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Laughter is the Best Medicine

Is Comedy DEAD? (feat. Marvel, Jordan Peele, Men In Black) – Wisecrack Edition


What’s up, guys? Michael here. I have a
question: When’s the last time you went to the movies specifically to see a comedy?
What about a rom com? If you’re like most Americans, it’s probably been a minute.
People in general are skipping out on your classic funny-bone-tickling films, and comedies
that succeed at the box office are becoming the exception rather than the rule. We’re
seeing lots of comedies flounder this year, from Booksmart to The Beach Bum to The Long
Shot to Late Night and on and on and on. Even Men in Black: International only pulled in
250 million, a pale comparison to the 624 million its predecessor Men in Black 3 made. 
Indeed, you could almost hear the industry breathe a collective sigh of relief when the
recent comedy Good Boys hit 21 million in its opening weekend, making it one of only
two comedies to hit #1 in the box office this year. Comscore media analyst Paul Dergarabedian
summed up the situation, saying, “This is like a unicorn sighting.” Even so, 21 million
is a sum that probably wouldn’t have even made us blink circa the summer of 2009, when
the The Hangover pulled in a cool 45 million during its opening weekend. If you scan a list of top performing films
of the late 90s, or even the early to mid aughts, a whole lot of them are comedies.
What happened to the days when Austin Powers ruled the box office? Where’s our 2019 Pretty
Woman? And, just for argument’s sake, why no Hangover IV? The truth is traditional film
subgenres like the rom com or those gross out comedies of the 1990s seem about as culturally
relevant as a late night sockhop at a high school gymnasium. But before you grab that comedy-shaped casket
from your closet, let’s look a little closer. Is comedy really dead? What if it never even
existed in the first place? Let’s find out in this Wisecrack Edition on the maybe death
of comedy? We think a quick recap of the current comedy
landscape is in order. News outlets like The Hollywood Reporter have made a habit of sounding
the alarm about the death of comedy films. We’re treated to ever more dire statistics
showing comedic box office flops,  And we’re seeing fewer laugh out loud comedies Total
box office revenue for comedies shrank from 2.5 billion in 2009 to just 1 billion in 2018.
In 2018, comedies accounted for just 7.2% of all domestic box office revenue. So what made traditional comedy films an endangered
species? You the easy answer might be the ever-proliferating streaming services, but
the answer is a little more complicated. Also, it involves China. As you, a presumable human being watching
YouTube, certainly know, consumers have more entertainment options than ever before. You
can stream anything your heart desires on 10 different competing platforms or watch
your bestie eat tide pods on YouTube. Note that these alternatives are typically cheaper
than  a movie ticket. And how does a studio deal with the competition
from all these sick TikTok compilations? They’re going international, or at least, MORE international.
Studios are coping with domestic losses by trying to maximize their profits in places
like China, Japan, India and France. Indeed, in 2018, Warner Brothers earned just $1.9
billion dollars in North America, compared to a hefty 3.6 billion dollars overseas. Across
the board, international audiences are booming, and the Motion Picture Association of America
predicts that China will soon overtake the US as the largest movie market in the world.. But how does one make an American film with
widespread international appeal? It’s not necessarily Meg Ryan really enjoying this
sandwich. “I’ll have what she’s having.” Instead,  it’s usually fast cars, big guns,
and a superhero or two or three… or ten. Indeed, comic book films and action flicks
are a perfect fit for the international audience, as they peddle largely in special effects
that can be appreciated regardless of your language or culture. As non-dialogue heavy
films, they also require less pesky dubbing or subtitles, while offering the universal
appeal of watching shit blow up. In contrast, comedies are NOT as easy to port
over to a Bangladeshi theatre screen. That’s because comedies rely a lot on cultural specificity.
Just think of how different the British Office is from its American counterpart. Or, how
the show also spawned iterations in places like India, Chile, and Finland – all with
their own cultural quirks. If you’re still thinking comedy can transcend international
borders no problem, peep this 1996 Chinese comedy God of Cookery. If you’re not from
China – is this funny to you? Probably not. The Rock breaking out of a cast with his bicep
might be universal, but it’s hard to make a comedy that really appeals to the international
masses. Thus, studios aren’t really investing in developing new comedy scripts the way they
used to. Judd Apatow, the literal creator of the modern
Ford assembly line of comedies, echoes this argument, telling Indiewire that comedy film
basically died after the last writer’s strike, which ended in 2008. Apatow says  “I feel
like the studios don’t buy as many scripts now…. As a result, a lot of great comedy
writers are going to television instead…” So there you have it, our investigation comes
to a close. Say goodbye to all your favorite forms of comedy, from star vehicles for people
like Will Ferrell and Meg Ryan to quality parodies like Scary Movie to delightful gross
out comedies like There’s Something About Mary.  Instead, if you feel like laughing,
looks like you’re going to have to stick to TikTok. But wait… what about this? “As far as
I’m concerned, that’s America’s ass” That line brought the house down. Or take
this moment from Get Out “I’m TS mother***ing A, we handle sh*t” That’s genuinely funny,
right? Indeed, comedian Jordan Peele’s seamless transition into the horror genre hasn’t
stopped him from showcasing his sense of humor. Even though we’re buying a ticket to see
a horror film, we also walk in pretty sure that something’s going to make us laugh.
