jack-and-jill-poster

So in last week’s newsletter, I sent out 5 amateur comedies to the Scriptshadow community to choose from for an Amateur Friday review. You can see these loglines discussed in the Amateur Offerings post here. The overall consensus was not good. People didn’t like what they saw. And keep in mind, these were the BEST OF the comedy loglines sent in. They weren’t just a random five people. Regardless of that, it got me thinking. What the hell is going on with comedies? The genre, in my opinion, is at an all time low.

Think about it. When was the last time you HAD to go to the movies to see a comedy? Six months ago? A year? I honestly can’t remember myself. And that’s a troubling development. Unlike superhero flicks and action-adventure films, comedies aren’t dependent on the big-screen experience. They can just as easily be enjoyed at home. Which tells me if this trend continues, comedies will follow the same route as dramas and indie movies: straight-to-digital. And as soon as that happens, the price for comedy specs goes way down. Why is that a big deal? Because comedy is the biggest market left for spec writers, one of the few genres left writers can consistently sell a spec script in.

Now I understand discussing comedies is tough. Sense of humor differs wildly from person to person. It’s the only genre where one person can absolutely hate a movie that someone else absolutely loves. I mean, believe it or not, some people actually liked Paul Blart: Mall Cop. This makes discussing the issue tricky. However, even with people’s widely divergent tastes in comedy, I think it’s safe to say that the overall quality of the comedy has gone down. I mean when a comedy like “Jack and Jill” can get made, the genre has to be suffering, right?

Good comedies have always been hard to come by, but in better times, we got at least one bona fide comedy classic a year. By classic I mean movies that you’d want to buy and watch again. So in 1993 we had Groundhog Day, 94 we had Dumb and Dumber, 95 we had Get Shorty, 96 we had Happy Gilmore (or “Scream” if you want to count that as a comedy), 97 we had Liar Liar, 98 There’s Something About Marry, 99 American Pie, and in 2000, Meet The Parents. I mean that’s a pretty good run. I haven’t seen anything approaching that run in the past decade.

Of course, maybe I’m just getting old. Maybe I don’t like the same things the kids these days like. Maybe the comedies coming out now ARE classics, and I’m just not hip to the new haha. Well, let’s go to the books, shall we? Below are the top 5 box office comedies in each of the last 5 years. You’ll notice that 2012 was the lowest ranking box office year for comedies of the five by over 100 million dollars. But that’s not what I want you to focus on. Focus on the movies themselves. Are these really the best Hollywood can do?

2012
Ted – $218 million
21 Jump Street – $138 million
The Campaign – $86 million
This is 40 – $67 million
Pitch Perfect – $65 million

2011
The Hangover Part 2 – $254 million
Bridesmaids – $169 million
Horrible Bosses – $117 million
Bad Teacher – $100 million
Crazy Stupid Love – $84 million

2010
Grown Ups – $162 million
Little Fockers – $148 million
The Other Guys – $119 million
Jackass 3-D – $117 million
Due Date – $100 million

2009
The Hangover – $277 million
Night At The Museum, Battle of The Smithsonian – $177 million
Paul Blart: Mall Cop – $146 million
Couples Retreat – $109 million
Zombieland – $75 million

2008
Hancock – $227 million
Get Smart – $130 million
Tropic Thunder – $110 million
Step Brothers – $100 million
You Don’t Mess With The Zohan – $100 million

Now there are some okay titles in this list. But I’m pretty sure the only comedy the majority of us would agree is a bona fide classic is The Hangover. I mean, we had one year off this list where the top two movies were, gasp, Grown-Ups and Little Fockers!!! The combined Rotten Tomato scores for these two films was 19%. No, I didn’t forget one of the percentages. One was 9 percent. The other was 10!! Jackass 3-D was the fourth biggest comedy of that year. A bunch of guys looking for inventive ways to land on their balls. The Other Guys was the only semi-legitimate comedy that year, and the plot for that film was unintelligible.

