Jim Carrey and his perfect wording

Maharishi International University, in Fairfield, Iowa, invited actor Jim Carrey to give the Commencement Address to the 2014 graduation class.

I remember being introduced to Carrey by one of my sons who had a video of one of Carrey’s early films. At the time I pointed out, as gently as an opinionated parent can, that pulling faces isn’t acting. It was some years later that I saw another of Carrey’s films and was forced to admit that the boy can play.

His splendid outfit here goes with his having been presented with an honorary doctorate of Fine Arts.

The introduction by Dr Bevan Morris is beautifully enunciated, overwhelmingly florid and very short.

Carrey doesn’t quite get hold of his opening gag, which is surprising for a pro. He slightly over-eggs it, and then mismanages his salvage attempt which is received a little half-heartedly. It’s not bad, just not quite as brilliant as it should be. It’s brave, in fact foolhardy, to try to hit the high comedy that hard that early.

Up to the four minute mark Carrey is appropriately zany, his material full of in-jokes of which I understand very little. Who cares! – it sets a good scene, and that is what he has intended. Then there is a gentle move towards matters poetic, and that is when I get uneasy.

It’s not that it’s poetic, it is that the spontaneity has gone and this sounds synthetic. It is a script. Has he learnt it, or is he using autocue or one of the other prompt-technologies? These things hide pretty well, and from our camera angle it’s difficult to spot, but yes it’s there! He’s reading this. What a pity!

I’ve heard all the arguments, and none of them stands up. If you are able to write it you are able to say it spontaneously. If you write it in the belief that you need to find the “perfect wording” then that “perfect wording” will never sound spontaneous but stilted, pretentious – yes, synthetic.

Worst of all it won’t sound sincere.

Admittedly I’m not his audience: those in the hall are lapping it up, but not as enthusiastically as they did his zany first minutes. The zany bit may have been a well-trodden comedy routine but still this actual performance of it was spontaneous. The poetic bit is the regurgitated results of sitting sweating over finding the “perfect wording”, and however warm’n’wonderful it may seem it is limp in comparison to when he wasn’t script-bound.

If he’d been shown how, he could have said all that poetic stuff spontaneously. And the audience would have lapped even more enthusiastically. What a shame!

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