Let’s Bloop This: The Paradox of Authenticity in the Blooper Reel

Curator's Note

The first blooper reel dates all the way back to Eadweard Muybridge’s 1878 “The Horse in Motion,” when the horse tripped, and, springing back up with a braying laugh, yelled: “Sorry, can we try that again?”

…Cut to me, blooping the genre of film history.

In this cringey way, I wanted to start by showing how humor stems from watching a familiar set-up unravel in a fun, low-stakes context. Blooper reels do this by exposing the “authentic” joy and camaraderie beneath carefully choreographed comedy: all six Friends seem to really enjoy each other’s company; the mock fight between Nick and Schmidt on New Girl devolves into giggles; the women in Bridesmaids accidentally call each other by their real names, blurring the actor and the character to our great delight. The season 1 bloopers of Schitt’s Creek, showcased above, begin with the title card: “Unfortunately, we had no fun shooting this comedy.” The “we” here refers to the cast and crew of the show, but viewers can project themselves into this “we” and imaginatively participate in these on-set hijinks.

What a prank on Henri Bergson to play him backwards! Instead of comedy being “the mechanical encrusted on the living,” the blooper reel luxuriates in how the living punctures the stylized-mechanical (paging Roland Barthes). But the blooper reel is also a marketing tool, and its place as a back-door for planned bits is such an open secret at this point that even Pixar has gotten in on the joke, while SNL basically confessed to faking their bloops (or “breaks”). The difference between “blooper reel” and “gag reel” begins to confront this, as the former promises to reveal slip-ups, the latter, simply, to tell more jokes.

Has the “yes and” improv training of Hollywood’s comedians resulted in there being no mistakes, only opportunities for more play? And did commodification kill the “authentic” blooper reel, or is it impossible to label the highly mediated form of the creative oopsie “real” – at least, while maintaining a straight face?

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