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Related: amusement - entertainment - feel good films - grotesque - humor - irony - laughter - ridicule - send-up

Titles: Bedazzled (1967)

People: The Marx brothers - Steve Martin

Etymologically related: comics - commedia dell'arte

Humor in art: Dada - surrealism

Subgenres: black comedy - burlesque - caricature - farce - mockumentary - parody - picaresque - ribaldry - romantic comedy - satire - sex comedy - spoof

By region: Italian comedy

People: Andy Kaufman - Jacques Tati

The Producers (1968) - Mel Brooks [Amazon.com]

C'est Arrivé Pres de Chez Vous/Man Bites Dog (1992) - Rémy Belvaux André Bonzel, ... [Amazon.com]

Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov in Eating Raoul (1982)

Eating Raoul (1982) - Paul Bartel [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


Comedy is the use of humor in the performing arts. It also means a performance that relies heavily on humor. The term originally comes from theater, where it simply referred to a play with a happy ending, in contrast to a tragedy. The humor, once an incidental device used to entertain, is now an essential aspect of a comedy.

A recognised characteristic of comedy is that it is an intensely personal enjoyment. People frequently fail to find the same things amusing, but when they do it can help to create powerful bonds. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comedy [Dec 2004]

Old Greek comedy

Greek comedy is the name given to a wide genre of theatrical plays written, and performed, in Ancient Greece. Along with tragedy, it makes up the greater portion of ancient Greek theatre, and its descendent traditions.

Old comedy
The old comedy, dating from the establishment of democracy by Pericles, about 450 BCE, arose, as we have seen, from the obscene jests of Dionysian revellers, to which was given a political application. In outward form these comedies were the most extravagant of burlesque, in essence they were the most virulent of abuse and personal vilification. In its license of word and gesture, on its audacious directness of invective, no restriction was placed by the dramatist, the audience or the authorities. The satire and abuse were directed against some object of popular dislike, to whom were not only applied such epithets as coward, fool and knave, but he was represented as saying and doing everything that was contemptible, as suffering everything that was ludicrous and degrading. But this alone would not have won for comedy such recognition as it received from the refined and cultured community of the age of Pericles. The comic dramatist who would gain a hearing in Athens must borrow from tragedy all its most attractive features, its choral dances, its masked actors, its metres, its scenery and stage mechanism, and above all the chastened elegance of the Attic language - for this the audience required from the dramatist, as from the lyric poet and the orator. Thus comedy became a recognized branch of the drama, often presenting a brilliant sparkle in dialogue and a poetic beauty in the choral parts not unworthy of the best efforts of the tragic muse. Thus, also, it became a powerful engine in the hands of a skillful and unscrupulous politician.

It was upon this stock that the mighty genius of Aristophanes grafted the Pantagruelism, which, ever since it was reproduced by Rabelais, has had among European writers, as in Cervantes, Swift, Voltaire and others, some adequate representation. Though the word Pantagruelism is applied by Rabelais to the characters sustained by court fools, he made a free use both of the spirit and mechanical appliances of old Greek comedy, adopting the disguise of buffoonery to attack some prevailing form of cant and hypocrisy. And this is precisely what Aristophanes did, the term invented by the great French master accurately describing the chief characteristics of his prototype. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_comedy#Old_Comedy [Apr 2005]


  1. L.A. Story (1991) [1 DVD, Amazon US]
    Steve Martin wrote this film as a meditation on both love and Los Angeles (and then-wife Victoria Tennant). He plays a L.A. TV weatherman who finds himself conflicted about what to do with his life, both professionally and personally. As he works his way through a couple of relationships (including a very funny one with a frisky Sarah Jessica Parker, who talks him into colonic therapy), he discovers a L.A. freeway sign that gives him romantic advice. It helps him realize what he knows intuitively: that the British woman he is attracted to (Tennant) is the one he should pursue. A big cast (and lots of cameos) have fun with this witty (if slight) material and director Mick Jackson adds visual pizzazz. --Marshall Fine for amazon.com [...]

