The New York Times Magazine‘s Movie Issue is dedicated to comedy, which means it’s for the most part drastically unfunny. We had forgotten how hard it is to write about comedy before the triumph of "Borat"; reading so many writers struggling to elucidate the appeal of that particularly thorny laffer made us wonder if the reason dramas always win the big awards is that no one wants to get stuck explaining the significance of a comedy.
Paul Rudd on being funny and good-looking:
Patton Oswalt on "punching up" a script:
The only people who get asked to do punchup are people who have already written some very decent original scripts of their own. The kind of scripts where you racked your brain coming up with an original concept, ground your teeth making sure the characters and their dialogue were alive and funny and, finally, drank a lot of Red Bull to finish the thing on the last night of the eight-week period you had to write it. These scripts then make the rounds of the studios, where studio people read them, roll them into a tube, put the tube in a rocket and then shoot it into the ocean.
Luke Wilson on playing the straight man:
I think Iâ€™ve been playing the straight man ever since I first realized I was in over my head academically. Math in particular. And science, come to think of it. Not to overlook foreign languages. Not really knowing what was going on in class â€” and not really caring to understand or actually taking the time to study â€” I put a great deal of effort into my expression. Earnest yet vacant. Yearning yet lost. I had one simple goal for the teachers. I wanted them to think: This Wilson kid might not be that bright, but damn it, heâ€™s trying. The poor bastard.
Playing the thimble-brained [Cindy] Campbell [of the "Scary Movie"s], Faris does her share of repellent things, though mostly unwittingly. She obliviously backs her car over a little boy and accidentally gives an old woman a sponge bath with urine. Somehow, though, she adds a touch of wide-eyed virtue to the "Scary Movie" films. She is not a hyped-up female version of Jim Carrey. She doesnâ€™t do a dastardly eyebrow wiggle like Jack Black or engage in a sly form of stupid like Owen Wilson. Faris plays her stupidity softly and without a lick of guile. It is reliably funny. And more important, there is something in it that can make her male counterparts look as if theyâ€™re working far too hard for a laugh.
And A.O. Scott wonders at the universality of the sight gag:
A particular kind of cinematic language began to
atrophy when the screenâ€™s silence was broken. It cannot be entirely
coincidental that 1949, the year [critic James] Ageeâ€™s tribute to the silent clowns
appeared in Life, was perhaps the last moment when the word â€œscreenâ€
could refer exclusively and unambiguously to the cinema. Almost
immediately, television commenced its long march through the American
living room, bringing with it new, smaller-screen comedians and new
comic forms â€” the late-night hostâ€™s opening monologue, the sitcom
double take, the satirical sketch, the fake newscast â€” that refined
Ageeâ€™s taxonomy of involuntary amusement. In addition to the titter,
the yowl, the belly laugh and the boffo, connoisseurs of comedy could
contemplate the wry chuckle, the weary groan, the embarrassed guffaw
and, perhaps above all, the smirk.