Rock, and comedy, that it was totally amazing that I got to review anything.
In its succinct, tongue-in-cheek way Al’s dense spoof captures the weird duality at 30 Rock’s core. On Twitter and Facebook and the comment sections of the A.V Club, Tina Fey’s inside-baseball television spoof was one of the most talked about, important and influential comedies of the past twenty years. It mattered in a way few other contemporary shows did. Outside of that internet/media bubble, however, where stuff like Big Bang Theory reigns as an all-time ratings champion, 30 Rock was just a modestly rated hipster comedy that was perpetually on the verge of being cancelled for not being popular enough.
30 Rock did, indeed, have more than two fans, and the ratings weren’t quite as dismal as Al might have insisted in song but there was certainly was a perception at the time that 30 Rock was being kept on the air to satisfy the smart set and keep Lorne Michaels happy even if the masses had rejected the show with a half-hearted shrug.
Even people who professed to love 30 Rock seemingly spent a disproportionate amount of time complaining about it, often in the comments sections of my reviews. Al’s parody captures that ambivalent aspect of the show’s fandom: it wasn’t a popular favorite but the people who loved it REALLY loved it and their opinions mattered more because they listened to NPR and read The New York Times and had post-graduate degrees and were just plain better than the mouth-breathers who flocked to Two and Half Men.
Al started singing about television as an outsider riffing on hokey reruns but by the time Al goofed on 30 Rock’s theme he had become an insider, a living legend and national treasure the top comedy minds of the day grew up worshipping and leaped at the opportunity to collaborate with, if only for the sake of a brief but unforgettable cameo.
It’s amazing what you can accomplish with just thirty seconds but then Al is an old pro at fitting the maximum amount of cockeyed inspiration into a minimal amount of time.
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