Claudia Leisinger

Ultimate Guide to Comedy


Having A Laugh: Leigh Singer


20. Clerks (1994)

It’s amazing what bargains you can find in convenience stores. Made for $25,000 plus change, writer-director Kevin Smith filmed in his own workplace at night, cramming in minimum-wage frustrations, outrageous scatological skits and sweet-natured romance and redefining the potential of low-budget indie filmmaking.

19. Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

Of all the acclaimed Ealing Studios British post-WWII comedies, this genteel black concoction, with Dennis Price’s vengeful black sheep bumping off eight members of the D’Ascoyne clan (all played by Alec Guinness) who block his title inheritance, still reigns supreme.

18. Playtime (1967)

Jacques Tati’s penultimate screen outing as silent, iconic, hapless Monsiuer Hulot is his masterpiece. Set in an epic, futuristic Paris (the set dubbed “Tativille”), gags bloom from every corner of the screen. Playtime doesn’t just hold up to several viewings, it demands them.

17. Ghostbusters (1984)

Until Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis and co, blockbusters weren’t supposed to make you laugh. Using a spectrum of spooks for gags and visual f/x spectacle, Ghostbusters set the tone for many hit movies – think Back to the Future, Pirates of the Caribbean – to come.

16. There’s Something About Mary (1998)

The Farrelly Brothers’ biggest hit is a canny combination of their familiar gross-out humour (the semen hair gel still makes you squirm) with hapless Ben Stiller’s touching, torch holding for the irresistible Cameron Diaz, to redefine the modern romantic comedy.

15. The Producers (1968)

Two crooked theatrical producers hatch a scheme to con sweet old ladies into backing a Nazi musical entitled ‘Springtime for Hitler’. Who knew bad taste could be so good? Mel Brooks outrageous Oscar-winner got so respectable that Broadway eventually borrowed it back.

14. City Lights (1931)

A split decision among this, The Gold Rush and Modern Times for Chaplin’s silent-era champ but City Lights, his penniless Little Tramp here smitten by a blind flower seller, deserves a points verdict for avoiding mawkishness and landing a masterly tragic-comic knockout.

13. Withnail and I (1986)

Bruce Robinson’s scuzzy, fuzzy paean to his own shambolic 60s youth is the best British comedy of the 80s. A genuine cult classic, Paul McGann and the extraordinary Richard E. Grant still fuel students with enough one-liners to last through university.

12. Groundhog Day (1993)

High-concept as high art? Bill Murray’s narky weatherman forced by fate to relive the same wintry small-town day over isn’t just one of the slyest, most ingenious uses of an inspired set-up, it’s a profound look at life and love, through laughter.

11. Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Mix flighty socialite Hepburn, befuddled paleontologist Grant and a runaway leopard called Baby and the results can only be trouble. Under Howard Hawks’s masterfully relaxed direction, the madcap antics and whipcrack dialogue spin wildly into the epitome of classic Hollywood screwball.

10. National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)

The ultimate college-campus comedy, melding risqué frat boy sex gags, the sharp observation of TV’s Saturday Night Live and the unbridled human tornado John Belushi, but all in a spirit of good-natured, if thoroughly unclean, fun. Often imitated, never equaled.

9. Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

Preston Sturges’s burst of eight classics in five years is hard to rank, but this satirical gem about a comedy filmmaker determined to make a Serious Statement (O Brother Where Art Thou?) who sees the value of laughter, encapsulates the entire genre.

8. Annie Hall (1977)

Revenge of the nerd: Allen’s anxious New York Jewish romantic comedy put his neuroses under the spotlight, winning us over with an Oscar-winning, wistfully riotous, scattershot approach and a nebbish screen persona he’s been able to mine successfully for almost forty years.

7. Duck Soup (1933)

The Marx Brothers’ best effort is a relentless attack on the funny bone, an inventive blitzkrieg on war, politics, religion and patriotism where gags, visual and verbal (“I didn’t come here to be insulted!” “That’s what you think.”), impact like comedic bullets.

6. Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)

The Python gang at their filmic peak, mercilessly squeezing religious vanity and hypocrisy in their coils as they – daringly at the time – parody the life of Jesus. All together now: “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy.”

5. The General (1927)

The ultimate chase film sees Keaton’s deadpan train engineer and army reject in pursuit of his beloved girl and beloved titular locomotive when Civil War Union spies steal both. It’s the perfect excuse for a series of masterly set-piece stunts, Keaton, as ever, performing all his own highly dangerous acrobatics with seemingly effortless grace. Still jaw dropping in its ingenuity and execution, The General is arguably Keaton’s best - and therefore the best silent comedy ever made.

4. Dr. Strangelove (1964)

Stanley Kubrick is hardly known for his sense of humour, making the icy brilliance of his Armageddon-comedy, in which a renegade US General covertly sets his planes to attack the Soviet Union, all the more impressive. Fired by a razor-sharp script that goes from pitch-black satire to knockabout farce (“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”), along with three of Peter Sellers’ finest performances, it’s totally chilling and absolutely hilarious in equal measure.

3. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

The ultimate ‘mockumentary’ about a hopelessly deluded English heavy metal band’s ill-fated US tour, Rob Reiner’s film is so beloved because of the affection amid all the rock-and-roll affectation and excess. Brilliant acting – including spot-on accents - and musical performances from Americans Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and especially Christopher Guest as dimwit axeman Nigel Tufnell, immortalized for his amps that turn up to eleven. If comedy were about volume, Spinal Tap continues to go One Louder.

2. Some Like it Hot (1959)

Often cited as the classic American comedy, Billy Wilder’s gleaming black and white classic, about two down-on-their-luck musicians who witness a mob hit and disguise themselves in an all-girl jazz band, really does have it all: Marilyn Monroe at her sexy ditziest, Tony Curtis’s wicked send-up of Cary Grant, Jack Lemmon’s juicy comic timing and Wilder and co-writer I.A.L Diamond’s wonderfully acerbic one-liners. “Nobody’s perfect” runs the famous closing line. This comes closer than most.

1. Airplane! (1980)

This freewheeling, hugely silly, frequently childish disaster movie parody as the No.1 comedy ever? Surely you can’t be serious? Well, we are – and don’t call us Shirley… Conceived by master spoofers, Zuckers David and Jerry and Jim Abrahams, Airplane! still probably has the highest concentration of gags per minute in movie history – and most of them work, too.

As traumatized war pilot Ted Striker tries to land a commercial airliner stricken with a food-poisoned crew, Team ZAZ load in everything from clever wordplay, surreal non-sequiturs, hugely dodgy innuendo – “Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?” asks the potentially paedophile pilot to the kid in his cockpit - to the crassest visual gags. Guess what follows when someone comments that “the shit’s gonna hit the fan”…

50s B-movie stalwarts like Leslie Neilsen and Lloyd Bridges gamely spoof themselves, inadvertently jump-starting their careers in the process. And the barrage of witty movie references also ignited the incessant in-joking that blights so many modern films. Impossible to sit through stony-faced, Airplane!’s “anything goes” clever-stupid act recharged screen comedy’s future and remains some kind of landmark. What is it? A prominent identifying feature of a landscape, but that’s not important right now…


September 2005

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