Jury Coordination and Notes

Laughter at the Movies by Keefer Blakeslee

MelBrooks_1.jpgComedy is by far the most difficult form of entertainment. Other film genres are not easy to successfully pull off either, but what makes comedy difficult and serious work is that you don’t know what is funny to your audience. Full fledged comedies, satires and parodies in film are not what they were in the days of Mel Brooks or The Three Stooges . So the questions I would like to ask is, “What makes a film funny?”

First of all, let’s look at some history. Like many things, comedy evolves. In film it started with the silent era which focused on slapstick and optical jokes. The master and legend of this era was, of course, Charlie Chaplin. As the years went on, films began using synchronized dialogue sequences and by 1927 Jazz Singer came out. This created “talkie” films. Stars such as The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello and especially, Charlie Chaplin starred in these films. Now, with dialogue on their side, the Golden Age of Comedy began. Cut to 1968 when a satire film by Mel Brooks, The Producers came out and introduced dark and vulgar humor. Around the 1980s, the Zucker brothers and Harold Ramis entered the comedy film field with their films Airplane and Ghostbusters. In the 90s came comedies starring stand-up comedians such as Jim Carrey, Robin Williams and many more – each with his or her own unique style of humor. In the early 2000s, the film Scary Movie came out, geared for adults, with gross humor and it became a big box office success.

To me there are three main components to humor. First, it’s the unexpected; it’s when you think you know what is going to happen but the complete opposite occurs. For example, in Young Frankenstein we expect to see a terrifying monster pillaging a town . Instead we see the monster singing and dancing to Putting on the Ritz. Next, timing. For example, in The Lego Movie the main character, Emmett is getting ready for a new day. The pacing of his everyday routine makes for a comedic payoff like when he does jumping jacks and can’t bend his arms. Last, but not least, there is tragedy. I know it’s ironic that the genre that is supposed to make you laugh revolves around the sadness of life. Look at it this way, what makes you laugh when you see someone in a movie slip on a banana peel? The reaction of the person in pain. Now, if that person falls and just gets back up, that is not as funny. A movie that shows this is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. The comedy comes from the family literally trying to survive the worst day ever. That is what comedy essentially does and that is one of the reasons it is a difficult art to master. What’s difficult is being able to look at the misfortunes in life and generate laughter with it.Keefer.2014.5.jpg

Film comedies have a more unique atmosphere than other genres. When you go to a movie theater, usually people are quiet so that they can watch and enjoy the film. Have you ever noticed that comedies break that rule? They give you permission to laugh out load and break the silence inside the theater. Comedies create an atmosphere that feels like nothing else. However, when it’s all said and done, you are not going to make everyone laugh. No matter what you do, you’re still going to have that one person in the audience who won’t laugh because he/she does not think it is funny. It’s all opinion and that goes with anything. That’s why I love comedy so much because it’s not easy, but the satisfaction of making someone genuinely laugh is worth the try.

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