There I was last night watching 30 Rock, and I came to a horrible, horrible realization: I used to be a tool. Some out there would quibble with the “used to be” bit, but I’m sticking by it. You see, I used to be an NBC page, and I’m quite convinced that I was the sort of always happy, go-getting, naively optimistic, complete dork that Jack McBrayer portrays as NBC page Kenneth. I find the character absolutely hysterical. I pray every time I see him that he’s an over-the-top version of a page and not the page I was. Either way, he’s still hysterical but that’s only because I know about NBC pages and the page program.
The same is true of last night’s Six Sigma running joke. Alec Baldwin’s character, Jack, has recently embarked on his Six Sigma training and is looking to put it into action. Six Sigma is, much like the NBC page program, an actual thing in which NBC-Universal (and parent company GE) participate. The goal of the initiative (which is not limited to GE) is to find ways to streamline the organization and processes within the organization. The point of it all is to make things cheaper, faster, easier, and better. This can end up with executives looking for “synergies,” which is corporate speak for positions that can be eliminated because they’re close enough to what someone else is doing and the rest of the work can just be foisted off onto the remaining employee. One of the more amusing aspects of Six Sigma is that, in part, it's organized like a martial art, you can get different color belts depending on how good you are at streamlining things (Jack clearly, long-term, is going for a black belt).
Having seen people participate in Six Sigma, hearing Jack talk about it was hilarious. He didn’t explain what it was terribly well, but having the background information from previous work experience the bit worked for me. But, like the page jokes, if you don’t know what they’re talking about, if you don’t have your own experience to bring to the table, is it as funny? Certainly not, it’s probably only moderately amusing.
Through my having worked at NBC, I learned enough about the company and how it worked to note a significant number of inside jokes in 30 Rock, and often, it seems to me, those are the funny jokes, the others fall kind of flat. Or, perhaps, it is the inside knowledge that makes some of the jokes and goings-on funny, rather than fall flat (seriously, there are roof-top gardens at 30 Rock, and whether or not you’re allowed on them is an oft-debated point in some quarters). This may be the reason why television shows about television tend to prove less than successful: they’re simply too inside for their own good.
So, take it from a former tool (yes, former), the show is funny. Tina Fey is funny. Alec Baldwin is funny. Judah Friedlander, Keith Powell, and Tracy Morgan, and the rest are funny. Jack McBrayer on the other hand is hysterical.