Laughs Of The Decades: A History Of Comedy In Film

Comedy has always been not only one of our most popular forms of entertainment, but has also acted as a vehicle for social and cultural commentary, a reflection of the good and bad in society, and a way for individuals to diffuse the hardships of existence with an hour or so of uninhibited laughter.

The subversive nature of comedy can be traced all the way back to some of its earliest stars. Charlie Chaplain became well-known for his outspoken political views. Indeed, he paid a steep price for this, as his political views were seen by many as radical at the time, leading to his eventual exile from the U.S. Though he eventually re-entered the country to be honored at the Academy Awards in 1972, the controversy permanently damaged his relationship with the nation.

The power of comedy didn’t buckle to societal pressures. With the 60s emerged a revitalized interest in the incorporation of social and political commentary into comedic film. It became commonplace for films to incorporate sensitive social and cultural issues, using comedy to make statements about them. Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, parodied the Cold War mindset of the time, pointing out the absurdity of the concept of mutually assured destruction, bringing us memorable one-liners like “No fighting in the war room!” Similarly, The Graduate commented on the rapidly changing sexual attitudes of the time, presenting sexuality in a groundbreaking and up-front manner that was considered incredibly provocative at the time.

Social and cultural subversiveness in film carried on into the 1970s, with films such as  Catch-22, which continued to communicate an anti-war message. The lampoons of satirical film extended beyond just social and cultural concepts, but to other films, with the advent of parody. Directors such as Mel Brooks helped pioneer the parody genre of film, releasing films such as Young Frankenstein.  

The premiere of Saturday Night Live in 1975 was a pivotal moment in the comedy industry, bringing the subversive ideals of comedy film to television. Simultaneously, numerous new faces entered the realm of standup comedy. Eventually, comedians such as Richard Pryor, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Steve Martin and many more who found there start in stand-up and on SNL would go on to prosper in the film industry, spawning such classics as Animal House, Harlem Nights, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, The Jerk, and numerous others.

The parody genre went on to spawn other highly influential parodies, such as the 1980 disaster film spoof, Airplane!, which is considered by many to be the quintessential, fast-paced gag and spoof-based film. As the 80s carried on, however, comedy began to evolve drastically.

The 1990s saw a continued evolution of the comedy genre, with a renewed interest in romantic comedies. Films such as When Harry Met Sally… and Sleepless in Seattle helped usher in a new wave of films which incorporated both romantic and comedic elements.

Comedy today is much different than it once was. Like any other art form, it evolves with time. 2001’s Zoolander was a fan-favorite, and developed a cult following, but its release, only weeks following the tragic attacks of 9/11, severely impacted its commercial success. In some ways, Zoolander can be seen as a bookend to an era of comedy film known as “joke-based comedy.” Films such as The Hangover and I Love You Man, pioneered a different approach to comedy, deriving humor from the journeys of characters, and plot-driven, relatable situations.

What’s in store next for this pivotal genre of entertainment? Will the new era of jokeless comedy continue define the genre? Will we get something entirely new? Only time will tell…

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Check out classic comedies at the Media and Reserve Services! Dr. Strangelove, Zoolander, and many many more are available now!

Star Wars Episode 7: A New Star Wars

In case anyone’s been encased in carbonite for the past few years, there’s a new Star Wars film headed our way, with J.J. Abrams at the helm. After years and years and years of “Hells to the no” from George Lucas, regarding the possibility of further Star Wars films, we received a singular “Ehhh, maybe.” And with that “Ehhh, maybe.”, a whole new era was born.

Folks, we’re not dealing with just one new Star Wars movie here. We’re not even dealing with three. We’re talking five confirmed films, likely more, an animated TV movie and series, and possibly a live action TV series. They’re putting a lot of eggs in this basket, and who can blame them? With all the money, mind-blowing visual effects, and A-list casting that will undoubtedly go into the revival of this beloved franchise, how could anything possibly go wrong?

