Greatest Comedies

I was just on an email string with my two brothers and two friends, Neil and Miraj.  I should probably have written that sentence differently because that makes it seem like I only have two friends.

My brother, Vikas, kicked things off with:

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i was watching it recently.  coming to america really is the geatest comedy ever.  the sheer ridiculousness of Soul Glo is enough to put it over the top of any film.  how do you just think of that concept and then perfectly embed it into an entire plot point of a film?  it’s genius.

not only do they make the “commercial” eddie murphy sees from the street, but they took the time to write/record an 80s saxophone solo to the same tune (the one playing when eriq la salle pulls up in his red convertible).

that + PLUS sexual chocolate.  are you kidding me?

Vikas

———-

Rakesh replied with:

———-

about a month ago, i went to a screening at IFC of Paris Is Burning, this documentary from the early ’90s about the drag ball scene in Harlem in the late ’80s (it’s an incredible movie and has become a kind of cult classic).  at one pt in the movie, one of the drag queens goes to a model search held at this big convention center, and shari headley, who plays lisa, makes a cameo in the scene.  i turned to my friend and go, “that’s lisa mcdowell!!” and i got a dirty look from some hipster who didn’t know what i was talking about.  and i just stare back and go, “it’s lisa f*cking mcdowell.  deal with it.”

i guess you had to be there.

R

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Neil responded with:

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I recently had a long debate/discussion with friends about best/favorite comedies of all time.  Coming to America topped my list.  I believe some of the other contenders for me were Annie Hall, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Swingers, Office Space, Groundhog Day, A Fish Called Wanda, This is Spinal Tap, Anchorman, and Role Models.  Obviously there are plenty of other worthy nominees.

The one movie that I heard most often named was Dumb & Dumber.  I really like that movie, but I don’t think it makes my top ten.

———-

HIS brother, Miraj, hit him with:

———-

Dumb & Dumber? Good but not close to greatest ever.
Get new friends.

———-

Vikas elevated the discussion with:

———-

LoL.  agreed.  so many people claim dumb & dumber is the greatest.  there’s obviously something i’m missing from it if so many others put it at the top.  but then part of me thinks, “no, i just think i have a better sense of humor.”
perhaps there’s a distinction between “comedies that are overall solid films” vs. “comedies that make me laugh my a** off.’
overall solid films: annie hall, a fish called wanda, planes trains and automobiles, groundhog day
make me laugh my a** off: coming to ameria, swingers, office space, this is spinal tap, anchorman, role models
both are funny, but you get a different sense of humor from the two groups.  i would add american pie to the latter group.
what other groups could there be?
 
 
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Miraj provided his thoughts with:
 
 
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I would say that there’s something almost transcendent/philosophical about movies like annie hall, coming to america, groundhog day, and office space. they’re able to accomplish something that 100 dramatic movies couldn’t, namely insights into the human condition/social observation while making us laugh at it–freakin’ hilarious. i think those kinds of movies are set above the others. I honestly still credit office space with my move away from a career in engineering!
 
 
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And then I went a little crazy and busted back with:
 
 
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Gentlemen – Finally getting a chance to catch up on life.  Of all the emails saved in my drafts folder, this is the string about which I was most excited to reply.  I agree w/ everything that has been said.  One disclaimer is that I claim to know funny films post-1980.  I’ve seen very few comedies released before then.  I just saw Dr. Strangelove last week – incredible.  Gonna try to turn this into a blog post.  But here goes…
 
