Posted by: Jasmyn Barkley | December 9, 2021

Review: James Veitch, “The Bit with the Ducks,” 1/23/21

            This event was a short appearance by James Veitch on the TBS network. “The Bit with the Ducks,” uploaded to YouTube on Jan. 23, 2021, can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYOmtEcZ1lk

I thought it relevant to our course because Veitch’s brand of humor relies heavily on imagery: he presents with a slideshow of pictures and videos, which he uses to punctuate his stories.

            This particular presentation is mostly focused on the incident with the ducks (I’ll get to that in a bit), but begins with another, shorter story, which exemplifies Veitch’s style of humor and provides a lead in to the main story. Veitch describes a time when his roommate mentioned that her mother was coming to visit, so Veitch bought some flour and used it to make what looked like a drug setup. It is the way he tells this story that makes it so hilarious, though: he has a short video playing behind him that shows the setup, piece by piece, each more explicit and dramatic than the previous. It ends with an image of a small notebook labeled “PEOPLE WHO OWE ME MONEY (FOR DRUGS) (THAT I SOLD THEM).” Starting with something that could be worryingly convincing, it quickly escalates to the ridiculous; and this is mostly communicated through the carefully-structured video. In essence, it is a careful application of visuality combined with timing to craft humor.

            Veitch then goes on in the same style to tell a story of an escalating “conflict” surrounding rubber ducks in his and his roommates’ shared bathroom. He uses a series of photographs, screenshots of text conversations, and videos, lightly narrated, to show the audience the unfolding saga of the rubber ducks. What starts off with a basket full of them (in place of toiletries) turns into increasingly dramatic scenes that the ducks “act out.” Then the little ducks disappear, and are replaced with sink-sized rubber ducks, filling every basin-like spot in the bathroom. Finally, Veitch shares a text conversation with one of his roommates, telling him he has to get rid of the ducks. He bargains, and is allowed to keep one. Naturally, the next image is of a gigantic, inflatable duck completely filling the bathroom. My description can’t do the humor justice, but it’s absolutely hilarious.

            I think that I like this presentation because of how well-structured it is, and because Veitch often shows the punchline before he tells it. He is describing pranks that are visual in nature, and he shares them with us in that format. As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words;” I think, in this case, that is because words do not have the surprise value of a picture. They also simply aren’t as precise… it’s just difficult to try to communicate something visual through a non-visual medium. In other words, Veitch is using his tools cleverly to be as effective and impactful as possible.

            Veitch appeared on TBS because he took off on the Internet a few years ago, making videos in a similar style. He did not physically appear, but narrated over a presentation of sorts that showed what he was talking about. Most of these videos were about scam emails that he had replied to in order to waste the scammers’ time in the most ridiculous ways possible. At one point, Veitch gave a TED talk on one of these scam incidents, presenting the same way as with the TBS appearance, and ultimately leaving a message of how humor and creativity are the best ways to deal with certain issues.

            “The Bit with the Ducks” is not as meaning-focused, as Veitch’s appearance was more for comedy here than to make a point. But this kind of humor is Veitch’s public face, and this bit is one of his most masterful and hilarious. It’s clever, it’s silly, the timing is perfect; it’s an exemplar of humor through visual media. I like it because it uses this medium so well, and I think it is relevant to the class for the same reason. We have talked a lot about the morality of visuality, and how photography can be problematic, but Veitch uses it to bring delight into the world. There are at least two sides to everything, and this is one example of the good side of visual media.


Responses

  1. Jasmyn, I think your blog post describes the positive side of visuality excellently! I would be interested to know where you see connections between Veitch and our class materials specifically. For example, maybe the rubber ducks and “Alice In Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll connect in the absurdity of their visuality. Perhaps absurdity bolsters entertainment factor here – I am not sure, as I have not seen Veitch’s work.


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