Laughing on an Empty or Full Tank?

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By Scott M. Waldman

Comedies, in general, have changed over the decades. They depend on multiple factors linked to our current environment and the people who laugh or criticize the jokes.

For comedy, the best material can either be relatable, political, intelligent, or physical. Each laugh will last for a few seconds (or minutes if lucky, which may cause you to miss the rest of the film’s plot) and leave a smile on your face. These days, though, the subject of comedic films has fallen into the same category as the horror genre. It is not taken seriously anymore. So many of these films arrive in theaters throughout the year that they are deemed as ‘fillers’ for the dramatic or action-pack thrillers.

What makes you laugh? An old-fashioned pie to the face? Waking up to an unexpected problem? Everyone has a different preference to what creates comedy and with that filmmakers have to bring out all of their comedic-chops in order to make their films watchable. Classic films like Caddyshack (1980) had a cast made up of comedians who mostly improvised their lines including Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and Rodney Dangerfield. Watching that film today will still produce the same laughs it created more than thirty years ago which creates a timeless effect like that of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) or Blazing Saddles (1974). Are there many films of this decade that can have that same timeless effect? Anchorman (2004) can be considered if the sequel never came out in 2013 (it is not as good as the original). The Hangover (2009) would be if we could forget the fact that it became a trilogy (2011, 2013).

So why are comedic films not taken seriously? The previous two films serve as perfect examples: the original formulas of the films were overworked until there was no material left. Other examples of this can be found in the sub-genres of comedy from the Paul Blart (2009, 2015) injury generator to the Wayne Brothers’ spoof films. The comedic veins are running dry which results in comedic films that lack originality and are made so that the filmmakers can raise some funds for later films or so that celebrities can bring their friends together in hopes that audiences will want to see their childish shenanigans (Adam Sandler and as of lately Will Ferrell). If these films have been lowered to that type of standard, then they should not be taken seriously to begin with. It is a waste of time for a viewer to see a film that is just going to be used to generate profit rather than a fun time.

Fortunately for the genre, there has been some hope on the horizon with such films as Trainwreck (2015), The Lego Movie (2014), and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). The first film is directed by Judd Apatow and written by Amy Schumer who has a hit show and has a quick/clever writing style while also giving the typical rom-com a very emotional center. The second feature brings a childhood toy to life while having that toy read a script that is for everyone. The third feature is a Wes Anderson film (enough said). All three are comedies and each was nominated for putting an effort into making us laugh (although the acting is great too). If more films like those can be put onto the market, the genre may be saved (although the “Lego” category is getting multiple films).

Comedies need to be valued for what they are. Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Terry Gilliam, and Edgar Wright (to name a few) all have contributed and are still contributing to the common goals of comedy. The next chance you think to see a comedic-focused flick, think about what you are seeing. Who’s directing it? Who’s in it? How was it advertised? Do research to encourage a better use of your time and bring light onto the hidden comedic gems that deserve it. Also, this can carry on to all other genres as well; a word to think on. No film should be a “filler.”

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