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Making Fun Is...Well, Fun
Reality tv powered by kids' imaginations.
Once upon a time the was a volcano named Cassy. She was as big as the planet. She was very sad. She cried a whole universe. She was sad because her boyfriend dumped her. She started to shoot out lave. Shhhhhh is what it sounded like when it was shooting. Ahhhhhhhhhh the people said. They were was scared as an abused dog. The lava destroyed every thing it touched. After she stopped shooting out lava, every where was burned. Later on ,a boy volcano can up to her. It was love at first sight. The talked and talked until she accidentally had one more burst of lava. She accidently killed him. She was so sad. She grew legs somehow and walked a zillion miles to another planet. She stamped and had a fit.
This bizarre and brilliant short short story is called The Vicious Very Sad Volcano. It was written by Asa, a child at the Poe Classical School in Chicago, as part of Playmakers Laboratory, an amazing Chicago writing program in which kids and adults collaborate. Kids write a story, Playmakers act out the stories. Everyone is blinded by the lava-like apocalyptic brilliance.
People generally think of children’s art as amateurish or as practice for the real adult art they might make sometime in the future. But kid’s stories, as Asa demonstrates, can also just be Ahhhhh! eruptions of zillions of creativity, in which romance, apocalypse, tragedy, and scale boil up from the center of the planet in a hysterically improbable tantrum. Watching energetic thespians throw themselves into (the role of) heartbroken petulant volcanoes growing space-walking legs is transcendently bizarre and amazing love at first sight. I’ve seen the Playmakers’ (formerly known as Barrel of Monkeys) revue show multiple times over the year. Every performance has been one of my favorite theater experiences ever.
The new Netflix show Making Fun is also a collaboration between adults and kids, and it captures some of that anarchic erupting monkey energy. The format, though, requires more adult limits on the kid’s creativity than Playmakers Laboratory. The resulting art is as a consequence a lot more conventional.
Making Fun is a kids reality/craft/remodeling show. Maker/builder Jimmy DiResta, who has long experience in the toy industry, asks kids aged somewhere between 6 and 9 to commission a build. Then Jimmy and his elaborately bearded buddies make whatever the kids want—a dinosaur which spits tacos, a giant sneaker, a unicorn which farts glitter. They wheel their contraptions out of the workshop, and the kids, watching on screen, completely lose their minds. “I’m so excited I could poop my pants!” as one young client declares.
The children’s ideas are fantastic—not least the ideas that are completely unworkable. Two kids pitch a Super Amazing Smart Homework Assistant (SASHA) which helps you with your homework and has an alarm clock and also wears glasses. Another group pitches a “walking plane.” One extremely eager child just wants them to build a mansion with a kitchen and a tv and a cupholder by the bed. It’s so mundane it’s almost funnier than a guitar boat.
Jimmy’s schtick is that he’s a curmudgeon who doesn’t like kids, and he grumpily rejects the impossible projects like the time machine and the floating magnetized robot with a bunch of cranky insults. This absolutely delights his clients, because it means they get to insult him back (“If you don’t like it why don’t you make yourself a comfort toy!”)
Obviously, the crew isn’t going to build a mansion or a mansion-sized board game. But the limitations of toy-building means that a lot of the builds have a certain similarity. It’s all basically silly toys scaled up to be big but not too big (it’s got to be under twelve feet high to get it out of the work-room.) What the makers can make with their lathes and welding torches and CAD programs is pretty amazing—who’d have thought you could create a canon to fire pizzas?! But it’s amazing within the (broad) constraints of adult physical capacities and resources, rather than amazing in the way that kid-brain interstellar volcanoes blithely ignore the constraints of adults, physical reality, and logic.
Similarly, the kids have all the best lines (“Why would I want to put a fart in a bottle and spray it?” “Sweet vengeance.”) But they don’t get much screen-time. They appear only remotely, no doubt because no one wants to pay insurance premiums on kids wandering around a workshop full of bandsaws and liquid metal heated to hotter than the surface of the sun.
That means that it’s up to Jimmy and his pals to carry the humor. There are lots of dad-joke puns and post-production semi-animated gags, including a clever Back to the Future pastiche. Canadian Pat has crazy eyes which we see in a lot of crazy eye Canadian Pat reaction shots. It’s entertaining, if a little forced, in the way that entertaining adults of good will who aren’t really entertainers can look forced when they’re trying to entertain kids.
Despite its limitations, I’d certainly recommend Making Fun to viewers of all ages. Kids (and adults) are going to giggle at the unicorn farting in some bearded guys face. Adults (and kids) will goggle at the ingenuity that goes into constructing a glitter fart gun. Children and not-children working together can make wonderful, weird art, and even if Jimmy and his pals haven’t quite figured out how to capitalize on that fully, they’ve gotten within T.Rex taco-spitting distance of greatness.
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