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.
“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.
Listen up, widows and widowers: It’s time to stop your sulking! Whip up a beta blocker-and-Metamucil cocktail and hit the club, because it’s time for you to get back out there. But if it’s been awhile since you hit the dating scene, don’t fret. Tonight’s season finale of Gigi Does It at 10:30P ET/PT will guide you in the ways of modern love. Here are five ways to get ready for tonight’s episode and be a hellcat at your next senior singles mixer.
1. Maintain personal boundaries.
Courting rituals have changed quite a bit since the Eisenhower era, with physical relationships starting way before marriage. But no matter how much of a superfreak you are in the sack, don’t let anyone else tell you when you’re ready to show off those skills. Though right after the desert course might not be the best time to propose a public tryst, lest you end up on the receiving end of a drink to the face like Leonard here.
2. Cast a wide net.
As the saying goes, there are plenty of fish in the sea — so why not peruse the market before settling on a catch? Attend a speed dating event and let first impressions do all the work. You deserve a break. And it’s a great opportunity to show off your singing voice and/or share some cat stories.
3. Hide any inappropriate body art.
A first date might not be the best time to reveal your ink or your get-rich-quick scheme. That’s more of a third date thing.
4. Let Gigi keep you up-to-date with the latest trends in vulgarity.
Loose lips may sink ships, but no one wants an old fuddy duddy as a first mate. It’s time to undo that truss and check out this Gigi clip which removes the bleeps and blurs for a NSFW look at the foul-mouthed granny in action.
5. Remember: You’re a grandparent first and a lover second.
Rather than let casual sex rule her life, Gigi knows that being a grandparent trumps a roll in the hay every time. But do those nasty urchins appreciate their bubbes? As a little reminder, Gigi penned a children’s book that puts guilt back into grammar school literature. Give it a read here.
This Thursday, October 1st, get to know two great new shows on IFC. At 10P, get on the ice and join the team on Benders. On the premiere episode, Paul’s (Andrew Schulz) grandpa makes him an offer he can’t refuse, even if it interferes with his busy schedule of hockey playing and beer drinking.
The stay tuned at 10:30P for Gigi Does It, the new show starring David Krumholtz as a grandma who gets her groove back. This week, Gigi Rotblum inherits her late husband’s secret fortune, hires an assistant (Ricky Mabe), and takes unexpected measures to protect herself. James Urbaniak (Difficult People) guest stars.
Just because a band is fictional doesn’t mean it can’t be as popular as its real world counterparts. (Admit it, you still have that Zack Attack album buried in your closet somewhere.) Whether spoofing a famous act, or creating their own inept sound, these fake bands often wear their love of the music world on their sleeves. Documentary Now!‘schronicling of the soft rock giants Blue Jean Committee is just the latest example.
It’s no surprise that the folks behind the show (Fred Armisen in particular) have a long track record of finding the funny in the music industry. (It takes musical talent, along with some serious comedy chops, to pull off the smooth lyrics of “Catalina Breeze.”) So, while Blue Jean Committee, or A Mighty Wind’s The Folksmen, could easily have been on this list, it’s not a shock that the folks behind them are. If you love music and comedy in equal measure, you’re going back to that well more than once. Here are some of the funniest fake bands to ever turn it up to eleven.
15. Citizen Dick, Singles
Citizen Dick, the band from Cameron Crowe’s alt rom-com Singles, was both a spoof of, and a turning point for, the Seattle grunge scene of the early ’90s. While many of the bands from that scene were cult hits, the Singles soundtrack helped turn them into superstars. It’s no surprise that the made-up band, fronted by Matt Dillion’s Cliff Poncier, could hold its own with so many grunge standouts, considering 3/4ths of its members were in a little group called Pearl Jam. Heck, Dillion even wore Pearl Jam’s bassist Jeff Ament’s clothes for most of the shoot. Now that’s commitment.
14. Titannica, Mr. Show with Bob and David
With hits like “Try Suicide” and “Try Again,” no one rocked harder than Titannica, the heavy metal band made famous in one of the downright weirdest sketches from the cult hit Mr. Show. But no matter how messed up their music was, the boys of Titannica knew it couldn’t hold a candle to the creep show that was their biggest fan, a chipper kid with the body of a wet cigar. This sketch is a surreal lesson in the power of music.
13. Sonic Death Monkey/Kathleen Turner Overdrive/Barry Jive and the Uptown Five, High Fidelity
You can watch Jack Black become a star in the final minutes of the 2000 cult hit High Fidelity, as his character Barry takes the stage to front his frequently renamed band. While Barry may not be able to decide on a sound for his band, Jack Black knows how to deliver when given the chance. A fun movie about and for music lovers, this scene is the cherry on top. It doesn’t matter what type of music you’re playing, as long as you leave it all on the stage.
12. Dethklok, Metalocalypse
When Metalocalypse co-creator Brendon Small was working on his previous Adult Swim hit, Home Movies, few would’ve guessed that he’d be responsible for one of the most face-meltingly metal bands to ever grace the small screen. And Small didn’t just dream up Dethklok – he writes and performs every one of their songs with co-creator Tommy Blacha. While Dethklok has surpassed mere superstardom on their show, becoming the seventh largest economy in the world, their popularity in the real world isn’t far behind. Small and Blacha have fronted more than one tour as the band, and recently played the comedy/music festival Festival Supreme, created by none other than Barry Jive himself, Jack Black.