  2. Top Secret! (1984) - Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams [DVD, Amazon US]
    In between the disaster movie satire Airplane! in 1980 and the hardboiled cop show parody The Naked Gun in 1988, the comedy crew of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker put together a picture that's almost as funny as their better-known hits. Top Secret! sends up spy movies and cheesy teen rock & roll musicals. Val Kilmer stars as swivel-hipped American rocker Nick Rivers, a sort of blonde Elvis whose secret weapon is Little Richard's tune "Tutti Fruitti." On tour behind the Iron Curtain, Nick strikes blows for democracy overtly and covertly, with his music as well as his espionage skills. In short, this is a very, very silly motion picture. Some great gags, including a subtitled scene in a Swedish book shop, and an inspired bit with a Ford Pinto that not everybody may get anymore. (The Pinto, you may or may not recall, was notoriously prone to gas tank explosions when rear-ended.) --Jim Emerson for Amazon.com

  3. The Party (1968) - Blake Edwards [Amazon.com]
    Though this film is a relatively minor one in the massive canon of Peter Sellers, it has moments of absolute hilarity. Written and directed by Blake Edwards, one of Sellers's most fertile collaborators, the film stars Sellers as a would-be actor from India (let them try to get away with that today) who is a walking disaster area. After ruining a day's shooting as an extra on a film, he finds himself unintentionally invited to a big Hollywood party. That's pretty much it as far as plot goes, but Edwards and Sellers know how to milk a simple idea for an unending string of slapstick gags. The result is a film that is episodic and sketchy, but also frequently loony in an inspired way. --Marshall Fine for amazon.com

  4. After Hours (1985) - Martin Scorsese[1 VHS, Amazon US]
    This well-regarded cult film is a tense Kafka-esque tale concerning what happens to a likable computer guy who is in the wrong place at the wrong time in the city that never sleeps--New York. This is a New York infested with bizarre characters vividly brought to life by a once-in-a-lifetime cast. Griffin Dunne's wonderfully controlled comic performance as Paul Hackett is the glue that holds this increasingly surreal film together. Scorsese utilizes a full array of independent and underground film techniques, including special film speed manipulations, angles, and edits, deftly capturing the strange rhythms of an after-hours New York City. Many will find the jokes clever, and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. Some, however, will find the film an excruciating series of staged circumstances setting up a sadistically cruel dark nightmare of horrors. And there are a few lines of dialogue so poorly written they remind you how unbelievable the thin story really is. But forgive the film these few lapses--overall it's a wild, surreal ride. The most offbeat character is the beehive-sporting, Monkee-obsessed neurotic played to perfection by Teri Garr. And the moment when Griffin Dunne uses his last quarter to play Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is" and dances with Verna Bloom while an angry mob searches SoHo for him is an inspired bit of lunacy. --Christopher J. Jarmick for amazon.com

  5. Mr. Hulot's Holiday - Criterion Collection (1954) [1DVD, Amazon US]
    Forefather of Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean, Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot--a recurring character in several of his movies--is a blithely clumsy troublemaker, an insouciant twit who leaves uproar in his wake without being aware of it. Trying to describe this 1953 comedy is next to impossible except to say it is a series of vignettes at a vacation resort, with the distracted Hulot providing a lot of laughs. Tati directs, and in a way what that really means is that he composes this movie with a perfect eye and ear for the comic possibilities in everything: composition, lighting, minimal marble-mouth dialogue, certain sounds (a duck call, a door repeatedly opening and shutting). This is a superior work that ranks among all-time classic comedies. --Tom Keogh [Although not his finest - which to me still is 'Jours de Fêtes' - all works of Tati, except for maybe his 'circus movie' are must see movies. Beware for the US VHS version of Mr Hulot, it contains added slapstick that is not featured in the Euro version. ]

  6. The Producers (1968) - Mel Brooks [1 VHS, Amazon US]
    Mel Brooks's directorial debut remains both a career high point and a classic show business farce. Hinging on a crafty plot premise, which in turn unleashes a joyously insane onstage spoof, The Producers is powered by a clutch of over-the-top performances, capped by the odd couple pairing of the late Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, making his screen debut.
    Truly startling during its original 1968 release, The Producers does show signs of age in some peripheral scenes that make merry at the expense of gays and women. But the show's nifty cast (notably including the late Dick Shawn as LSD, the space cadet that snags the musical's title role, and Kenneth Mars as the helmeted playwright) clicks throughout, and the sight of Mostel fleecing his marks is irresistibly funny. Add Wilder's literally hysterical Bloom, and it's easy to understand the film's exalted status among late-'60s comedies. --Sam Sutherland for amazon.com [...]

Parody Movies

  1. Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982) - Carl Reiner [Amazon.com]
    Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid was a movie first released in 1982 directed by Carl Reiner and featuring the inimitable talents of comedian Steve Martin. It is both a pastiche and act of homage to film noir, the pulp-fiction detective movies of a bygone age.