 
  • “If you wish to converse with me, define your terms.” – Voltaire.  There are differences among Greatest, Best, Funniest, and Favorite.  The reason I wrote a long blog post about Defining Greatness was for discussions such at this one, as well as answering who the greatest rappers and actors are.  Greatness is an eternal quality, one for the ages, implying some kind of wide consensus, something that transcends.  For movies, these are the ones you find listed on an AFI list or can imagine in an Oscar montage in the year 2050, the classics.  Best, to me, implies that something can be the king of its genre without transcendence.  You can find these on lists like College Humor’s.  Here’s a way to illustrate the transcendence piece… my comic friend Hasan Minhaj came up with this:  The Notorious B.I.G. might be the BEST rapper ever, but Jay is the GREATEST.  Here’s the test… Finish this list:  The Beatles, Madonna, U2, Frank Sinatra, and ___.  Biggie Smalls?  Ha.  Nice try.  You can only fill that in with Jay or maybe Eminem.  But it’s Jay.
  • Funniest is obviously the narrowest of these.  In short, perhaps the only thing that comedians and humorists agree on is this:  Funny is what makes you laugh.  That’s really it.  To use an extreme example to make my point, Hitler probably found the Holocaust hilarious.  To him, it might’ve been.  (And if you didn’t yet watch that Louis CK bit on Conan about Schinder’s List, this is as good a tie-in as any.)  In a slightly less offensive example, to me, The Catcher in The Rye is the funniest thing I’ve ever experienced.  It makes me laugh harder than any movie I’ve seen.  But most people just find it sad and even tragic.  This point about subjectivity is what broadens the possible consideration set outside of films listed under “Comedy” on Netflix.  Back to The Future is an Adventure film, but it’s also very funny.  (It’s also a fun movie, much like Maverick or The Late Show.  David Letterman isn’t wholly hilarious but his show is fun.)  In this sense, then, it must be noted that Annie Hall is technically not a comedy in the traditional theatrical sense.  I had issues with Fargo not because I didn’t like it.  I’ve seen it five times and love it.  But for the same reason, it’s not a dark comedy.  It’s a funny drama.  This point can only be taken so far, however.  Are Election or Waiting for Guffman not comedies, then?  To answer this, one must then explore the theme of the movie, or conveyed another way, the reason the film was made.  In these cases, the primary purpose would seem to be to make people laugh.  Not sure you could positively say that for Annie Hall.  It’s hilarious to me but I could see someone who’s been through that seeing it more in the vein of a (500) Days of Summer.
  • Favorite is the appropriate adjective, but per the previous point, what’s the noun?  The question, “What’s your favorite comedy?” doesn’t work. The appropriate questions are:  “What’s the funniest movie you’ve seen?” and “What’s the best comedy you’ve seen?” and “What’s the greatest funny film ever made?”  So, Vikas, IMHO, there are three categories.  This is why I’ve listed out my 50 favorite movies, regardless of genre.  These are my personal favorites.  I made the list four years ago.
  • Another way of looking at it is who gets to define each term.  Best is up to the critics.  Funniest/Favorites is up to the individual.  Greatest is up to society.
  • Having written all of that, we can always throw a wrench in just about anything.  Could you ever imagine that Coming to America would be listed on RottenTomatoes.com as 65% and, on Metacritic.com, a 48?  Are YOU kidding me?  “Are you havin’ a laugh?”  Art may be subjective but this is just wrong.
