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The Rise of the Jokeless Comedy

Adam Sternbergh, on how Judd Apatow and Todd Phillips have inaugurated the reign of the jokeless comedy (via Heather):

[T]hese movies are often enjoyable. If you were to list your favorite comedies of the last five years, I bet at least three of either Apatow’s or Phillips’s films would make the list. Yet can you recall a single famous gag from any of these movies? What was the absolute most hilarious joke in “The Hangover”? (My informal straw poll suggests that it was Galifianakis’s mispronouncing “retard.”) Tellingly, the most quotable sequence from any Apatow movie is the “You know how I know you’re gay?” exchange between Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” which was improvised on the sidelines, then stuck into the film, and which, trust me, does not benefit from being reproduced for posterity in print. Surely there must be at least one indelible gag, line, or scene from just one of these films? If there is, I can’t identify it, and don’t call me Shirley.

  • I don't buy this at all. There still exists some very well-written and well-structured jokes in these movies. Just because they exist in a world that is more realistic or delivered in a more casual way (as if you were just hanging out with friends) doesn't make them any less present or thought-out.

    One of my favorite jokes from 40 year old virgin is when Paul Rudd hands Steve Carell a box of his old porn videos and talks about how under blacklight, it can be seen from space, then goes on listing movie parody porn names (like Hairy Twatter and School of Cock), then finally finds Everybody Loves Raymond and says, "not sure why thats in there, it's just a good show".

    There's a joke that has a good set-up, a nice run of mini-jokes in the middle, and a punchline at the end.

    As for memorable scenes from the Hangover, how about Mike Tyson singing Phil Collins? I'd say Mike Tyson was so memorable in the first movie that one of the first images we see in the first trailer for Hangover 2 was Ed Helms with Mike Tyson's famous maori tattoo, which got an enormous laugh at the theater.

    I do believe that Sternbergh is definitely on to something with the distinct change in styles of comedy that we have seen in the last 5 years, but I think calling it jokeless is not the right way to put it.