Which leads me to my big problem with today’s comedies. Nobody pays attention to story anymore. Instead, the trend is bit-comedy – little individual bursts of comedy that have little to no connection to one another. The rallying cry seems to be, “If it’s funny, include it, no matter what.” Miss Scriptshadow calls them “Youtube-able Moments” – bits that would play well in one or two minutes on Youtube (the “white trash name guessing” scene in “Ted” for example), but don’t have any story value.

Seth McFarlene has been leading the charge for this kind of comedy in the TV world. If you look at cartoons like The Simpsons and South Park – they put a lot of effort into building a story that the comedy can emerge from. Family Guy is the opposite. Nothing is connected. There’s no story to speak of. It’s just random bits of comedy that are born out of whatever the writer thinks is funny at the moment.

Now because a TV show is only 22 minutes long, this lack of coherence can work. But on an entire film? Outside of the Naked Gun and Scary Movie franchises, we haven’t seen it seep into “narrative” features much. But now we have Seth McFarlane’s “Ted,” which is about as “Youtubable Moment”-centric as it gets. And people came out in droves. It finished with 218 million dollars at the domestic box office, and was the biggest comedy of the year.

Now I’m assuming I speak for everyone when I say that Ted isn’t a classic. Or at least I hope I do. So what does its anointment mean? Does it mean that this is what audiences want now? Or does it mean that the comedy scene has gotten so terrible that this is what we’re left with?

Call me old fashioned, but here’s what I believe is going on. The wrong people are dictating the comedy scene, people who put the emphasis on the wrong things. It’s not that these people aren’t funny. Some of them are. But nobody’s taught them the value of story, and how if you pull an audience in emotionally, if you build a strong narrative with something at stake where the characters are charismatic and likable and interesting, then everything about the story becomes much better, including the humor.

A good story is like a spell. It makes you forget everything else around you. It pulls you in and makes you believe in its make-believe world. Once you do that, you can manipulate any emotion you want out of an audience, with humor being no different than fear or sadness or anger. What I’m trying to say is that a movie like Ted could’ve had everything it has now but a lot more. It could’ve been twice as captivating, twice as funny, and made even more money.

What kills me, though, is that this new comedy approach has begun to trickle down to the spec-writing community. New comedy writers are coming onto the scene and believing this is how they need to write comedies, without a strong story or strong direction. This has resulted in an overall “lowering of the bar” and now the best of these patchwork comedy specs are bought at prices ¼ of what comedies used to go for. The buyers need to buy something, but pay small amounts because…well because the comedies aren’t very good anymore. I’m trying to think of the last big comedy spec sale in Hollywood and I can’t. Can you?? Maybe El Tigre (about a middle class man who gets mistaken for a Mexican drug cartel leader). And that was horrible.

There’s actually good news to come out of all of this. The laughably low quality in the comedy genre for both scripts and movies opens the door for someone with a good comedy idea who can actually execute a story to cash in. Basically, you need 3 things. You need a marketable concept. You need strong funny characters. And you need a story that stays strong all the way through. Instead of trying to come up with funny scenes and building a story around that, come up with a funny story and let the comedy emerge organically from it. Also ask yourself, would your story still be interesting without the comedy? Would the audience still care? Would they still want to know what happens next? If the answer to those questions is yes, then you’re on the right track. I, for one, am wishing you luck. Because I’d love to start laughing again when I go to the movies.

  • Poe_Serling

    Hey Carson-

    What’s going on at the paranormal pad? No early morning wake-up call today. No new banana bread recipes in my inbox. Hardly any mention of the fun and frivolity of the latest happenings at In-and-Out.

    Did Ms. Scriptshadow join Selena Gomez and company on spring break or what?

    >>Interesting article about the state of comedy films. You know my love for lists is endless. ;-)

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      I second that (THE HITCHER). A well written script and a great movie to boot !

      • Poe_Serling

        Hey MZG-
        Glad you popped in to say hello and throw some support behind The Hitcher. Hope you’re staying busy and productive in a writing way. ;-)

        • Marija ZombiGirl

          Working days, writing nights, yeah…
          Searching for an agent.
          Mixing magic potions for my muse.
          And getting in a good night’s sleep every night :-)

          • Poe_Serling

            Never a dull moment, huh? ;-) Any interesting buzz regarding the release of your novella? Any interesting reactions from others?

