Wednesday, August 02, 2006

My dirty little secret regarding Comedy

This is going to be anathema to countless lists of great comedies produced by experts, along with a lot of the comedy lovers out there.

I admit it. The majority of comedic movies in the Jim Abrahams/Mel Brooks mold just don't appeal to me. Ok, that is putting it mildly. I loathe them. I am not saying that their entire portfolio is awful or anything like that. But there is just something about comedy that is trying to make me laugh by introducing an element which is internally inconsistent that irritates me and therefore do not provoke laughter in me.

There are certain qualities I look for in the comedies I watch, no matter how silly or inane. I am willing to accept a lot of things in a movie if it conforms to the internal reality of the story.

I think that is part of the reason that if I ever tried to create a list of what I felt were the best comedies of all-time, I would make a lot of people upset, because movies like Spaceballs, Airplane, Naked Gun and the like would not appear.

Now, to make it clear what kind of comedy I am talking about, I will give an example. In Spaceballs, there is a scene when the hero and his canine buddy "jam" a larger ship's radar.... by firing an actual jar of jam at a radar. I know why it is supposed to be funny, but really, it sort of falls flat for me. Gag humor just doesn't do it for me.

radar jam

There is also a quality in a lot of these movies that in my mind makes them less than timeless. They are very topical in their references, though the jokes they produce are about as cutting as a Jay Leno show monologue joke. They want the lowest common denominator and they sort of want to be offensive in a low grade way. It is like they want to take the easy, safe laugh.

I also know that if Leslie Nielsen is in it, the movie is most likely going to suck to me. For example, when I saw he was in the last two Scary Movies, I knew they were going to be especially terrible to me, and I was right.

Now the argument could be made that I am contradicting myself, as I have in the past professed quite the love for Family Guy and the like, and it has been a well-observed that their bread and butter method of getting a laugh is by introducing some really outlandish element that has nothing to do with the narrative. But the way it happens is in some other scene(chicken-fighting excepted of course). Dreams, visions and the like make a lot of these problems go away as well(the Wayne's World effect if you will).

There is an exception that proves this rule in my mind of course, and in this particular vein of humor, Blazing Saddles still works today and makes me laugh almost every time I see it. Somehow, no matter how weird or stupid the gags get, it just strikes the right chord.

Now I know a lot of you are probably going to disagree with me about this, and that's fine. I would love to discuss this with you all, as it isn't so much a fast and hard rule as it is a predilection. So, if you think I am full of crap or you can think of a movie which is like that and yet you know or think I like based on some of my other entries, well, you can call me on it, because this could be an interesting discussion.


Mel said...

I agree. I can't stand most, if not all, of the Nielsen-genre films. My big exception is also Blazing Saddles, although History of the World is a bad-ass film (I adore Madeleine Kahn).

Anomie-Atlanta said...

Monty Python?

Mel said...

Python is in a league of its own... I don't class those as Nielsen-esque.
But that's just me. For me, Python is still the funniest shit ever.

David B said...

I share exactly the same horror of the Zuckers. The one I *really* hate is 'Secret Agent!'. Mel Brookes can also make my stomach churn when a gag misfires (Robin Hood Men in Tight! urgh...) I guess the best comedy doesn't draw attention to itself, whereas the Zucker's pin a huge 'joke' label on every one. The exception is Jerry Zucker's 'Rat Race', but that's more controlled and genuinely funny. I can see I'm going to spend the rest of evening figuring out a film that really works despite being zany, but at the moment I'm stumped. Perhaps 'Time Bandits'? 'Jabberwocky'? The Pink Panther movies? But even their extravagances are consistent with the Clouseau character...

Big Papi said...

Hey ya'll cool little blog, if you like this one ya'll might like

MC said...

Mel: Well Madeleine Kahn had such timing.

AA: I always thought of them being more surrealists than anything... and in their movies things do have follow through. That and the fact that most of their gags tend to be a little more cerebral(if a murderous bunny can be cerebral)

David: Again, Time Bandits, while weird was internally consistent(at least in my eyes), and Jabberwocky... that was just weird. It seems that spoofs generally are the most apt to use that one-off kind of humor.

I'll admit I was impressed with the article you wrote on comedy though. Very well thought out and I think it is worth reading.

Big Papi: Thanks for the recommendation.

Schadenfreude said...

Hmmm, so is it correct to say you are willing to accept certain varying degrees of "gag-ness" if the gag is at least tangentially related to the intenal reality/consistency of the movie? Like say, the newsteam rumble in Anchorman? Or like 80% of Dodgeball?

I think I see where yer coming from. I loved the original The Producers (the first movie) but cant stand Spaceballs and of course love Blazing Saddles, and History of the World.... Hmmm maybe I do get what you're saying more than I realize.

But then again I love Airplane! ...grrr.

MC said...

Yes Schad I think that sums it up nicely, though at a certain level it becomes like that old Potter Stewart quote: I can't totally define bad gaggy-ness, but I know it when I see it."

See, given one of your examples, the anchor fight in Anchorman does have a nice follow through near the end.

Part of me is also thinking of refining this to include commitment to a weird, seemingly out-of-place scene. If a comedy just introduces an element for 20-30 seconds, it could be too gaggy for me, but if it got fleshed out and really got some muscle behind it, it could work, but we'll see how that pans out under cross examination.