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Funny on film

Is there such a thing as an obscure, laugh-out-loud comedy?

May 26, 2010

The other day, a friend on Facebook asked for suggestions for laugh-out-loud movies.

And I had trouble coming up with any--at least, none that weren't overtly familiar. I can still recall the pleasures of my first sightings of "Airplane," "Young Frankenstein" and "This is Spinal Tap," but subsequent viewings are more about remembering those pleasures rather than actually experiencing them new. 

If seen after a gap of a few years, the Marx Brothers still make me laugh. And thanks to programs by the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, I've been reminded of just how laugh-out-loud funny Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd are. It's tough, however, to recommend them for my friend's small screen now that I've seen them in their full, musically-accompanied glory. (FYI: The ICO will be doing a Charlie Chaplin program as part of its upcoming season. Be there.)

Consulting the in theory-experts brought up lots of usual suspects. Bravo created a list a few years back, putting "Animal House," "Caddyshack," "Shrek" (huh?) and "There's Something About Mary" as numbers one through four. The American Film Institute, with a little more historical perspective, named "Some Like It Hot," "Tootsie," "Dr. Strangelove" and "Annie Hall." In 2008, Entertainment Weekly narrowed its field to just the previous 25 years and came up with "Ghostbusters," "National Lampoon's Vacation," "Beverly Hills Cop," and "This is Spinal Tap."

It seems that, while every film fan has a few lesser-known favorites in other genres, comedies are fairly universal. It's tough to keep a good one hidden.

I find myself going back to the black and whites--Preston Sturges'  "Miracle at Morgan's Creek" and Cary Grant comedies ("My Favorite Wife" and "Holiday" over the better-known "Philadelphia Story" and "Bringing Up Baby," plus, of course, "His Girl Friday).

Then there's Albert Brooks, whose "Modern Romance" isn't on many people's comedy radars, but I think holds up better than much fo the Woody Allen stuff from the same period.

More recently, "Shaun of the Dead" has a large enough following that I don't think it qualifies as a find.

So what's going on? Is the best comedy these days being written for TV? When it comes to laughs, is it better to go to "30 Rock," "How I Met Your Mother" and "Family Guy" rather than feature films?

More importantly: What's funny on film that my friend (and I) might now have already seen five times?

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