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            Only positive feedback so far… At the book fair, it was the novella that sold the most copies – people were attracted to the colourful cover which is a good thing :-) That sounded like boasting, I’m not. I’m just happy about it and a little proud, too. (I finally have time for translating that bonus chapter, sorry about the delay…)

          • Poe_Serling

            Happy to hear that your novella was the bestseller at the book fair. And you’re right, sometimes any form of postive feedback can be a great motivator for future writing endeavors.

            And hey, talk up your success all you want (you deserve it)… Remember all the famous taglines: On an old thread no one can hear you boasting. ;-)

  • ripleyy

    I loved 21 Jump Street, going back further, Horrible Bosses and then there’s Tropic Thunder and those were the films what I thought were genuinely funny to watch.

    The thing with those three films – in my opinion – is that they each have 2 or more “memorable moments” (moments that clearly come to mind when you think about them):

    For 21 Jump Street it has quite a few memorable moments such as the Party Scene, anything with the Church and the moment they got stoned. Also, the characters in that film were genuinely funny. They weren’t faked in any way, that comes down to genuinely funny people writing them.

    For Horrible Bosses it was probably the scene where they searched the “douche-pad”, anything with Kevin Spacey. The film was saved by the actors (anything with Jason Bateman and Charlie Day and you’ve got yourself a winner).

    For Tropic Thunder, it had quite a few but of course it’s Tom Cruise’s rant that is an instantly memorable moment.

    But no, nothing other than that. “Dumb and Dumber” is a classic. “Liar Liar” is a classic. There’s nothing now that is a “classic”. It has to be genuinely funny and the writing has to be smart.

    Ridley Scott once said “Sci-fi films are as dead as westerns”, the problem is, it’s no longer Sci-Fi, it’s Comedy, because no one takes the time to write funny.

    I mean, people liked “Movie 43″. They genuinely liked it. Is comedy dead? Yeah, because there’s people who like “Movie 43″.

    • Poe_Serling

      Gotta agree with Tropic Thunder – it was a whole lot of fun, especially all the in-jokes about the various acting styles, studio shenanigans, etc.

  • http://twitter.com/LisaAldin Lisa Aldin

    BRIDESMAIDS is also classic and had a strong story. I’m just waiting for Anchorman 2 though. Bring that on.

    • wlubake

      I was going to throw Bridesmaids as a classic out there too. The script was nominated for an Oscar, after all.

      Some of these movies got very hard laughs out of me. I remember laughing harder in Horrible Bosses than I had at a movie in a long time. I believe it was the scene with Charlie Day singing the Ting Tings high on coke that had me doubled over.

      I think also very telling from this group is that almost none of these can be really considred “romantic comedies”. Bridesmaids comes close, but the relationship is secondary there. The key relationship is between friends, not between a couple. I guess Crazy Stupid Love is romantic, but it spans so many relationships that it doesn’t seem to fit the traditional idea of a RomCom. That’s a genre that has fallen on hard times.

    • MrTibbsLive

      Anchorman 2? Really??? After the first 40 minutes Anchorman became dreadful. Countless pointless scenes just to try and get laughs. I would say let me know if Anchorman 2 is any better but I’m not sure I can trust your judgment :)

  • DrMatt

    The comedy going the route of “indie dramas” straight to digital would be a serious blow comedy as an experience. Personally, I don’t like watching comedies by myself or with one or two people because I don’t laugh as hard. When I see a comedy in the theater, especially one people are excited about, I not only laugh infinitely more, but also remember the movie more fondly and continue to laugh harder during subsequent viewings (if it’s good, that is).

    It’s funny you mentioned the “come up with funny scenes and then form a movie around them” trend. One, I’m reading a script written by some friends of mine right now that suffers from that exact problem, so thanks for writing a post to which I can direct them. Second, it seems like that’s exactly what action movies do, and for some reason it works for action movies with decent drive (Raiders was built that way), but it makes comedy feel less cohesive. Wonder why that is. Or maybe I’m wrong.

