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C'mon Hollywood: Stop being so lazy, comedians!

Nov. 20, 2012by: Paul Shirey

This past weekend I decided to check out THE WATCH, starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Richard Ayoade. Although I wasn’t frothing at the mouth to see it, I have enjoyed the work of the cast members in the past and an R-rated alien-invasion neighborhood watch movie with their collective comedic talent would at least deliver some solid laughs, right? Wrong. I sat perplexed for 100 minutes of sheer boredom, flat jokes, tired plot devices, and worst of all, comedic actors phoning in their performances.

I wish I could say that I loved THE WATCH, because it should’ve been great. A high concept summer comedy with some generally funny people should’ve been a knock out of the park. Well, perhaps that’s the problem. Perhaps Stiller, Vaughn, Hill, and Ayoade thought the same thing. The work is practically done, so why not just show up on set, put on the stupid jacket, and ad-lib some of the usual shtick?

When the torture was over, I pondered what the last good comedy I saw was. It was 3, 2, 1…FRANKIE GO BOOM and BACHELORETTE. Before that, I saw THE DICTATOR, which was fun, but really just more of Sacha Baron-Cohen’s same old routine. Between 2011-2012 the best comedies I saw were BRIDESMAIDS, HANGOVER PART II, and 21 JUMP STREET (strangely enough). Yes, even the warmed-over plot of HANGOVER PART II still held more sway than the powerhouse team of Stiller and co. in an R-rated alien invasion comedy. Although TED was the number one comedy of the year, I strangely haven’t met a single person that saw it (myself included).

Each of THE WATCH’s main stars have had tremendous success early on and some are heading down the route of Eddie Murphy. Somewhere along the way, Murphy settled into his schtick, forgot to challenge himself, and burrowed into a rut. From the R-rated, trash-talking, funnyman to kid-friendly, high-concept bomb-dropper, Murphy is a cautionary tale to comedians and it would behoove the likes of Stiller, Vaughn, and Hill, not to mention the likes of Sandler, Kevin James, Baron-Cohen, and anyone else in the dick-and-fart genre, to take note.

The problem is that these guys find success in a certain character and milk it to the last drop. That’s all well and good, but no comedian (or actor for that matter) should get comfortable. I realize it’s not an easy game to play, balancing what people say they want versus what they may need, and no one wants to shoot themselves on the foot by becoming something that they never were in the first place. So, how can these funnymen remain funny?

First, they need to consider that if they’re playing the exact same character just with a different name then it’s time for a rewrite. Unless they’re in a sequel, there’s just no cause for it. Shit, a sequel is tricky enough as it is. Second, if they think all the work is done because they’ve got a high-concept, then it’s time to re-read that script (assuming they read it in the first place). Thirdly, not everyone is Will Ferrell. Not every movie is ANCHORMAN (a modern classic, in my opinion) and not every scene merits ad-lib tangents. Certainly, lightning can be caught in a bottle for some of those scenes, but as a rule, it’s not a good idea. Sticking with the age-old concept of starting with a great script applies across the board, no matter the genre.

The comedies and comedic actors that have sustainability are the ones who are consistent with their abilities, while stretching the material. They take risks. They take on a dramatic role from time-to-time. They write some new material. They go out of their way to NOT be the exact same character in every movie. And, most of all, they remember what they’re actually doing; making people laugh.

I think that Stiller, Vaughn, and Hill all have it within them to make solid comedies, but it won’t happen with the same ol’ shtick. Stiller is great in the MEET THE PARENTS films, but he needs a lot more TROPIC THUNDER and ZOOLANDER in his career to make it worthwhile. Vaughn defined himself with the rant-laden persona from SWINGERS, but what happened to the fun comedies like DODGEBALL? Hill was awesome in 21 JUMP STREET and out of the three I think he’s got some real staying power. He’s got some clout with MONEYBALL and is currently shooting Scorsese’s THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. I’ll let him have a bad one with THE WATCH, but there’s no excuse for THE SITTER.

