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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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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