    Anyway, I’ve found the comedies I’ve enjoyed the most the past couple years have been the mixed genre ones. Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, 21 Jump Street, Tropic Thunder, movies that mix action and comedy. Your post about Ghostbusters pointed out that the sci-fi comedy is underused these days.

    But I think the success of Ted illustrates that sometimes you can have a disjointed story, as long as you have heart, an interesting hook, and a lot of laughs, and for most people, Ted seemed to push the right buttons. The problem with Hollywood is that a success, even a decent one, is always copied and copied and copied over and over, and like repeated optical printing on a piece of film, the quality only gets worse and worse with each try.

  • Age_C

    Watching The Hangover for the first time, being totally swept up in every layer of “the night before” that kept revealing itself. How it went from crazy to fucking crazy so quickly. Such a great experience in the cinema. Properly funny, and I agree, not many comedies hit that level these days. Death At A Funeral (the British orignal) one of the only others that comes to mind.

  • kenglo

    I wouldn’t call HANCOCK a comedy, is that because it had Will Smith? – Anyways, like I tell my daughters, I don;t think Adam Sandler, Will Ferrel – ANY Saturday Night Live people, are actually actors who do comedy well. They are comedians playing basically themselves, and as you stated earlier, doing kits. No coherency. My kids loved BRIDESMAIDS, GROWN UPS, and PAUL BLART. I just couldn’t relate. I’m probably the only person in the world who hated THE HANGOVER. There was nothing about it that was funny, to me, because I couldn’t relate. I’m dating myself, but I had the same feeling with ANIMAL HOUSE and PORKY’S way back when. Just didn’t make sense to me. BEVERLY HILLS COP, 48 HRS (yes, I am Tiger Woods, but I’m not black…I think…wait, yeah I am black…) The problem is as you so beautifully stated, in the MTV world of 45 sec ADHD teens and young adults, that stuff is cool. I NEVER pay to go see a comedy at the theaters (or dramas, less the wifey drags me). They can all wait for the DVD. Or even HBO. I want spectacle, I want an event. AVENGERS 2.5, know what I’m sayin’? But the comedy is not dead. As long as there’s Ferrel and Sandler and whoever else thinks they are funny (NAPOLEON DYNAMITE anyone?) My .03 cents. PEACE an BE WILD!

    • kenglo

      That was ‘skits’ not kits….geez, no spell check Carson???

    • IgorWasTaken

      Will Ferrell in “Stranger Than Fiction” (STF) was amazing. A great performance as an actor.

      I strongly believe that, if we had had no idea who he was before that movie, he would have gotten an Oscar nomination for that role.

      There’s a lot of his stuff that doesn’t do much for me, but he makes his kinda roles “look so easy” for him to do, I think that’s why he didn’t get the credit he deserved for STF.

      • Midnight Luck

        Stranger than Fiction was a really awesome, and sadly mostly missed by people, movie.

    • Montana Gillis

      THE HANGOVER bored the crap out of me… Not that I had do-do in the back of my trousers you understand, but I thought it was pretty lame and found myself wondering if I saved enough belly button fuzz, would the resulting pillow be soft enough?

      • IgorWasTaken

        Huh. That’s odd.

        Did you see it because you wandered into the wrong theater at the multiplex?

        I can understand that some people wouldn’t like it; I’m just surprised that someone who went to see it intentionally would find it “lame”, etc.

        • Montana Gillis

          Got it on Netflix. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Wasn’t the worst movie I’ve seen, but for all the hype, it was a disappointment to me. But the viewing public seemed to love it. For a “top rated” comedy, the only gag I hadn’t already seen was with the baby. That gave me a chuckle. The rest of the movie… Not so much.

  • wlubake

    I forgot 21 Jump Street about 20 minutes after I was done watching it. Really only the Depp cameo stands out to me.

    • MrTibbsLive

      Me too. I thought 21 Jump Street was terrible. I almost stopped watching.

  • Murphy

    I think there has always been two main types of comedies, the one that is a funny drama and the other which is just a bunch of gags hung on a very loose plot. Maybe your issue is that the balance has swung far too much towards the latter recently, but I don’t think that is a sign that comedy is getting worse.