Comedy is a touchy genre, mostly because we don’t all have the same sense of humor. Many of us get on a kick where we loathe a certain comedic performer and anything he/she does. It’s rare that a comedian is universally loved. Shit, I can’t think of one. However, regardless of our individual taste, the one thing that stands as a must for any comedian to keep the laughs coming is to put forth the effort. No one is so good that they don’t have to try, no matter how effortless it may look. For those that are struggling with mid-career blues, it may be time to remember what exactly it is they’re in it for.

Extra Tidbit: My current stash of favorite comedic actors; Louis C.K., Danny McBride (Kenny Powers FTW), Zach Galifianakis, Kristin Wiig, Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly (Boats n' Hoes!), Nick Offerman, Anna Faris, Aubrey Plaza, Jason Sudeikis, Steve Zahn, Owen Wilson, Michael Cera, and Mitch Hedberg (RIP). Yours?
Source: JoBlo.com

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+8
12:42PM on 11/20/2012
I don't go to the theaters to see comedies. Their generally not worth the price of admission.
I don't go to the theaters to see comedies. Their generally not worth the price of admission.
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12:27AM on 11/21/2012
That is true- but after the 3rd or 4th viewing on Cable, they start to stay with you- I thought ANchorman was super lame the 1st time I saw it- now it's an alltime classic. Same with so many others- (not necessarily alltime classics, but great) Starsky and Hutch, the Other Guys, etc etc
That is true- but after the 3rd or 4th viewing on Cable, they start to stay with you- I thought ANchorman was super lame the 1st time I saw it- now it's an alltime classic. Same with so many others- (not necessarily alltime classics, but great) Starsky and Hutch, the Other Guys, etc etc
10:38AM on 11/20/2012
Its always the filmmakers fault. They think...well just get these guys in a room together and something funny will happen. Its why Michael Bay fills in his casts with Coen Brothers actors. He has no talent, but figures those people do. The result is to see John Turturro in a thong and Malkovich's skin doing its best impression of a hot dog.

Ben Stiller is only funny if he himself has creative control over the project. Zoolander, Tropic Thunder, Dodgeball. Everything else filmmakers
Its always the filmmakers fault. They think...well just get these guys in a room together and something funny will happen. Its why Michael Bay fills in his casts with Coen Brothers actors. He has no talent, but figures those people do. The result is to see John Turturro in a thong and Malkovich's skin doing its best impression of a hot dog.

Ben Stiller is only funny if he himself has creative control over the project. Zoolander, Tropic Thunder, Dodgeball. Everything else filmmakers just cast him as some sort of uninspired 'everyman' to have stutter through awkward moments.
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10:37AM on 11/20/2012
Agreed on how horrible The Watch was, and that it's just too easy for comedians to carry the same shtick with them through multiple films without trying. While many dislike him and yes, there are similarities throughout most of his work, I think Sacha Baron Cohen is a good example of a comedic actor who takes risks, and a lot of the stuff he does requires some serious balls to pull off. Also, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are great, I think it would be impossible to get tired of those guys no
Agreed on how horrible The Watch was, and that it's just too easy for comedians to carry the same shtick with them through multiple films without trying. While many dislike him and yes, there are similarities throughout most of his work, I think Sacha Baron Cohen is a good example of a comedic actor who takes risks, and a lot of the stuff he does requires some serious balls to pull off. Also, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are great, I think it would be impossible to get tired of those guys no matter how many films they make together.
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+4
12:38PM on 11/20/2012
Even tv shows are suffering from the same cheap-no-surprise laughs.. it's like they lack the heart and soul of what makes us laugh about ourselves...

I guess the try too hard on pushing it regarding "weird" characters instead on focusing on "real" characters going through weird stuff

BTW.. I thought the five year engagement was a fine example of a good romantic comedy
Even tv shows are suffering from the same cheap-no-surprise laughs.. it's like they lack the heart and soul of what makes us laugh about ourselves...

