Posted Thursday, June 9, 2011, at 6:19 PM
Yesterday, techsite CNET asked Richard Dreyfus todo adramatic reading of the iTunes end user license agreement , as a teaser for itsupcoming podcast on EULAs and terms-of-service agreements. Master thespianDreyfus ( The Goodbye Girl , Mr. Holland's Opus , Piranha 3D ) manages to elevate the dry corporate speak by alternately makinglike an Oxford don, chattering like a Woody Allen character, and barking likean angry German.
Thecelebrity dramatic reading has had a flowering JamesEarl Jones reading Justin Bieber's "Baby," WilliamShatner declaiming Rihanna's "Umbrella," Michael Sheen interpreting Twilight fan fiction , and JohnLithgow delivering Newt Gingrich's insane press release from last month:or, depending on your taste, arottening of late. Thus far, 2011 has given us
The king ofthe dramatic reading, of course, is Shatner. The classically trained starship captain's beatnik, bongo-backedperformance of Sarah Palin's resignation speech on Conan O'Brien's Tonight Show , in July 2009, likelykicked off the recent Web craze for famous people somberly readingsilly material. (A separate but related meme,featuring non-celebs, datesback to 2006 .) Shatner's Tonight Show speech gag was such a hit that he returned to read Palin's tweets , her autobiography , and her almost son-in-law Levi Johnston's tweets .
The breadand butter of the celebrity dramatic reading, however, is thestraight-faced pop song cover TheTransformed Man . In the past two years we've had dueling, poker-faced "PokerFace" renditions by JudeLaw and ChristopherWalken , and poet PaulMuldoon on Ke$ha's "Tik-Tok." (Princeton student interviewer: "Oneof the most prevalent motifs seems to be this idea of oh ." Muldoon:"I think it's a reference to King Lear ... 'No no no no,' whichshe has kind of transmogrified into 'oh oh oh oh.'") Not to mention, ofcourse, Shatner swinging to " FuckYou " and " TotalEclipse of the Heart ."which Shatner also pioneered, earnestly, in his equally beloved and derided 1968 spoken-word album,
You can seewhy the gag is so popular: It flatters the viewer, who is rewarded forperceiving the juxtapositions being drawn, and it humanizes the celebrity ("Lookhow game I am!") without asking him to do anything too taxing or embarrassing. It's also fantastically simple to execute.Find the right text (something lowbrow, frivolous, self-seriously purple, or,when all else fails, containing a lot of nonsense syllables) and a performerwith high-falutin' cred and/or a distinctively mellifluous voice, and the bitwrites itself.
It's a goodgag for the short-attention-span mash-up era, since once youhear the set-up WillArnett reading Are You There God, It's MeMargaret ! you can just click over to the next open tab and be done withit. But while the celebrity dramatic reading may be experiencing a new surge of popularity, the sturdy gag has a much longer history. Here are a few from thearchives:hey, it's
1996: From the British variety show TFI Friday
1965: From the TV special The Music of Lennon & McCartney
1957: From the Steve Allen Show