Can anyone do a complete comedy? Or is it most likely a decent movie with some really funny scenes. As a comedy writer this saddens me. I don’t want this to sound like an attack on improv in comedy because that isn’t the whole problem.
I grew up idolizing the great comedy writers Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, Woody Allen, and Harold Ramis. Yes, I know that a lot of them have work that can be criticized. Certainly Allen and Ramis latter part of the career is systematic of the problem. But I want look at what went wrong and what comedy can do to get it right. Yes, I wasn’t even old enough to see a lot of the Billy Wilder or Preston Sturges movie in their prime but thanks to the glory that is TCM I got to view them as child and believe me they still hold up today.
I’m not asking for every film to be a classic. Hell, I have multiple Pauly Shore DVD’s in my collection. But the cream of the crop I feel is turning out a less than stellar product. And we can talk about TV being where all the great comedy is at. And I can’t disagree with that point but that’s a different article all together. But nothing beats a theater crammed with people laughing there ass off at a movie and rush out of the theater to quote and tell all there friends about it. Trust me this still happens I saw the Hangover on a Friday night and watched as for the next three weeks people couldn’t stop quoting. Borat was so popular when it came out I had to ban people from quoting it. So there is a demand for great comedies. Comedies have a way of invading our culture quicker than anything else. This is why it bothers me to see them not living up to full potential.
To me the first major problem is the bloat. Comedies are starting to creep up in length to the point where I see them now surpassing dramas in length. The best comedies are ninety minutes. You’re in and you’re out. Sure there might be a few exceptions but the bigger is not necessarily the bigger. Hangover ninety four minutes perfectly wraps up that story with time to spare.
One of the major culprits of this is Judd Apatow and his brand of comedy.
First thing, first, I am huge fan of a lot of his movies. Superbad and 40 Year Old Virgin in particular but he needs a new editor. His last couples of movies tend to stretch on a lot longer than need. In fact his movie Funny People I really liked until the second movie started about ninety minutes into it. People tend to blame the improvisational manner he shoots his films that account for there long running time. But I don’t feel that’s completely correct. It’s a lack of focus. The Apatow brand of comedy develops good stories for funny actors the problem I feel is they keep adding subplots to jam all their funny friends in. Which I am sure is fun in the making of the movie but it gives all his movies a lack of forward momentum. That the films are just wandering around from moment to moment. And also since Apatow also produces his own films he is less likely to cut out extraneous storylines. In the end I want to see comedy held to a higher standard than just it got a few laughs out of me. That to me is a failure. There is such a thirst and such a plethora of comedy coming out right now that as an audience we can demand more. It’s a buyer’s market and we should expect nothing but a perfect ninety minute comedy. We normally get one year that we then quote for the next year until the next great comedy arrives. Over a series of articles I hope to pinpoint some of the major problems in comedy along with what is going right with comedy. The internet and television have given us so much great comedies it’s time for film to step up its game.