I guess the try too hard on pushing it regarding "weird" characters instead on focusing on "real" characters going through weird stuff

BTW.. I thought the five year engagement was a fine example of a good romantic comedy
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12:20PM on 11/20/2012
You make a good argument, but it falls apart in the extra tidbit when you list your favorite comedic actors with people like Zack Galifanakis, Danny McBride, Kristen Wiig, Anna Faris, and Jason Sudeikis. They've each had a good film or two, but none of them have ever really left their comedic comfort zone, which is the point of this article. Even their best films aren't on the same level of great like Stiller's and Vaughn's best. I think the bigger names get more hate b/c they have the larger
You make a good argument, but it falls apart in the extra tidbit when you list your favorite comedic actors with people like Zack Galifanakis, Danny McBride, Kristen Wiig, Anna Faris, and Jason Sudeikis. They've each had a good film or two, but none of them have ever really left their comedic comfort zone, which is the point of this article. Even their best films aren't on the same level of great like Stiller's and Vaughn's best. I think the bigger names get more hate b/c they have the larger body of work, and therefore more flops.
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1:54PM on 11/20/2012
Well, the thing about my current favorite comedic actors is that most of them aren't big, huge stars and many are just starting out. They're still hungry. And they don't have to be in movies to be funny. Ever seen Louis C.K.'s stand up? Or Zach Galifianakis'? All comedians play to their strengths, but my argument is falling into a rut and delivering asinine shit like The Watch.

I would sooner watch Louis on FX or Eastbound and Down on HBO before I'd watch anything by Stiller or
Well, the thing about my current favorite comedic actors is that most of them aren't big, huge stars and many are just starting out. They're still hungry. And they don't have to be in movies to be funny. Ever seen Louis C.K.'s stand up? Or Zach Galifianakis'? All comedians play to their strengths, but my argument is falling into a rut and delivering asinine shit like The Watch.

I would sooner watch Louis on FX or Eastbound and Down on HBO before I'd watch anything by Stiller or Vaughn. So, again, my point that comedy is a touchy genre is compounded. You see it differently and that's cool.
11:03AM on 11/20/2012
Comedy is a tough racket because it tends to stem from a particular formula and hitting at some deeper truth, something we recognize in ourselves or our loved ones. It's the rare comic actor who doesn't turn out a turd here or there. I find Adam Sandler funniest when he's playing slightly pathetic or sympathetic characters, but he seems more interested these days in doing more obnoxious wise-ass characters and mocking his fan-base. Will Ferrell on the other hand, seems genuinely interested in
Comedy is a tough racket because it tends to stem from a particular formula and hitting at some deeper truth, something we recognize in ourselves or our loved ones. It's the rare comic actor who doesn't turn out a turd here or there. I find Adam Sandler funniest when he's playing slightly pathetic or sympathetic characters, but he seems more interested these days in doing more obnoxious wise-ass characters and mocking his fan-base. Will Ferrell on the other hand, seems genuinely interested in tackling more risky material. The best comedians aren't afraid of playing up their flaws, while staying grounded with their predicament. Bill Murray is still one of the funniest guys around because he doesn't come off as being above the material he's given, and he can turn wry or serious on a dime, depending on what the part calls for, and what he feels the scene could benefit from. I also think it's important for comedians who want to make it in movies to do more serious, or dark material, because for one, it makes audiences take note, and it also potentially could help them stretch their comedic muscles in a different way. There's also the trap Robin Williams falls into where he's so famous for his wild-man comic antics that sometimes they think injecting him into a mediocre movie will make it better. Williams is a great actor when the role calls for it, but too often they think if he just improvs some stuff it'll make a bad movie work.
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11:54AM on 11/20/2012
Partly the problem is some of these guys are just one trick ponies when it comes to acting. They just do the same character personality from one movie to the next. They could do a lot better but for some its the limit of what their acting is capable of. Eddie Murphy though is the real exception. He has a hell of a lot he can do but sadly he picks his roles as if he is blind with a dart board in front of him with 9 times out of 10 getting some real crappy roles. There is still chances for him to
Partly the problem is some of these guys are just one trick ponies when it comes to acting. They just do the same character personality from one movie to the next. They could do a lot better but for some its the limit of what their acting is capable of. Eddie Murphy though is the real exception. He has a hell of a lot he can do but sadly he picks his roles as if he is blind with a dart board in front of him with 9 times out of 10 getting some real crappy roles. There is still chances for him to still put out quite a few good movies but sadly he just needs to pick his roles better. That's the problem with some actors. Some have the acting chops to do more but don't while others just recycle the same old bs.
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12:26PM on 11/20/2012
I don't know, I think with a dartboard he'd have better odds of making something good.
I don't know, I think with a dartboard he'd have better odds of making something good.
3:33PM on 11/20/2012

Well there's the problem.