    Ted and Bridesmaids were both great movies, both very funny and to be honest they both were based around a story, maybe not the most original or deepest story, but it was still there.

    Take Monty Python’s Life of Brian – Very loose plot, not much of a story, but a genius idea and one of the funniest movies ever made.

    Some of the most classic and funniest comedies ever made could be considered to be “no plot” movies. They all have a simple story or idea and lots of short skits woven around them.

    I think that something Monty Python has in common with American comedy is that they came from TV, and it always seems that every wave of new comedy writers and stars in the U.S. come from SNL – a skit based show.

    So could it be that sourcing your comedy talent from SNL is what is behind the high percentage of movies that are nothing but a bunch of skits tied together around a very loose plot?

    • Jim

      Napoleon Dynamite is another comedy with barely a hint of a story. But it’s got characters with endlessly quotable dialogue in spades.

    • Paul Clarke

      I agree with your first point. The list of ‘Classics’ includes mostly movies starring actual actors. Actors who can be funny. But who are actors first and foremost.

      The list of latest movies star mostly comedians. (The odd one like Farrel can do both), but most are so used to stand up, so used to setup – punchline gags, that that’s all they write.

      From reading the notes here it becomes very clear how subjective comedy is. There isn’t a single film mentioned that everyone can agree is funny.

  • peisley

    Comedy has gone to the toilet, literally. I’m not easily offended by a crude humor, if it delivers but comedy mostly consists today of getting drunk, getting high, acting like a total douche and grossing out. Frat humor, basically. These are easy targets and appeal to that young moviegoing public. Now and then, something pops up with a nice twist where you can take a date and not feel they’ll be grossed out, offended by sexist behavior, or just bored. Forget about taking a young family. Those films are gold, but really rare these days, other than animation. I happened to just be reading about the writer of Groundhog Day. He had a lot of meetings off the spec script but everybody kept saying we love this, but of course, we can’t make it. Then, when it was finally made, it was not considered a success in its initial run. Porky’s, however, made a fortune. So, classic doesn’t necessarily mean money and I’m afraid it’s the money that leads to the green light.

  • NajlaAnn

    >> What the hell is going on with comedies?

    They’re plain hard to write. Period.

  • klmn

    Ted did extremely well overseas. From Box Office Mojo:

    Domestic: $218,815,487 39.9%+ Foreign: $329,594,988 60.1%= Worldwide: $548,410,475

    The humor in Ted is mostly visual. I suspect that’s why it travelled well. IMHO, the comedy worked in Ted for the most part (with a few misfires). It was the story/ relationship stuff that didn’t work.

    • IgorWasTaken

      And, it was easy to dub.

    • Um yeah

      I’m not arguing that these movies can’t perform overseas, lots of the movies on carson’s list did. I’m talking about how buyers approach the spec market. Ted wasn’t a spec so its performance is moot unless your name is seth macfarlane. Wait, is your name seth macfarlane? Cuz if so, dude, I think you did a great job on the Oscars.
      In fact, look at Carson’s list. How many specs do you see? Does anyone know? I’d be curious.

      • garrett_h

        I could be wrong about this (but I think I’m mostly right!). TRUE spec sales on that list, I believe, would be Zombieland, The Hangover, Crazy Stupid Love, Bad Teacher and Horrible Bosses. The rest were pretty much in-house type of deals.

    • Jim

      I believed in the Mayans for a while last year. We had grown men flocking to see a movie about a teddy bear and women were going in droves to see a movie about stripping (Magic Mike). I truly thought the end was near…

      • Midnight Luck

        Now that is comedy, well said.

  • klmn

    “Vomiting, farting, sex, crudeness is what sells. What offends me is not so much the crudeness itself, but that none of it is funny”

    I saw Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life in a theater and the Mr. Creosote scene is funny. Not for the first couple minutes but it goes on for so long that it becomes absurd.

