I am a comedy snob.
I don’t laugh at fart jokes or burps, and most sitcoms bore me to pieces. Some of this elitism is because I studied comedy writing and seeing behind the curtain can take the surprise away (and much of comedy is about delivery), my upbringing since my dad introduced me to Monty Python at a young again, but most of it is just, frankly, because I am a comedy snob. And because of that, I have never laughed at a single scene in a single American Pie movie…
Not a single scene.
I expect more.
I expect more than stereotypes, pratfalls, sarcasm, easy parodies, and physical body humor. You can keep your Three Scrooges (even though I do like some of the Curly episodes), I’ll take the Marx Brothers any day of the week.
Here, in all my snobbery, are my six favorite comedies:
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
When the American Film Institute (AFI) did their list of 100 laughs, they did not include a single Monty Python movie.
Not a one.
Their justification is that the films chosen had to have significant financial or creative production elements from the USA. Fine, whatever (even though, I would argue that the films were distributed and produced by a few Americans and American companies), but yet, they included A Fish Called Wanda on the list. Is it because two of the main cast members were American? Should I point out that Terry Gilliam of Monty Python (director, actor and writer) is American?
No, this doesn’t make sense to me either.
Holy Grail in the title matches this film perfectly. This is, in my opinion, the best comedy ever made. Nothing stands in the way of wit, surprises, and skits; not even a plot. Yes, forget the plot, it is not necessary. The filmmakers didn’t care about the plot, you shouldn’t either.
How much do I discuss from this film? I don’t want to ruin any of it, but who seriously hasn’t seen this film? There are shirts, action figures, games, and even a Broadway musical based on it. If you have not seen this film, put down the Farrelly Brothers and Judd Apatow films, and rent it.
Yes, I know that everyone likes Duck Soup. When people discuss great comedies they bring up Duck Soup. I will even say I like Duck Soup a lot. Heck, I’ll even take it one step further and make it personal; when my dog I had growing up died my wife bought me Duck Soup to cheer me up and I watched it the next day.
But I like Animal Crackers more.
C’mon, Groucho is an African explorer! His first song is “Hello, I must be going.” The film even has a joke that has CONSISTENTLY made me laugh since I was 7: “I once shot an elephant in my pajamas… how it got in my pajamas, I’ll never know.”
This film was based on a play that the Marx Brothers had done on Broadway prior. So, we can assume, the script and the performers were tested in the field and it was a well-oiled production by the time the camera started rolling. They knew their cues, they knew what jokes work. It just feels so solid to me.
Yes, there is a lame romance story and something about a stolen painting, but that is not what matters. What matters is the sharp delivery by Groucho and the collection of oddities in Harpo’s coat.
Love and Death
OK, I just looked at the AFI list of 100 Laughs again and this is the THIRD film I have listed that is not on their list. I don’t know if that is achievement for my comedy snobbery, or a statement about the AFI’s list. Well, AFI, you can keep your Some Like it Hot (1) and Tootsie (2), I’ll take Love and Death.
Love and Death is Woody Allen’s greatest comedy and I will debate that with anyone who wants. When he made it he was on the cusp of making serious films and you can see a stark improvement in his filmmaking as compared to his earlier movies.
Love and Death, if anything, is a rich film with layers. Think of it as a comedy film version of an all-you-can-eat buffet. There is something there for anyone, in other words. You want silly comedy, it is there. You want physical humor it is there. You want literary wit, it is there. You want a reference to artsy European filmmakers like Bergman, it is there as well! This film has everything.
I used to have this film memorized, I had watched it that many times. In many ways I would study it, since it celebrates so many different styles of comedy (There is even a scene like a silent movie in it). Whew…
Easily, one of my favorite Woody Allen films.
Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
Yes, I just said Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.
This is a shout out to my childhood. I remember standing on a street corner acting out the “I know you are, but what am I” scene with my cousin when I was in fourth grade. This film, to this day, makes me laugh out loud. When I think of silly comedies I loved growing up, this is on the top of the list.
Time for an aside: Let’s talk about other comedies from my childhood. Return with my to the 80’s!
- Spaceballs– Watched this film a dozen times, but let’s be honest, only the Dark Helmet scenes rock now.
- Ghostbusters– While I love this film, it is more than a comedy for me… Because when I saw it for the first time in the theater I was scared. Oh, I was so scared. So I had to see it three more times in the theater.
- Ferris Bueller’s Day Off– This film is not a comedy, it is a movement. When Cameron was in Egypt’s land…
- Back to the Future– Man, this a great series, one of my favorites. But for me it is more about the adventure and friendship than the comedy.
Oh, this film is not on the AFI list either, and let’s be honest, Pee-Wee is an acquired taste, I get that. You either laugh at everything he does… or you don’t.
Frankly, Pee-Wee has always made me laugh and the fourth grader in my loves every second of this movie.
I have to include Mel Brooks on the list or I would not be able to look myself in the mirror. But it was hard to decide between this and The Producers.
There is a lot I love around The Producers and in many ways I like Gene Wilder more in The Producers. The Producers is, to be honest, a more real story from beginning to end… But Young Frankenstein is just so much fun.
I remember watching it for the first time when I was 8 and laughing so hard it hurt. At that age, it was all about Igor, now as an adult I know all of the references that they are making in the film from King Kong to horror films, making the film that much more satisfying. If you want to study how to make a successful parody film that does more than simply mock the things it is parodying (and let’s be honest that is all a lot of contemporary parody films do), this is a great starting point. Mel Brooks teases, salutes and has fun in a universe, he doesn’t try to destroy it for the sake of a few laughs.
On a side note, I never saw the musical. It seemed an odd choice for me. Anyway…
Waiting for Guffman
I have to include one contemporary comedy, and no one has made me laugh more in the last decade than Christopher Guest and his troop of improv artist. His group has not made a movie since For Your Consideration (probably the weakest of their outings), but they created this personal, single camera, almost reality style comedy that can be seen on TV from Modern Family to Arrested Development. Yes, it started here.
Waiting for Guffman is the best of his films. It is about a group of actors putting on a play for their city’s anniversary. It’s bittersweet, surprising, and incredibly witty. When talking about this film with people, I am always surprised by how many haven’t seen it, especially those in the arts. If you are in the arts, you need to see it.
So let’s see the final count… Of my six favorite comedies, only one made the AFI list. Hmmm… Maybe I need to turn down my comedy snobbery…
Nah. I’m going to assume I am right.
It’s easier to do.
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