  • I’d be curious to know if the reviews for Coming to America got better/worse.  That’s my “eternal” point about Greatness.  It endures.  As this article describes Louie, it makes the point that so rarely do we recognize greatness as it’s unfolding.  Contrast the Beatles with Led Zeppelin.  The latter was hated by critics for years and now they consider Zep to be amongst rock’s elite.  Again, we have to argue genres before we can argue rankings.  The Beatles are widely considered the greatest musical act of all time.  The best classic rock band is Led Zeppelin.  But if the Beatles are the greatest and they’re a rock band, don’t they trump LZ?  No, because the Beatles were an oldies group and then a psychedelic group and then a classic rock group, dropping only three albums in that last genre.  LZ made nine.  And it took years for them to get the recognition they deserve.  So, sometimes it just takes time to draw meaningful conclusions.
  • My arbitrarily short Top 6 Comedy List has been:
  1. National Lampoon’s Vacation
  2. Fletch
  3. Coming to America
  4. Waiting for Guffman
  5. Airplane!
  6. Swingers
  • I can see somebody not finding 5 of them to be all that great but if you don’t think Airplane! is funny, you don’t have a sense of humor.  It contains every type of comedy there is [end of post].
  • How many types of comedy are there?  I wrote an extensive post about the nine different humor styles and even ranked them by difficulty (of course I did):
  1. Awkward
  2. Dry/Sarcastic
  3. Clever/Quick-Witted
  4. Obscure/Absurd
  5. Black/Dark
  6. Raunchy/Blue
  7. Campy/Cheesy
  8. Friendly
  9. Goofy/Slapstick
  • So, Vikas, yes, you can have a “better” (as in Best) sense of humor than somebody else.  Again, art is subjective, but I mean, c’mon.  Some genres are just superior to others.  If my favorite musical act is the Beatles and yours is Black Eyed Peas, I’m getting into heaven and you’re not.  The awkward humor depicted in The Office (UK) is more sophisticated and higher-level than Fat Woman Falls Down a Hole.  But that’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.  So, it’s very low-brow and not as “good” as The Office, but Jesus Christ.
  • Having a shared sense of humor is quite possibly the most vital thing in any relationship.  My best friends are the ones with whom our Venn diagram of what we find funny is essentially one circle.  (I couldn’t find the grammatically correct way to construct that sentence but I think you feel me.)
  • I’ve long considered Sexual Chocolate to be the funniest scene in any movie, ever.  I’d challenge any Dumb & Dumber person to top that.  I’m in the same camp with all of you that D&D is OK but not amazing.  And I’ve given it a fair shake, viewing it four times over the course of a decade.  To D&D fans, I’d ask, “Which scenes do you really find that funny?”  (My friend, Gerry, has held parties where he told each guy friend to only bring over one scene of one movie and they all watch ’em.  We should do that.)
  • The ’60s were the best decade for music.  The ’70s were the best for dramatic films.  The ’80s were the best for comedic films.  (The 1980s are the most represented decade on the AFI list.)  For that second claim, examine this list:  
  • Patton
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • The Godfather
  • The Sting
  • The Godfather, Part II
  • Chinatown (just saw it – incredible)
  • One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
  • Dog Day Afternoon
  • Jaws
  • Rocky
  • Taxi Driver
  • Annie Hall (there you go)
  • The Deer Hunter
  • Kramer vs. Kramer
  • Apocalypse Now
We could’ve just stopped with the Godfathers.  Every other decade can go to hell.
 
