Top 5: Comedies That Shaped Me
I’m a nostalgic person, this is no secret. But I think this time of year allows for a little more of the “sweet reminisce” than others. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the art, music, films that shaped me early on in my more “impressionable” years, and how in many ways my tastes haven’t changed. And also in many ways I’ve evolved greatly. This post is one in a short series of blogs highlighting/bullet pointing some of the pieces of pop art that made me who I am today (in small ways, and in some cases rather substantial.)
The recent passing of Leslie Nielson, got me thinking of some of the early comedies I watched that helped shape my sense of humor. If you didn’t know, I make jokes. Kind of a lot. In fact, if that’s news to you, we probably don’t know each other at all. Humor is always something that’s come easy to me and a great deal of it is attributed to my hilarious family (on purpose on my dad’s side, and a little more “genuine” on my mom’s.) But outside of that, watching people be funny helped me learn how to hone these attributes and senses and fine tune them into something…useful (for lack of a better word.) And as a young lad, movies were exactly where I learned such things. Here are a few off the top of my head:
My dad first showed me the 1980 comedy “Airplane!” when I was a pre-teen. He told me it would make me laugh harder than I’d ever laughed before. He was right. This was my first introduction into “dead-pan humor” and the “double entendre” and oh, what an intro it was. Leslie Nielson is iconic in this film playing, as always, the “straight man saying ridiculous things.” My favorite though was Lloyd Bridges and his flamboyant assistant who always had an absurd quip to kill me. “Airplane!” might not have been the first “parody” I’d seen, but it began my love for them.
There probably wasn’t anyone who made me laugh more as a kid than Steve Martin. I memorized his comedy albums and watched anything he was in. Well, anything my parents would let me. In many ways “Three Amigos” is a perfect comedy. It’s got all the classic comedy standbys: Strangers in a strange land? check. Bumbling idiots who mean well finding themselves in constant streams of misunderstandings? check. A bad guy you love to hate? check. Randy Newman as a singing bush? check. And not to mention 3 of the funniest comedians of their day: Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Chevy Chase. I learned one of my favorite comedy gags in this movie, the “stating something big and important followed by something highly anti-climactic.” Works every time. Almost every scene in this film makes me laugh, and the lines are instantly quotable. Now, that’s a good movie.
The Princess Bride
I’ve seen The Princess Bride more than any other movie ever. It’s my dad’s favorite movie, and got played on rotation daily in the Flora house. My brother and I would re-enact scenes from it verbatim in the car on trips, voices and all. This movie is a great example of a parody done right. Nothing too overdone, over the top, or too ridiculous. Just the right amount. In the end the film was what it was parodying, and that’s just good writing. I had a favorite character every other time I’d watch it as a kid but you can’t go wrong with Andre The Giant as Fezzik, or the classic veteran character actor Wallace Shawn as Vincini. “INCONCIEVABLE!”
Waiting for Guffman
I didn’t see 1996’s “Waiting For Guffman” til I was a little older, sadly. But it’s a favorite nonetheless. Easily one of the best American comedies ever made. The concept follows the now popular “mockumentary” style and is 80% unscripted. Writer/director Christopher Guest shines in this department and this film introduced me to the concept of saying funny things without the punchline and instead letting the audience decide where the funny in each scene is. Some classic moments throughout, and some really amazing and hilarious character work that still holds up.
1995’s “Tommy Boy” opened a lot of comedic doors for me. Not only did it introduce me to Chris Farley and David Spade but also to ‘Saturday Night Live’. I had never seen SNL until this movie came out and I found out that the two lead actors were on this show and you could see them EVERY WEEK. Being raised somewhat sheltered from such things as, ya know, TV in general, this blew my mind. I’m not a huge fan of overkill slapstick but Chris Farley was a king in that realm. So effortless, so graceful, just like a dancer. If the dancer was tearing off car doors, and falling thru coffee tables. As much as I watched this movie for Farley’s antics, it was David Spade’s sarcasm that really had me rolling. This might be the first taste of blatant sarcastic wit I witnessed and needless to say, I embraced it.
While I love all variety and genre of film, something about a well timed joke or an awkward reaction holds a special place in my heart. There’s something very honest, ethereal and innate about the sense of humor. I love the way it seemingly comes out of nowhere and, if done right, hits the spot every time.