    The film's concept is an interesting one in that it is largely comprised of a collage effect of old black and white movie clips from films of the 1940s and 1950s with more recent footage of Martin and other actors (including Carl Reiner, Rachel Ward, and Reni Santoni) similarly shot in black and white. In many ways the construction of the film anticipates the later Oscar winning movie, Forrest Gump. --Wikipedia, Oct 2003

    Amazon.com essential video
    This is one of the best parodies of the '40s hardboiled detective genre, with a very clever conceit: weaving the plot and production design around memorable movie clips (The Killers, The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, White Heat, This Gun for Hire, Sorry, Wrong Number, Notorious). Steve Martin plays the cool Rigby Reardon, who tries solving an incomprehensible mystery with the assistance of Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Burt Lancaster, Fred MacMurray, Ingrid Bergman, and Ray Milland, among others. It's all silly hokum with Rachel Ward as the pretty moll and director-cowriter Carl Reiner as the nefarious villain. Miklos Rozsa takes us back to yesteryear with his lush score, and, fittingly, Edith Head handles the period costumes in her final production. --Bill Desowitz

Mockumentary Movies

A mockumentary or mocumentary is a fiction film presented as a documentary film. They are usually comedic, often parodic in nature, and are often presented as historical documentaries with b-roll and talking heads discussing past events or as cinema verite pieces following people as they go through various events. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mockumentary

  1. C'est Arrivé Pres de Chez Vous/Man Bites Dog - Criterion Collection (1992) [1 DVD, Amazon US]
    This Belgian satire (in French with English subtitles) is dark, dark, dark--but also right on the money in its sly sendup of the media's fascination with violence and its complicity therein. This mock documentary has a trio of filmmakers shooting a cinéma vérité feature about a garrulous serial killer who lets the film crew follow him around as he selects victims and then dispatches them. But at what point does filmmaking become participation? These hapless documentarians soon find out as their subject eventually pulls them into his world, including a gun battle with a rival film crew and their own criminal star. Gruesomely hilarious, with a deadpan wit that's hard to resist. --Marshall Fine

  2. Bob Roberts (1992) - Tim Robbins [Amazon US]
    Written and directed by actor Tim Robbins (who also plays the title role), this 1992 mock documentary about an upstart candidate for the U.S. Senate is smart, funny, and scarily prescient in its foreshadowing of the Republican revolution of 1994. Bob Roberts is a folksinger with a difference: He offers tunes that protest welfare chiselers, liberal whining, and the like. As the filmmakers follow his campaign, Robbins gives needle-sharp insight into the way candidates manipulate the media. While the film follows Roberts's campaign, it also covers a fringe journalist (Giancarlo Esposito), who may have dug up the kind of dirt to push Roberts's campaign off the rails. Robbins captures the chilly insincerity of this right-wing populist and fills his cast with terrific supporting players, including Alan Rickman as the campaign's shadowy financier and Susan Sarandon and Peter Gallagher as a pair of airhead TV news anchors. --Marshall Fine

  3. Zelig (1983) - Woody Allen [Amazon US]
    The thinking person's Forrest Gump, Woody Allen's 1983 Zelig is a funny, atmospheric mock-documentary about the collision of one man's manifest neuroses colliding with key moments in 20th-century history. Allen plays the title character, a self-effacing, timorous fellow with such a porous personality that he physically becomes a reflection of whoever he is with. Complex and painstaking, the film's pre-Gump special effects manage to place Allen, buried under a series of makeup and prosthetic guises, in a number of scenes along with Adolf Hitler at a Nazi rally, a pope at the Vatican, and famous guests at a garden party hosted by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Similar in tone and satire to some of Allen's short, comic pieces published in The New Yorker magazine, Zelig is a one-note movie that takes its delicious time establishing the fullness of its central joke. It's well worth the wait. --Tom Keogh for amazon.com

    Zelig was an experiment upon Allen’s part in creating a documentary

  4. The Blair Witch Project (1999) - Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez [Amazon US]
    Anyone who has even the slightest trouble with insomnia after seeing a horror movie should stay away from The Blair Witch Project--this film will creep under your skin and stay there for days. Credit for the effectiveness of this mock documentary goes to filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, who armed three actors (Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, and Josh Leonard) with video equipment, camping supplies, and rough plot outlines. They then let the trio loose into the Maryland woods to improvise and shoot the entire film themselves as the filmmakers attempted to scare the crap out of them. Gimmicky, yes, but it worked--to the wildly successful tune of $130 million at the box office upon its initial release (the budget was a mere $40,000).

