When Will the New Comedy Boom Start Affecting Movies?

By  · Published on April 1st, 2015

Two things happened this week that suggest a potential new future for comedies. First, a new trailer for Spy revealed more about the movie’s plot and pratfalls. It’s good, the movie looks fine, but it also looks like every other comedy from the past few years. Let’s start there.

Studio comedies all feel the same. There’s a crew making the most of arrested development, a lot of free-form riffing, sarcastic line delivery, some action movie articulation woven in, a famous cameo like Lou Ferrigno or Mike Tyson, and at least one moment designed to gross out the audience or make them rethink Rose Byrne’s breasts thoroughly enough that they tweet about it.

For the most part, it feels a lot like studios and the most visible comedians are continually remaking Old School until the formula collapses. Anchorman, The Hangover, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Wedding Crashers, Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Grown Ups, Bridesmaids, Horrible Bosses, The Heat, etc. I’ll bet all the change in my pocket that the new Ghostbusters will fit neatly into that mold, too.

Obviously there are non-conventional comedies every year, and comedies on the whole are down in number, but it’s hard to ignore the distinct flavor present in the bulk of big-name movies designed to make us laugh. That flavor is also working. There’s no denying that. Most of the movies up there are great, and familiarity is a part of that success. Familiarity can also breed contempt.

The second thing that happened this week was the release of the Masterminds trailer, which seems to cement my point about homogeneity even further.

The third thing that happened this week was this thoughtful exploration of the resurgence of stand-up comedy from Jesse David Fox. From Marc Maron to Kristen Schaal to Louis C.K. to Hannibal Buress, this group of articles is thorough and loving and celebratory. There’s a lot to digest – especially in the anchoring article – but there are two takeaways that speak directly to the nature of the second comedy boom and how it might ripple outward into cinema. One, stand-up comedy has become more conversational, incorporating more room for storytelling and emotions that don’t involve smiling or political outrage. Two, fans are supporting comedy not only through TV, but through web-only work and podcasts as well.

We’re miles away from these talents becoming big enough stars to control the creative destiny of their own movies. Some have never appeared in film, and those that have, haven’t starred. It’s also unclear which of the comedians riding the new wave of broader popularity even wants to make the leap to feature films.

However, Hollywood likes success, and it likes enthusiastic fans – two things present at the core of the new comedy boom. This isn’t going to happen tomorrow, but as studios try to figure out what comedies will score as big as Judd Apatow, Paul Feig and Miller & Lord movies can, and as the formula of adolescent (mostly male) people hanging out loses some of its luster, new talent with innovative ideas will be more than ready to suit up. (Key & Peele’s “Substitute Teacher” movie may give us a glimpse of this future.) It’s unclear how a cultural shift in stand-up can translate to film, but figuring that out will be half the fun.

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