  • http://nowhitenoise.com/ Mike

    Sometimes I hate myself for laughing too hard at these comedies that I know are fundamentally bad movies. I feel like I’m encouraging their awfulness, but the diaphragm has a mind of its own, I tells ya! However, I will say that I agree, Bridesmaids is definitely at least a somewhat-classic of this age. Or what about Silver Linings Playbook?

  • ripleyy

    “New Girl” gets me laughing the most. The writers on that show have the best sense of humour I think. Half the time I wonder how they come-up with the stuff in the first place.

  • garrett_h

    Interesting article, Carson. I agree with the overall message, but disagree with a couple points…

    First off, in regards to Classics. IMO, a “Classic” comedy is one that will be watched and beloved by audiences in 20, 30, 40+ years. I wasn’t even born when Animal House was made, yet I watched it as a teenager and LOVED it. Also, you have Classics that redefine their genre. The Matrix is a good example. EVERY action movie after looked and felt like The Matrix.

    I completely agree about Hangover. However, I’d add Bridesmaids to that list. There had never been a female comedy done on that scale before with that much success (to my knowledge).

    Secondly, I disagree with your assessment of Ted. You may be having another “Looper” moment lol. You said you think others would agree it wasn’t good, but I think you’d be wrong in that assumption. Audiences loved it (it got an A- CinemaScore) and it showed in the receipts.

    I personally thought it was terrifically written. Sure, it had the MacFarlane Moments but there was a story to it. My wife HATES Family Guy but she really enjoyed Ted. And… *MAJOR SPOILER* I was crushed when Ted got “killed” and others I spoke to said the same thing, so I know I wasn’t the only one invested in that story emotionally. It might not be Classic (that’s debatable) but I think it’s one of the best comedies of the past 10 years for sure.

  • crazedwriter

    20110’s Easy A was a pretty good comedy. I think it is underappreciated. It didnt bring in much at the Box Office, but as far as rentals and Netflix, I think it has developed a following.

  • Montana Gillis

    I laughed hard through Bridesmaids but not even a chuckle for the rest of them. Part of the problem could be that I’ve pretty much been there, seen that. I just saw the trailer for Billy Crystal’s new comedy and the little kid was squirting him in the crotch with a water gun on the trailer and that is not a fresh gag.

  • Midnight Luck

    I agree with everything you say Carson.

    I would love it also if Sandler would just retire. He is so not funny. Never liked a single movie he has done. Yeah, not even Happy Gilmore, it was dumb as dumb is, and he is no actor.

    I thought Bridesmaids had some good humor in it, and The Hangover was funny throughout (but H2 was pathetic, not looking forward to H3 unless they pull out a miracle). I think the best on the list though is Zombieland. Wasn’t excited about another Zombie movie, but Jesse Eisenberg tends to pick good stuff, as does Emma Stone overall. And I agree with the other poster, Easy A was great, I thought it was really funny.

    I do think all the writers are heading into TV. So much of the best stuff in all genres seem to be there, not movies. Movies are a big wasteland, trying to survive on bloated, epic, CGI stupidity – propped up with only One Big Idea. They then forget a cohesive storyline, ’cause in their minds, kids today with their ADD and ADHD, XBOX, BLTA’s don’t need story, they just need shit blown up!

  • witwoud

    Modern comedy has severe likability issues, in my opinion. I can see why the situations are supposed to be funny, but the characters are such selfish jackasses that I couldn’t care less.

    The 90s comedies that Carson mentions — even the gross-outs like ‘Mary’ — had likeable characters. So did the early ’00s movies like ‘School of Rock’ and ’40-Year-Old-Virgin’. But I never felt a flicker of interest in the guys in ‘Hangover’ or the girls in ‘Bridesmaids.’ They were all such dislikable, shallow jerks, and I couldn’t get interested them or their films.

    • RayFinkleLacesOut

      Really in The Hangover the only dislikable character was probably Bradley Cooper’s. Ed Helms was the nebbish dentist whose wife mistreats him and Zack Gal is the guy with no friends who’s just trying to have friends.