"Many of us get on a kick where we loathe a certain comedic performer and anything he/she does. Itís rare that a comedian is universally loved. Shit, I canít think of one."
The comedies above are so broad, they are trying to be marketed to everybody - which winds up being loved by nobody. Comedians and comedic actors should work harder on filling a specific niche, and play their own strengths. Look at how well Louis C.K. is doing on FX - because he's A) talented, and B) not trying to play to a
"Many of us get on a kick where we loathe a certain comedic performer and anything he/she does. Itís rare that a comedian is universally loved. Shit, I canít think of one."
The comedies above are so broad, they are trying to be marketed to everybody - which winds up being loved by nobody. Comedians and comedic actors should work harder on filling a specific niche, and play their own strengths. Look at how well Louis C.K. is doing on FX - because he's A) talented, and B) not trying to play to a huge audience. Comedians should write, star and produce films they want to see. Studios can not make comedies better by dabbling or watering down. It just doesn't work.
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2:18PM on 11/20/2012
i've been thinking about same thing.sometimes i fear that comedy genre is dying.we are getting low quality comedies from popular comedy stars like Jim carrey,Eddie murphy,Ben stiller,Adam sandler.only Todd phillips,Judd apatow,Adam mckay,Will ferrell movies are doing better.
i've been thinking about same thing.sometimes i fear that comedy genre is dying.we are getting low quality comedies from popular comedy stars like Jim carrey,Eddie murphy,Ben stiller,Adam sandler.only Todd phillips,Judd apatow,Adam mckay,Will ferrell movies are doing better.
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10:51AM on 11/20/2012
Extra tidbit: The cast of SNL - from 2007 to current casts of the show (too bad Andy Samberg and Amy Poehler left the show). I think the problem is the rating. Movie studios tend to make PG/PG-13 movies more because they're easier to sell and guarantee to have more audiences to watch at the Cinema. Consequently movies are made for PG/PG-13 crowds. Comedies like The Hangover is a nice change of pace.
Extra tidbit: The cast of SNL - from 2007 to current casts of the show (too bad Andy Samberg and Amy Poehler left the show). I think the problem is the rating. Movie studios tend to make PG/PG-13 movies more because they're easier to sell and guarantee to have more audiences to watch at the Cinema. Consequently movies are made for PG/PG-13 crowds. Comedies like The Hangover is a nice change of pace.
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11:06AM on 11/20/2012
The Watch is rater R. That argument is irrelevant.
The Watch is rater R. That argument is irrelevant.
11:20AM on 11/20/2012
My bad. Then, we're doomed.
My bad. Then, we're doomed.
+0
5:58PM on 11/20/2012

Ehh...

I think any film can be overhyped. I spent two bucks on The Watch and had a great time. It wasn't $#!t my pants hilarious, but it was definitely worth two bucks. I can see how someone might be pissed if they spent fifteen bucks or more on it, but it had some redeeming value. I think the cost of watching movies needs to be thought out by the viewer and I'm not just talking about the ticket price. If you are going to a film about aliens mashed with Vaughn Stiller than you should go in with low
I think any film can be overhyped. I spent two bucks on The Watch and had a great time. It wasn't $#!t my pants hilarious, but it was definitely worth two bucks. I can see how someone might be pissed if they spent fifteen bucks or more on it, but it had some redeeming value. I think the cost of watching movies needs to be thought out by the viewer and I'm not just talking about the ticket price. If you are going to a film about aliens mashed with Vaughn Stiller than you should go in with low expectations. I did and had a great time. If you go into said film with high expectations you are most likely to be dissapointed. Before entering the halls of the theater or your own private screening room be sure to check yourself before you wreck yourself. You know what I mean?
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10:59AM on 11/20/2012

Ehhhh...

What ya gonna do? These guys burn out, they turn 40, they got their money...
One word: Hot Rod 2.
What ya gonna do? These guys burn out, they turn 40, they got their money...
One word: Hot Rod 2.
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