11. David Brent and Foregone Conclusion, BBC’s The Office
In The Office Christmas Special, which served as the final episodes of the beloved BBC series, co-creator Ricky Gervais revealed his character David Brent had finally chased his dreams of stardom too far, by recording a cover version of the hit “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.” But while the show was wrapping up, this sojourn into music was just the beginning for the former general manager of the Slough branch of Wernham Hogg. Gervais has kept up with his most famous character, recording a song for Comic Relief and creating a series of YouTube guitar tutorials. This all culminated in a tour with the made up band Foregone Conclusion. Rumor has it, he’s even been prepping a movie to cover Brent’s presumably delusional journey through the English music scene. While knowing when to say goodbye is a gift, it’s not something David Brent would be capable of, so why should we expect any different from his creator?
10. Dr. Fünke’s 100% Natural Good-Time Family Band Solution, Arrested Development
Playing in Dr. Fünke’s 100% Natural Good-Time Family-Band Solution was a great excuse for some family bonding time, while promoting a worthwhile product to boot. At least that’s what David Cross’ Tobais Fünke thought on the first season of Arrested Development, forcing his family to play in the pharmaceutical funded family band. More a promotional vehicle than a hit maker, any chance to see the dysfunctional Fünke family interact is worth inclusion on this list. The music may not be worthwhile, but the fury behind Maeby’s eyes is.
9. The Rutles, All You Need Is Cash
The Beatles were no stranger to parody, as you’ll see later in this list. But what separated The Rutles from the legion of spoof bands that plagued the world as the ’60s turned to the ’70s was the guidance of Monty Python Hall of Famer Eric Idle, and a will to not just send up, but really satirize the boys from Liverpool. The band first premiered in 1975 on Rutland Weekend Television, a sketch show fronted by Idle, and immediately took on a cult following. George Harrison was such a fan, he ended up appearing in The Rutles‘ feature film All You Need Is Cash.
8. Ian Rubbish and the Bizzaros, Saturday Night Live
Long before Fred Armisen made his name on Saturday Night Live, he was a drummer for underground punk bands. The Clash in particular was an inspiration, and even with a right turn into comedy Armisen’s love of punk never diminished. That’s evident in this SNL sketch about a very Sid Vicious-like rock star who hates everything…except for Margaret Thatcher. Initially just a one time performance, the bit struck such a chord that Armisen reunited The Bizzaros for his last sketch as an SNL cast member. Still not done with his alter ego, he’s since taken the band into the real world, playing gigs as the foul mouthed punk rocker with a love for the Iron Lady.
7. Wyld Stallyns, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
If your band is responsible for world peace, you probably deserve a spot on this list. While Bill and Ted start off as musically inept, one visit to the utopian future brought about by their sweet jams reveals them to be more than a mere rock band. They’re modern day messiahs, which is most excellent.
6. Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, The Muppet Show
For many of us, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem was the first exposure we ever had to a rock band, real or otherwise. For the better part of four decades the Electric Mayhem has kept at it, managing to cover everything from classical to “Crocodile Rock” with a drummer so wild he has to literally be chained to the set. Even Keith Moon wasn’t kept in shackles.
5. Faith +1, South Park
It’s tough to pick between the two most famous bands to ever be fronted by foul mouthed fourth grader Eric Cartman. While the boyband Fingerbang is for sure a classic, Cartman’s Christian rock band Faith +1 combines his megalomania, cynicism and racism into a beautiful collage of sacrilegious majesty. And considering South Park is far from done, who knows what other bands creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have up their sleeves.
4. PoP!, Music & Lyrics
Hugh Grant is perfectly cast as one half of a Wham!-esque group in this charming rom-com. And he learned from the best — Martin Fry from the new wave group ABC served as Hugh’s vocal coach.
3. Sexual Chocolate, Coming to America
Both “good and terrible,” Randy Watson may not have been the legend he believed himself to be, but to fans of Coming to America, he and his perfectly named backup band were responsible for one of the funniest scenes in this classic comedy. Eddie Murphy was at his peak here, donning the puffy faced prosthetics necessary to truly inhabit the pitchy son of Jackson Heights. And having Morris Day of The Time fame on guitar didn’t hurt either.
2. The Blues Brothers, Saturday Night Live, The Blues Brothers
As the ’70s gave way to the ’80s, The Blues Brothers, along with their creators John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, were forces of nature. The two comedians and friends first premiered their creation on Saturday Night Live, promptly launching a sensation. At one point, Belushi found himself the star of the week’s number one film (Animal House), number one television show (Saturday Night Live), and singing on the number one album (Briefcase Full Of Blues). Belushi and Aykroyd would soon add a hit Blue Brothers movie to that hot streak. Combining their perfect chemistry with a whole lot of soul, Jake and Elwood transcended comedy, and helped relaunch the popularity of the blues genre itself.
1. Spinal Tap, This Is Spinal Tap
If the last two entries show you anything, it’s that the ’80s were the high water mark of fake bands in popular culture. And yet, with all the classics that came out in that decade, there was never any doubt who would sit at the top of this list. Spinal Tap isn’t just a movie. They aren’t just a band. They’re the id of rock music, manifested into reality by the all-star team of Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer. In the ridiculous world of rock and roll, which already operates in a perpetual cycle of self parody, finding the balance of comedy and reality is no easy task. By using the form of a documentary, director Rob Reiner allowed his brilliant cast to improvise their way through the movie, creating the gold standard of fictional bands in the process. The film also introduced the “mockumentary” form to a mainstream audiences, which has gone on to become one of the most popular styles of comedy over the last three decades.