Aside from simply being one of the greatest sitcoms to ever grace a TV screen, BBC’s “The Office” was invaluable in reminding everyone that subtle humor can be just as funny, if not funnier, than broad humor.
The film “One-Day Seminar,” a 20-minute short by writer-director Martin Binder, mines some of the same areas of humor explored in “The Office.”
The corporate world already is an exaggerated arena, full of buffoonish characters and overly awkward situations. Therefore, subtle humor is the best bet to point out the ridiculousness that exists in bountiful amounts.
In “One-Day Seminar,” Benson Maltebank (played by Tommy Murray) is a motivational speaker in the corporate world. His is a life spent on the road spewing well-worn — and fairly meaningless — platitudes.
Montebank seems less than qualified for the job, but through a string of humorous incidents, we find out how and why he scores better than he deserves in his post-seminar evaluations. For example, one attendee writes on his evaluation, “This guy was a complete moron … but if I had to put up with him, someone else is going to have to.” Monutebank also scores well on his evaluations simply for letting the class out early — a point he makes sure to stress right before handing out the evaluations.
The film works best when the humor is at its most subtle. Many of us have been to these seminars, and very few of us actually wanted to be there (though, to be sure, there are some seminars that are actually worth attending). As an attendee, it’s easy to lose focus and stop listening to the speaker. As this film shows, it’s just as easy for the speaker to zone out.
The parts of the short film that don’t work are those that play too broadly. Character names such as Ted Misanthrope, Edna Happenstance and Benson Mountebank stick out as being both unlikely and unfunny.
Likewise, a bit where the hotel runs out of key cards, meaning the motivational speaker must use the maid’s keys (complete with a koosh ball and other trinkets) doesn’t pay off. The desk clerk tells Mountebank, “This is the maid’s key chain, so you could use it to gain access to anyone’s room. We ask that you be courteous … and don’t do that.” And, well, he doesn’t. The setup doesn’t lead to a payoff. The setup turns out to be the joke itself.
Generally, though, “One-Day Seminar” employs a sly sense of humor to skewer a world that takes itself too seriously. And, unlike most seminars that I have been to, it is time well spent.
“One-Day Seminar” currently is making the festival rounds. It was an Official Selection of the Long Island International Film Expo (where it made its world premiere) and was screened at the Lancaster Area Film Festival.
Follow Sean Gerski on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DoubleDown44.