Everyone likes comedy.
You like comedy. I like comedy. Even the most dour, lifeless people on the planet (Wesleyans) like comedy.
Why then, is it so hard to find a good comedy?
Let me rephrase that- “why is it so hard to find a good comedy movie?“
I’m not talking about something that will have you on the floor struggling to breathe, I just mean something that will consistently get a chuckle out of you and not leave you feeling like you’ve wasted two hours of your life.
Seriously- go into a movie store or a library or the “comedy” section of Netflix and what do you have?
Black people doing stuff a hairs breadth away from a minstrel show?
Two hours of C-level actors (and one A level actor whose life has gone terribly wrong) making bad sex jokes?
A couple of stoners doing stupid stuff (even by stoner levels) while SNL actors pop by for cameos?
Let’s face it- even without laughter being their many focus, the genres of action, adventure, sci-fi, and even horror movies still wind up being way funnier than their “comedy” counterparts. Consider John McClane’s stream of sarcastic comments in Die Hard, the back-and-forths in Zombieland, every Pixar movie ever made. These films all easily outstrip their “comedy” counterparts in quantity and quality of humor. Heck, to even make the compete it seems like comedies have to blend themselves with other genres, such as teen-scream satire Tucker & Dale Vs Evil or cop-flick The Other Guys.
The reason for that working is that these spin-off comedies have to actually mirror the movements of the serious films they’re based off of, meaning that they actually have to include a story arc and some degree of characters. Of course, when they don’t, you just get some monstrosity like this:
It’s a pretty straightforward rule. Action movies mean the bad guy has to go down. Horror means the characters have to survive (a couple of ’em, anyways). Something has to get accomplished by the end- it can’t just be some stand-up routine acted out on screen.
Of course, we also have to address the issue of cheap laughs while we’re at it. I don’t have that much an issue with crass or crude humor. From South Park to Aristophanes’ plays, it’s demonstrated over and over that toilet humor can be nasty and still have some degree of merit. Tragically, 95% of the time it’s simply included because it’s expected to get a “cheap” laugh.
Now I really don’t have any solution to this except to yell “Enough Already”. I could try to point to the tendency of these films to be colossal flops at the box office, but with how little time, effort, and money typically goes into making them, that’s probably going to be about as effective as running a steakhouse in India. Really the only thing I can do here is try to argue that comedies that actually have some effort put into tend to not only be good but iconic. Take a look at Superbad.
Now this is a pretty dang crass movie. It only had a budget of 20 million (not a ton, compared to a lot of other movies). Nevertheless, it had a seriously compelling story and relatable, if not always likeable characters.
Alternatively, Benchwarmers had a budget of 33 million (which just baffles my mind), was not as crude as Superbad, and currently has a rating 11% on Rotten Tomatoes. Why? Because it wasn’t a story. It was a bunch of loosely connected jokes strung out over an hour and a half.
Now I fully recognize that not everything is so black and white. While your comedies which can be emphatically categorized as “good” and “bad”, there’s no small number which fall in between. I’m talking about Napoleon Dynamite…
My favorite film of all time, The Trotsky…
I tried watching Clerks and couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the appeal was supposed to be…
And you know what? That’s ok. I don’t think something has to be popular to be good.
In sum total, I think that’s what it comes down to. Comedies seem to be better when they well, don’t try so hard to be comedies. The industry seems to have the process backwards, writing stories to fit jokes rather than jokes to fit stories. That first trailer I showed? I actually think there’s a decent premise in there (buried beneath the hammy acting and tacit racism). If Strange Wilderness (yes I’ve seen it- I still haven’t forgiven myself) wasn’t just a series of potheads messing around, there’d probably be a decent premise under there too. I know that there’s a drive to produce profits, but come on people- you can’t just churn these things out. Again, when one of the most iconic action films in movie history is also substantially funnier than the average comedy, you’ve got some issues.
If that doesn’t serve as a wake-up call, I don’t know what will.