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The Five Best Films Based on Comedy Sketches

The Five Best Films Based on Comedy Sketches (photo)

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Stretching a brief comedy sketch into an 80-plus minute feature is not a task for the timid, as the process of fleshing out quick, self-contained bits is rife with inherent risks — the two main ones being that such an endeavor usually makes little sense and can spoil the original joke. Yet despite these pitfalls, a select few have succeeded where so many others fail, managing to retain the core aspects of their source material while creating developed narratives that expand upon their original conceits in ways that are smart and silly. While only two of the below five might actually qualify as “classic” (though feel free to argue otherwise), our choices for the five best films born from TV sketches all show a willingness to push boundaries and indulge in random flights of fancy in the service of goofy humor, a daring that can be attributed to inspired comedians recognizing, and cannily playing to, the strengths of their signature characters. [The five worst films based on comedy sketches can be found here.]

“Wayne’s World” (1992)

The most profitable “SNL” spin-off to date (a title that the forthcoming “MacGruber” film should find difficult to wrestle away unless its title character can create $121 million from whole cloth), “Wayne’s World” can credit much of its success to the film’s canny scripting, which stays true to its characters’ slacker-catchphrase essence via a conventional fame-corrupts-rock ‘n’ roll narrative. Following the improbable rise to stardom of cable access TV doofuses Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey), the film – helmed by rock expert Penelope Spheeris, she of “The Decline of Western Civilization I” and “II” – delivers the duo’s every trademark quip but, more crucially, couches its familiar elements in a story of selling out that, given Wayne and Garth’s fondness for all things loud and metal-y, makes ideal sense. Some of its familiar jokes have aged better than others – on the negative side, “Shwing!”; on the positive side, “That’s what she said” – but the “anything goes” energy of “Wayne’s World” remains endearing, and helped pave the way for both Myers’ subsequent “Austin Powers” larks as well as the absurdist works of Will Ferrell.

“The Blues Brothers” (1980)

The finest “Saturday Night Live” sketch yet to hit the silver screen, “The Blues Brothers” has a hook that few other sketches did — music. By being both comedic characters and actual, semi-serious performers, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s Jake and Elwood Blues are conceived in two dimensions rather than sketch comedy characters’ typical one, though the success of their big-screen venture also has much to do with the fact that the Blues aren’t simply built around a single, oft-repeated punchline. Further aiding their cinematic cause is John Landis, whose staging of numerous, full-throttle car chases strikes the right balance between thrilling and ridiculous, as well as a gaggle of cameos from R&B stars (James Brown, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin) that both legitimize the protagonists’ musical reputations and imbue the proceedings with actual soul. While some might argue that Carrie Fisher is far less funny than she believes herself to be, “The Blues Brothers” otherwise holds up smashingly, serving as the model by which all other sketch comedy films should be judged.

09012009_OfficeSpace.jpg“Office Space” (1999)

Few think of Mike Judge’s cult classic as a film based on a sketch, but that’s likely because they – along with many, many others – stopped watching “Saturday Night Live” during its weak mid-’90s period. Nonetheless, the origins of Judge’s scathingly pinpoint workplace comedy are a series of “SNL” cartoons based around Milton, the weird, anti-social cubicle jockey played in the film by Stephen Root, and his insufferable slow-talking boss Bill Lumbergh, iconically embodied in the film by Gary Cole. In giving his cartoon the feature treatment, Judge takes the unconventional route by placing his central character on the periphery and focusing the action around new characters, though the real subject of his film aren’t the people, but the office itself – the rows of identical walled-off desks, the frustrating communal fax and copiers, the unbalanced and tense employer/employee dynamics. As its continued relevance and popularity proves, it’s a petty, enervating, soul-crushing setting about which Judge knows plenty.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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