 
  • The only two great comedy movies post-2000 are Borat and Napoleon Dynamite.  They’re genius.  There are other funny movies like Role Models and The Hangover, but I saw Borat three times in the theater and almost pissed myself (one of the greatest phrases ever, btw).
  • Just as there’s a difference in Best and Favorite, there’s a difference between Sucks and Overrated.  The most overrated films when discussing this topic are:  
  • Dumb and Dumber
  • Knocked Up
  • Meet The Parents
  • There’s Something about Mary
  • Happy Gilmore
  • Tropic Thunder
  • Animal House
  • Zoolander
  • The Princess Bride
  • Any Wes Anderson movie

  • Animal House actually sucks.  Anderson’s is the only type of humor I’ve come across that I just don’t get.  Part of the reason The Princess Bride is on that list is that I saw it too late.  Again, when you see a movie influences your Favorites list.  There’s a lot of nostalgia associated with that movie for a lot of folks.  If I saw The Goonies now for the first time, would I love it?  I don’t know.  I think so, though.   One reason I know ’80s comedies rule is that I perform standup at forty colleges a year… the kids add me… and oftentimes they’ll have Spaceballs or Caddyshack listed… and many of them weren’t alive in the ’80s.
  • There are only six funny sequels:  
  • The Naked Gun 2 1/2
  • Hot Shots! Part Deux
  • Two Vacation sequels
  • Two Austin Powers sequels
  • This is largely because comedies tail and dramas build.  Very few comedies are funny all the way to the end, either because they try to make a plot out of it or they try to inject too much melodrama, or the jig is simply up.  So, if it’s that hard to make a comedy funny for 87 minutes (Woody Allen’s ideal length for a comedy), then imagine how hard it is to do for an entire other movie.  In any case, there are only six good third movies in any genre:
  • Christmas Vacation
  • Austin Powers in Goldmember
  • Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade
  • The Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King
  • The Godfather:  Part III
  • …And I forget the other two.  Help?  (The 3rd Godfather was disappointing but didn’t suck.)
  • The Ricky Gervais-produced HBO special Talking Funny was brilliant.  But here’s something that occurred to us last night, “while we were in bed together”:  None of these four comedic greats has met with success in film.  Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld both scored with Good Hair and Comedian, both very good in their own way, “in his own unique way, but the song…”  However, they are documentaries.  What else does Rock have?  Head of State?  Seinfeld has Bee Movie.  CK wrote Pootie Tang, for Pete’s sake, and he’s not good in Gervais’ The Invention of Lying.  Ironically, neither is Gervais, and he’s not good in Ghost Town either. The reason I write “ironically” is because Gervais mastered the single-camera comedy in both The Office and Extras.  (Single-camera means no studio audience and that it’s shot like a movie.)  So, it’s strange indeed that he hasn’t translated in feature films.  It’s hard to explain because the problem with multi-camera comedy actors like Seinfeld and Ray Romano usually can’t make the leap into flicks because they overact.  Yet that’s precisely what Gervais has done in his big screen efforts.  As hilarious as he is in his two TV series, when it comes to movies, he’s just not funny.  To this end, then, it’s very hard to kill it in all media, either/both commercially and critically (best).  Robin Williams has – standup, TV, and movies.  Interestingly, Aziz Ansari is on his way.  Larry David is the funniest person ever to work in TV.  Woody Allen is the funniest person ever to walk the planet – three distinct careers in standup, acting, and directing.  No one else is close.  If aliens landed and asked us to explain human comedy, we’d hand ’em Woody.
  • To place the films you listed in categories and adding in more in alphabetical order:
GREATEST FUNNY FILMS (transcend the genre):
  • Airplane!
  • Annie Hall
  • The Breakfast Club
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (I realize it’s not a comedy)
  • Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
  • Stand by Me
  • When Harry Met Sally…
BEST COMEDIES (make you laugh + think/provide insight/touch the heart):