Why stop there? This is Disney we’re talking about The bar is set a little bit higher in this case, and we here at Media Beat step in to take some of the workload off our friends at the Walt Disney Company, with some ideas of our own as to how best to make the most of the Star Wars franchise.

Wookie Sitcom

Look, who doesn’t love Wookies? No one, that’s who. Chewbacca’s a good guy! He deserves someone special. A beautiful wife. A family. A couple of kids, a house in the suburbs!

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We think the day-to-day life of good ol’ Chewey trying to adapt to family life would be just plain ol’ wacky! Good fun for the whole family, we think.

The Late Show with Yoda

Letterman’s recent announcement of his retirement has us all asking who could take up the much-coveted position as host of The Late Show. The entertainment world is buzzing with chatter regarding the supposed front runners, but as usual, the gossip is way off base. Stephen Colbert? Puh-lease. Chelsea Handler? NEXT! Jon Stewart. Oh, you slay me, internet!

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When will those suits at CBS gonna just cut to the chance? We all know the clearcut heir to the Late Show throne is none other than our pint-sized Jedi Master, Yoda. We all know that doing voice-work for animated versions of himself is a heinous under-utilization of his many talents. He’s certainly not one to buckle to the pressures of late night television hosting, because as we all know, “Fear is the path to the dark side.” And there are plenty of taglines already written for advertising! Just read his quotes! “Size matters not!” I can already see the billboards.

Darth Vader Standup Special

Look, folks. We all give Darth Vader too much flak. The guy’s got feelings, and I think we tend to forget that. And man, oh man. You think the guy doesn’t already have enough on his plate without all our yappin’ at him to stop killin’ people and blowing stuff up?

At the end of the day, Vader’s just a normal guy like the rest of us. And even the most droll, boring galactic dictatorships have those little moments that we just gotta chuckle about. And what better way is there to achieve that goal than for Vader to take to the mic!

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The jokes practically write themselves! “So what’s the deal with the way people always get all weird at you when you obliterate their home planet!?” Hilarious!!

Any Disney executives looking to develop any of these ideas should contact us via the comment section under this post. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Star Wars Episode 7 is hitting theaters in December 2015! For now, be sure to check out all the cool Star Wars media we have right here in the Media and Reserve Services!

Correction: “Home planet” was erroneously misspelled as “home plant” in the original posting of this entry. I apologize for this error, and want to make it clear that Darth Vader’s agenda has always been, and will remain, 100% pro-home plant. I think he even has a few ferns in his office. See? I told you he was a normal guy.

Correction: I have been received complaint letters from several home plants complaining that the ferns in Darth Vader’s office do not qualify as “home plants”, and that their location in his office renders them effectively “office plants.” I apologize profusely for this error.

What are the Oscars?

The Oscars are a behemoth. For 85 years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been awarding honors to the outstanding (mostly American, largely anglophone) films of each year, and in so doing have created a sort of canon (a strange canon, admittedly; where are Badlands, Do the Right Thing, and Paris, Texas?). Engaging critically with any canon is important not only toward understanding the biases (and potential shortcomings) of a list and its originating institution, but also toward a larger project of recognizing our cultural psyche. It’s too simple, of course, to suggest that the movies we create and experience directly reflect the “id” of our collective consciousness, but it is valuable to try and understand the ways in which its products reify the structural underpinnings of the sociocultural sphere.

In other words, how do the movies we celebrate reflect what we care about? What do this year’s films suggest are our larger concerns? Is it: anxiety about the digital sphere and the possibility of human connection therein? the persistence of white guilt and the problematics of race relations? lineage and generational tensions in how we narrate our lives? the tyranny of neoliberal capitalism, and its attendant psychosocial fatigue? all of the above? Obviously these are simplistic assessments of complex films and their themes, not to mention that there were many other films made outside of the insular Academy candidate pool, but these questions offer a starting point, if no easy answers, toward understanding our own patterns and anxieties.

Continue reading “What are the Oscars?”