  • Cfrancis1

    I thought Ted wad really good actually. And I’m not a Family Guy fan. Liked the characters and I thought the story was interesting. I thought the whole teddy beat metaphor representing guys who are in a state of arrested development was cleer and well done. Also, I laughed a lot, I think Bridesmaids was brilliant. The Hangover is an instant classic. But other tan that, I supposed it is a struggle to find quality comedies. Frankly, most of te bet comedy writing is happening on TV.

    That said, plotless comedies have always been around. Look a Caddy Shack, considered a classic by most, really not much of a story. Animal House, same deal.

  • Michael

    Hollywood got you down? Not funny anymore? No problem. Head to Redbox, Netflix, cable on demand and pop in a British comedy. They may not be leading at the box office, but they are making some of the funniest movies in a decade. “In Bruges,” “In the Loop,” “Four Lions,” will make you laugh your ass off.

  • Alan Burnett

    I disagree with your assessment of ‘Ted’. I don’t think the problem was the weak storytelling (although I am not denying that this was weak), but the way in which the writers tried to impose a story at all. Story is king … except in something like a ZAZ film, where they structured a throwaway plot completely around skits and gags. That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. And when there was a story (i.e. will Nielsen and Pressley get together?), it was treated in a very jokey manner, so that the love story always felt tonally coherent to the other aspects of the film. McFarlane, however, wanted you to CARE about Wahlberg and Kunis, which was very frustrating because McFarlane did NOTHING to reward audience investment into this love story. Oh, there were tons of BORING scenes in which Kunis complained and Wahlberg was an idiot, but that isn’t the same thing as creating an appealing couple with credible conflict. Equally as important, their scenes were tonally out-of-sync with the rest of the film. It’s like a completely different film. Look at the (formerly) final episode of ‘Arrested Development': when Michael starts crying, the moment is treated with disdain by the other characters and there are gags involving how inappropriate they feel genuine emotion is. In that instance, the writers treated the moment in a tonally consistent manner with the rest of the series. What they didn’t do is feature George giving his son a thumb’s up or something like that. ‘Ted’, however, always feels like two completely different films: if he wanted a series of gags, he should have just written that script instead of trying to fool the audience that you really CARE about the central couple.

  • Devils_Advocate_666

    It’s easy to rip apart Seth McFarlane or Adam Sandler or any of the lazy studio comedies which are just a series of cheap gags and gross-out jokes and ‘set-up, punchline, pop-culture reference, repeat.’

    But you didn’t mention the Apatow influence. Since Anchorman and 40 Year Old Virgin, too many movies have depended less on funny screenplays and more on the improv abilities of their cast. Instead of recurring jokes and comic moments set up early to be paid off later, you just have disconnected one-liners and entire improvised scenes that go on long past the point of funny (see: Dinner for Schmucks, The Watch, anything from Jonah Hill or Vince Vaughn, etc).

    Also, most great comedies are 90 or 100 minutes. Apatow movies (produced, directed, or otherwise influenced) tend be almost 2 hours or more. Same with the more recent movies from Will Ferrell and Adam McKay and the like. Wedding Crashers, Bridesmaids, Knocked Up, these could have been funny at 95 minutes but at 120 or 130, they’re a chore to sit through (and extended unrated cuts only compound the problem).

    You want better comedies? We need great funny scripts with more judicious editors.

    • RayFinkleLacesOut

      I guess this goes back to what someone said about no one can agree on what’s funny because I thought Wedding Crashers and Knocked Up were both hilarious regardless of the length.

  • carsonreeves1

    This is GREAT advice. Don’t write a comedy. Write a story and make funny things happen in it. Took me 1500 words to say that.

  • Steve

    Is it simply that the best comedy, like the best drama, is now on the small screen? It probably speaks to feature films being far more risk-averse. However, comedies can be relatively cheap, there’s plenty of profitable comedies without them needing to be big box-office hits..

  • JWF

    the best comedy is on television – it’s always sunny, the league, him & her, peep show etc.

    not sure I’ve seen a genuinely hilarious film since The Hangover.

    21 Jump Street, Horrible Bosses, The Change Up were okay, but not hilarious in my opinion.

  • Bella_Lugossi

    The last really good comedy, for me, was Horrible Bosses. Ever since then, things have been quiet on the good comedy front.