    For those of you who were under a rock when it first hit the theaters, The Blair Witch Project tracks the doomed quest of three film students shooting a documentary on the Burkittsville, Maryland, legend of the Blair Witch. After filming some local yokels (and providing only scant background on the witch herself), the three, led by Heather (something of a witch herself), head into the woods for some on-location shooting. They're never seen again. What we see is a reconstruction of their "found" footage, edited to make a barely coherent narrative. After losing their way in the forest, whining soon gives way to real terror as the three find themselves stalked by unknown forces that leave piles of rocks outside their campsite and stick-figure art projects in the woods. (As Michael succinctly puts it, "No redneck is this clever!") The masterstroke of the film is that you never actually see what's menacing them; everything is implied, and there's no terror worse than that of the unknown. If you can wade through the tedious arguing--and the shaky, motion-sickness-inducing camerawork--you'll be rewarded with an oppressively sinister atmosphere and one of the most frightening denouements in horror-film history. Even after you take away the monstrous hype, The Blair Witch Project remains a genuine, effective original. --Mark Englehart

Monster Movie Spoof [...]

  1. Piranha (1978) - Joe Dante [Amazon US]
    Roger Corman produced this shameless Jaws rip-off at the height of the "nature gone wild" boom of American cinema and struck B-movie gold. Scripted by John Sayles and directed by Joe Dante, this tongue-in-cheek thriller stars Bradford Dillman (doing his best Rip Torn impression) as an antisocial mountain man and Heather Menzies as a rookie detective who race a school of mutant piranha downriver. Dante and Sayles provide the requisite blood and gore for this drive-in meat market: a kids' summer camp and a waterfront amusement park await the little beasties. Along the way, riverside retiree Keenan Wynn gets his ankles stripped clean, camp counselor Paul Bartel is chomped on the cheek by a hungry little bugger who takes to the air, and hordes of unlucky bathers are caught in the center of a feeding frenzy. What differentiates this little gem from the legion of similar knockoffs are the satirical swipes at military arrogance and crass commercialism, Dante's energetic enthusiasm, and the bursts of black humor: "Lost River Lake: Terror, horror, death. Film at 11." The culty cast also includes Invasion of the Body Snatchers's Kevin McCarthy as the hysterical scientist guarding the creatures, horror diva Barbara Steele as a devious government researcher, and longtime Corman regular Dick Miller as an unscrupulous entrepreneur ("Sir, the piranha are eating the guests"). The DVD features good-humored commentary by director Joe Dante and producer Jon Davison, who also narrate the 10 minutes of good-quality home-movie footage shot by Davison. There are also six minutes of outtakes. --Sean Axmaker

What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966) - Woody Allen, Senkichi Taniguchi

What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966) - Woody Allen, Senkichi Taniguchi[Amazon.com]

What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966) is the first film Woody Allen directed and appeared in. He acquired the rights to Kokusai himitsu keisatsu: Kagi no kagi (literal English title: International Secret Police: Key of Keys, 1965, a Japanese spy film, and added new dialog. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What%27s_Up%2C_Tiger_Lily%3F [Apr 2005]

Science Fiction Spoof [...]

  1. Barbarella (1968) - Roger Vadim [1 DVD, Amazon US]
    Jane Fonda's memorable, zero-gravity striptease during the opening credits of this 1968 Roger Vadim movie is the closest the film comes to a liberated marriage of wit and sex. Based on a French comic strip, the story concerns the adventures of a 41st-century woman, who pretty much gets it on with whomever asks. The sci-fi sets were pretty interesting at the time, though they look rather anachronistic now. Appreciated today mostly as a camp classic, the movie is actually more trying than anything else. --Tom Keogh for amazon.com
    If you see this movie, do it for the interior design and the fashion by Paco Rabanne
    Paco Rabanne was a Spanish designer who moved to France as a child during the Spanish Civil War. He designed plastic jewelery for Dior, Balenciaga and Givenchy before turning to fashion design. His jewelery designs were a prelude to the fashions for which he became famous. In 1965 he designed a dress made of plastic discs linked together like chainmail. In 1966 he opened his own fashion house. Other dresses were made of metal squares, discs or triangles joined together, in long or short lengths, as well as dresses in unusual materials such as crinkled paper and aluminum. He also designed costumes for films such as Casino Royale, Les Aventuriers (The Last Adventure), and Two for the Road. A futuristic designer, he appropriately designed the space-age costumes for the 1968 film Barbarella. --modmiss

Western Spoof [...]

