Here’s the thing: being funny is hard. Writing comedy is hard. What’s funny is different for everyone, and while someone might claim to have a specific type of humor or genre of comedy that they’re attracted to, some films are just universally funny, or at least have moments that hit home for everyone.
Take me, for example. When describing what tends to make me laugh at a film, I might say that I like witty, intellectual humor, or dry and deadpan British humor. I thought “Downton Abbey” was funny, so I apparently have the humor of an 18th century British aristocrat.
But where does this kind of thoughtful and snappy humor come from?
At the base of any good comedy is really good writing, because while it does take an effective performance by an actor to make a joke work, if the line isn’t funny in the first place, it will fall flat no matter how many Oscars your actor has. That said, it is well-timed, clever dialogue, and the characters delivering it, that can make or break a comedy.
One example of this is the coming of age comedy “Juno” (2007), which takes the trope of accidental teenage pregnancy and turns it upside down with a smart and poignant narrative about love and friendship. Ellen Page’s quick-witted Juno is sarcastic but lovable, and Michael Cera’s Bleeker is adorably awkward. Add J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney to the mix as Juno’s hilarious but supportive parents and the film is chock full of edgy dialogue and terrific performances that leave you with a melancholic joy about life.
Great and Better
Another case study of great writing coupled with even better performances can be found in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014). While it may not be defined as a comedy by many, nearly every scene in Wes Anderson’s visually stunning and emotional masterpiece makes you want to snicker with delight. The dialogue, the pacing, and the sheer absurdity of the film makes it worth noting in the comedy sphere, and the all-star cast doesn’t hurt either. Led by Ralph Fiennes as respected hotel concierge Monsieur Gustave and Tony Revelori as his faithful lobby boy Zero, “Grand Budapest” introduces a host of quirky characters played by Wes Anderson regulars like Adrien Brody, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman. You simply can’t help but crack a smile while watching this extremely well-done and incredibly ridiculous film.
Now, I have to include a few notable romantic comedies for all the non-believers out there. The genre, although 75 percent Hugh Grant, is not dead, and is finding new ways to come back into Hollywood and surprise you.
Classic and Rom Com Humor
Of course, there are the classics: “When Harry Met Sally” (1989), which features the hilarious duo of Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, (I mean, the ‘I’ll have what she’s having scene? Priceless). “Four Weddings and a Funeral” has to be included, because, like I said, Hugh Grant’s pompous charm is irresistible, and even more classic, “A Philadelphia Story” (1940), which finds a winning threesome in Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, and Cary Grant as the deliverers of a fantastic screenplay.
But there are also newer rom-coms that have proven themselves worthy of recognition, like “What If” (2014), which stars Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, and Mackenzie Davis. The film gives Adam Driver a chance to show off his comedic chops, with relatable one-liners and friendly (but ultimately really unhelpful) advice given to Radcliffe’s Wallace. During one ensemble scene, Zoe Kazan’s Chantry suggests the group try to come up with their own alternative names for ‘Cool Whip,’ to which they offer “Puffy Whip,” “Bruce Springscream and the E-Foam Band,” “Creamy Dream,” and “Sir Puff-A-Lot’s Whipped Foam.” Although the narrative of two best friends who fall in love may be overused, the sparkling chemistry between Radcliff and Kazan, and once again, well-timed, thoughtful dialogue, makes “What If” a great contemporary comedy.
But all of these films are just what I tend to gravitate towards when I’m looking for a laugh. When it comes to my taste in comedy, I would also say that I don’t appreciate crude or vulgar humor, and usually, that’s true. While “Bridesmaids” (2011) is considered a staple of contemporary comedy, there is a certain infamous scene (you all know the one I’m talking about) that I physically cannot bear to watch, and therefore have never been able to get through “Bridesmaids” from start to finish. Films with gross gags or third grade humor don’t typically fire me up, for what I think are obvious reasons, but there is the occasional exception.
“Deadpool,” (2016) for instance, never fails to make me double over with laughter, despite its reliance on dirty jokes and physical humor. Deadpool, played by everyone’s favorite Canadian Ryan Reynolds, uses fourth wall breaks and (childish) references to appeal to adults and children alike. Speaking of Canada, remember when he punches Colossus (the giant metal Russian guy) and breaks his hand, exclaiming, “Oh Canada!” in frustration? Now that was funny. And no disrespect to Gandalf the Gray, but when Wade Wilson’s (Deadpool’s not so secret identity) girlfriend threatens a large bearded man and calls him ‘fat Gandalf,’ you have to laugh, even if you’re a die-hard “Lord of the Rings” fan and feel a little bad about it.
The bottom line with comedy is to give it a chance, because ultimately you don’t know exactly what you’ll find funny and what you don’t. The writers don’t know that either – they’re just aiming and firing at certain audiences and hoping for the best. So to all the funny people in the world who put their thoughts and jokes out into the world: what you do is really hard, but laughter is such a great gift to the world, so keep at it.