    I like the advice of writing a good story with great characters, and start making jokes later. I think most comedy writers have a funny idea and can’t wait to get to the joke, like a ten-year-old.

    Also: maybe Youtube and other websites have taken over the comedy-role from Hollywood over the last 10 year. The video content on internet is A) comedy, accidents, pranks B) porn. People have become used to seeing funny, really short videos, so when they go to the theater, they want to see something else. They can watch funny stuff online at home whenever they want (for free).

  • ArabyChic

    I halfway agree with this. There’s a difference between writing an action movie and writing a story and then making “action” happen. The characters may be the heart and soul, but the 4 or 5 action sequences are the life blood, the thing that makes it truly invigorating. In order to make it work, you need both.

    In writing a comedy you need those same set pieces. Making the funny “happen” isn’t enough. I think the last comedy I saw in a theater that truly blew me away was Something about Mary, because the set pieces were like carefully orchestrated car chases. They were brilliant. And of course, it didn’t hurt that the characters were so engaging.

  • Bella_Lugossi

    A strong vision is a good thing, in my opinion.

    I’m suffering from the opposite and tend to incorporate every idea and joke people give me in my screenplays, untill they are 240 pages long.

    If 10 readers tell you the same thing, they are probably right. Go slash some darlings.

  • rosemary

    Idk 21 jump street was pretty funny

  • Ninjaneer

    I loved Bridesmaids. The bridal party crapping their pants at the dress shop was total guy humor.

    Where’s the love for Horrible Bosses? I liked The Hangover but Horrible Bosses was more consistently funny.

  • Ninjaneer

    (Wheezy old man voice)
    I remember the good ol’ days when movies were funny! Ever since these Talkies it been down hill….

    Survivorship bias
    It’s easy to remember the few good movies over the past three decades and forget the thousands and thousands that were mediocre or terrible.

    The reason it seems like there is only a classic every 3-5 or so years now is because that’s the way it always has been.

    Thirty years from now people will be saying the same thing, “Remember 2000 – 2015? Man those were the times when people knew how to write comedy.

    Love ya Carson, but I’ve got to disagree.

  • http://www.facebook.com/charles.ryan.509 Charles Ryan

    You forgot “Think Like a Man” that earned about $95 Million domestically.

  • http://profiles.google.com/madmaxandrade Tiago Andrade

    Sent this link to my friends with the following comment: “Or how Seth MacFarlane is slowly destroying the Hollywood comedy as we know it”.

  • fragglewriter

    You hit the nail on the head. Comedies are horrible. The Hangover was the most overrate film I’ve seen, ext to Bridesmaids. I didn’t even laugh at the commercial or Youtube clips of the movie Ted, because it’s so “been there, done that, 100x better”.

    I went to a comedy class (missed the last two days because of exhaustion), to find out how to write comedy. What I learned to write a bit/sketch is what you have been saying all along in your articles:

    1) How to tell a joke

    2) Keep an audience engaged

    3) Come in late and leave early

    4) Know your audience

    5) Don’t be that guy (racist, hatred, sexualize, too much cursing in jokes)

    6) Everyone will not find you funny

    7) Pick your theme (who you want to be at that moment. It can always change when you make new jokes)

    8) Don’t plagiarize

    9) Keep a journal

    10) If a joke sounds familiar, then toss it.

    The above are just excerpts. But I learned a ton of vital information.

    I learned a lot in my four classes, that I see a ton of new comedies make. I had to turn off Hall Pass, cause it was so horrible. And I only made it about 20 minutes.

    I love comedy!! I’m a cartoon fanatic, slap sick comedy and action girl to the fullest. But I’m currently writing a drama (I know) to win the Nicholl (why am I still on page 20 and the deadline is in one month SMH)

  • srdiction

    Hope ‘Dumb and Dumber To’ will be a classic.

  • Garrett Amerson

    I agree and I am totally on board with “cashing in” on this forgotten genre. That is, a movie with a great story that you also laugh a lot.

  • Michael

    “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” – Oscar Wilde