  1. Blazing Saddles (1974) - Mel Brooks [Amazon.com]

    Blazing Saddles is a Warner Bros. 1974 comedy directed by Mel Brooks and starring Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder. The film was written (in what Brooks called Your Show of Shows-style) by a team of writers: Brooks, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, Norman Steinberg, and Alan Uger; it was based on Bergman's story and draft. Brooks appears in multiple supporting roles. The film is an over-the-top parody of the Western film genre.

    The story is set in the Southwest United States in 1874 (though it is filled with deliberately anachronistic references to the 1970s). Construction on a planned railroad runs into quicksand; the route has to be changed, which will cause it to be built near the town of Rock Ridge. State Attorney General Hedley Lamarr (played by Korman) — not to be confused, as he often is in the film, with Hedy Lamarr — wants to buy the land along the railroad cheaply, but has to cause the townspeople to leave. He hires some thugs to scare them, which leads the townsfolk to demand that the Governor appoint a sheriff. The Attorney General convinces the dim-witted governor (Brooks) to appoint Bart (Little), an African American, as the new sheriff. He believes that this will so offend the townspeople they will either abandon the town or lynch the new sheriff.

    With his quick wits and the assistance of an alcoholic former gunslinger Jim (Wilder), Bart somewhat overcomes the hostile reception and the seductions of wily temptress-for-hire Lili von Schtupp (Kahn) and inspires the townfolk to resist Lamarr's band of thugs. The movie uses some outrageously racist themes, but in a self-aware way that successfully manages to mock racism itself.

    One of its most famous scenes is of a group of cowboys sitting round a fire eating plates of beans; for the entire scene the soundtrack plays loud evidence of the most notorious side effect of beans. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blazing_Saddles [Apr 2005]

    see also: spoof - parody -

Hitchcock Spoof

  1. High Anxiety (1978) - Mel Brooks [Amazon US]
    An affectionate homage more than a spoof of Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, Mel Brooks's hilarious movie is one of the funniest modern comedies around. Brooks plays a psychiatrist with a severe fear of heights who moves to the Bay Area to take over a psychiatric hospital after its former head mysteriously disappears. He must contend with the resident psychiatrist (Harvey Korman) and the twisted resident nurse (Cloris Leachman) as they plot against him, eventually framing him for murder. While on the run, Brooks teams up with the alluring daughter (Madeline Kahn) of the missing doctor to solve the mystery and confront his own fears. Containing some classic sequences and cowritten by Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Wag the Dog), who appears briefly as a too-touchy bellhop in a Psycho-shower-scene takeoff, High Anxiety is a thoroughly enjoyable romp from one of the masters of comedy today. --Robert Lane, Amazon.com

Disaster Movie Spoof

  1. Airplane! (1980) - David Zucker, Jerry Zucker [DVD, Amazon US]
    The quintessential movie spoof that spawned an entire genre of parody films, the original Airplane! still holds up as one of the brightest comedic gems of the '80s, not to mention of cinema itself (it ranked in the top 5 of Entertainment Weekly's list of the 100 funniest movies ever made). The humor may be low and obvious at times, but the jokes keep coming at a rapid-fire clip and its targets--primarily the lesser lights of '70s cinema, from disco films to star-studded disaster epics--are more than worthy for send-up. If you've seen even one of the overblown Airport movies then you know the plot: the crew of a filled-to-capacity jetliner is wiped out and it's up to a plucky stewardess and a shell-shocked fighter pilot to land the plane. Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty are the heroes who have a history that includes a meet-cute à la Saturday Night Fever, a surf scene right out of From Here to Eternity, a Peace Corps trip to Africa to teach the natives the benefits of Tupperware and basketball, a war-ravaged recovery room with a G.I. who thinks he's Ethel Merman (a hilarious cameo)--and those are just the flashbacks! The jokes gleefully skirt the boundaries of bad taste (pilot Peter Graves to a juvenile cockpit visitor: "Joey, have you ever seen a grown man naked?"), with the high (low?) point being Hagerty's intimate involvement with the blow-up automatic pilot doll, but they'll have you rolling on the floor. The film launched the careers of collaborators Jim Abrahams (Big Business), David Zucker (Ruthless People), and Jerry Zucker (Ghost), as well as revitalized such B-movie actors as Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Robert Stack, and Leslie Nielsen, who built a second career on films like this. A vital part of any video collection. --Mark Englehart for Amazon.com

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