  • Airplane!
  • The Bad News Bears
  • Best in Show
  • Big
  • The Big Lebowski
  • The Breakfast Club
  • Borat
  • Bridesmaids
  • City Slickers
  • Clue
  • Clueless
  • Coming to America
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • Father of the Bride (remake)
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
  • Fletch
  • Ghostbusters
  • The Goonies
  • Groundhog Day
  • The Hangover
  • A Hard Day’s Night
  • Home Alone
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • Maverick (remake)
  • Mean Girls
  • My Cousin Vinny
  • The Naked Gun
  • Napoleon Dynamite
  • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
  • National Lampoon’s Vacation
  • Office Space
  • Punch Drunk Love
  • Role Models
  • Stand by Me
  • Superbad
  • Swingers
  • This Is Spinal Tap
  • Tommy Boy
  • Trading Places
  • Waiting for Guffman
  • When Harry Met Sally…
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
FUNNIEST FILMS (make me laugh):
  • Ace Ventura:  Pet Detective
  • Airplane!
  • American Pie
  • Anchorman
  • Annie Hall
  • Austin Powers (all three)
  • Back to The Future
  • Best in Show
  • Big
  • The Big Lebowski
  • Billy Madison
  • The Blues Brothers
  • Borat
  • The Breakfast Club
  • Bridesmaids
  • A Bronx Tale
  • The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie
  • Caddyshack
  • Clerks
  • Clue
  • Clueless
  • Coming to America
  • Dodgeball
  • Dumb & Dumber
  • Fargo
  • Father of The Bride
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
  • Fletch
  • Forrest Gump
  • Ghostbusters
  • The Goonies
  • The Hangover
  • Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle
  • Home Alone
  • Hot Shots! Part Deux
  • The Informant!
  • The Jerk
  • Knocked Up
  • Liar Liar
  • Maverick (remake)
  • Mean Girls
  • A Mighty Wind
  • Monty Python and The Holy Grail
  • My Cousin Vinny
  • The Naked Gun
  • The Naked Gun 2 1/2
  • Napoleon Dynamite
  • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
  • National Lampoon’s European Vacation
  • National Lampoon’s Vacation
  • The Nutty Professor (remake)
  • Office Space
  • Old School
  • Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
  • Role Models
  • Spaceballs
  • Stand by Me
  • Superbad
  • Swingers
  • There’s Something About Mary
  • This Is Spinal Tap
  • Tommy Boy
  • Trading Places
  • Waiting for Guffman
  • Wayne’s World
  • Wedding Crashers
  • When Harry Met Sally…
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Films I Don’t Know Well (never seen or don’t remember):
  • A Fish Called Wanda
  • Arthur
  • Beetlejuice
  • Beverly Hills Cop
  • Blazing Saddles
  • Broadcast News
  • Bull Durham
  • Dazed and Confused
  • Diner
  • Eurotrip
  • Good Morning, Vietnam
  • Half Baked
  • History of The World, Part I
  • Jackass
  • Life of Brian
  • Lost in America
  • Moonstruck
  • Nine to Five
  • Private Benjamin
  • Raising Arizona
  • Revenge of The Nerds
  • Scary Movie
  • Shaun of The Dead
  • Sixteen Candles
  • South Park Bigger, Longer & Uncut
  • Step Brothers
  • Super Troopers
  • Talladega Nights
  • Tootsie
  • Victor Victoria
  • The Waterboy
  • Weird Science
  • Young Frankenstein

 

Films I Won’t Argue Either Way:

  • The 40-Year-Old Virgin
  • Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
  • I Love You, Man
  • Jackass:  Number Two
  • The Mask
  • Mrs. Doubtfire
  • Rush Hour
  • The Wedding Singer
Funniest Films (ranked in order):
  1. National Lampoon’s Vacation
  2. Fletch
  3. Coming to America
  4. Waiting for Guffman
  5. Airplane!
  6. The Naked Gun
  7. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
  8. Caddyshack
  9. Swingers  
  10. Borat
  11. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
  12. Spaceballs
  13. National Lampoon’s European Vacation
  14. American Pie
  15. Napoleon Dynamite
  16. Clue
  17. Clerks
  18. The Breakfast Club  
  19. Ace Ventura
  20. When Harry Met Sally…
  21. My Cousin Vinny
  22. Role Models
  23. Clueless
  24. Office Space
  25. Anchorman
  26. Ghostbusters
  27. Stand by Me
  28. This Is Spinal Tap
  29. Tommy Boy
  30. Superbad  
  31. Wayne’s World
  32. Big
  33. Best in Show
  34. The Goonies
  35. Austin Powers
  36. Annie Hall
  37. The Hangover
  38. The Naked Gun 2 ½
  39. Fargo
  40. The Big Lebowski
  41. Old School  
  42. Wedding Crashers
  43. Mean Girls
  44. Father of The Bride
  45. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
  46. Back to The Future
  47. The Blues Brothers
  48. Maverick
  49. There’s Something About Mary
  50. Dodgeball  
  51. Trading Places
  52. Joe vs. The Volcano
  53. Billy Madison
  54. Liar Liar
  55. The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie
  56. Home Alone
  57. Bridesmaids
  58. A Mighty Wind
  59. Monty Python and The Holy Grail
  60. The Jerk
  61. Knocked Up
  62. The Nutty Professor
  63. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
  64. Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle
  65. Dumb & Dumber  
  66. Hot Shots! Part Deux
  67. The Informant!
  68. A Bronx Tale
  69. Forrest Gump
Thoughts?  – Rajiv

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