“By the way I would’ve voted for Obama for a third term if I could.” Has comedy
just undergone some kind of metamorphosis? To understand the cosmic forces at play in
a  Marvel movie like Endgame or a horror film like Get Out, we’ll need to take a
look at film scholar Geoff King.  In his book Film Comedy, King basically says that
the term “comedy” can’t be fully understood as just a genre, arguing that it is “so
widespread as to be difficult to locate as a single or stable generic… form.” Instead,
he suggests looking at comedy as a mode. But…what’s a mode – and how is it different than a genre?
Simply put, a genre is a category of film. Take, for example, the Western. Nearly all
films within a genre will share certain essential narratives, characters, or other features,
like setting. Westerns typically have a rugged cowboy, an expansive dusty American landscape,
an aesthetically unappealing villain and some form of a gun fight. Both the classic High
Noon and the unclassic Wild Wild West share these features and thus, both are westerns. In contrast, a mode is a “manner of presentation.”
It’s a mood or feeling, and all the choices that contribute to that mood. It’s helpful
here to think of how mode works in music. A musical mode is a scale with specific notes
and melodic features. Take the Dorian mode, made up of these notes arranged in this manner.
Both the traditional hymn “Drunken Sailor” and the Latin Jazz songs “Oye Como Va”
are written in the Dorian mode, though the two songs belong to radically different genres.
Similarly, in film, both Shazam and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood use a comedic mode, though
the former is also a superhero flick and the latter is also a thriller and a drama. Got
it? So, King’s argument goes, because “any genre may be treated as a subject for comedy,’
it’s more accurate to see it as a mode, a modifier of other genres rather than simply
one in its own right. While Film Comedy was published back in 2002,
we’d argue that King’s point offers a lens to look at comedy that is even more relevant
today. Fewer comedy movies are made than ever before, and the ones that are made fail at
the box office. But we might still LAUGH at the movies just as much. So, King’s diagnosis
of comedy as more of a mode than a genre rings truer than ever before. But how exactly does
this “mode” of comedy manifest in movies? At first glance, that seems simple: Comedy’s
what makes you laugh. But what if, say, in the cinematic masterpiece The Room, the filmmaker
wasn’t trying to make you laugh? And what if a comedy film like Bad Santa doesn’t
make you laugh, even though it’s trying to? It’s more complicated than just eliciting
a laugh – it needs to be intentional. King expands his definition of comedy in film as
a mode that “tends to involve departures from… what are considered to be the normal
routines of life of the social group in question.” Take a normal situation – You’re at the
grocery store. Then add a departure from your norm – You’re wearing a bathrobe and
sandals and have to write a check for $0.69 – Tada! You have comedy. The form of comedy can vary, it can result
from incongruity – like a superhero hanging out in a convenience store. Or it can result
from exaggeration, like the Dad’s over-the-top attempt to sound like a tough guy in Us: “So
if y’all wanna get crazy, we can get crazy.” Ultimately, King says, comedy results “from
a sense of things being out of place, mixed up or not quite right.” Furthermore, modality isn’t just in the
tone of the words being spoken or images being shown. King notes that modality can be “complex
and multi-dimensional”, and include elements like the use of music, sound, or opening sequences.
For instance, we can see how music is used when Alison Williams’s character hilariously
drinks a glass of milk segregated from a bowl of fruit loops while listening to the song
“(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” Both sound and even the use of color are funny in context.
The cheery tune calls attention to the incongruity of a diabolical character drinking a wholesome
glass of milk while literally looking for the next mark for her parent’s weirdo gang
of brain-swapping yuppies.  At the same time, the flat-out bizarre method of cereal consumption
defies common sense. Seriously – she doesn’t even eat an entire fruit loop in one bite. Or let’s look at how characters, narrative
and tone can combine to create a comedic mode. Take the opening scenes of last year’s Halloween
reboot, in which a couple of true crime podcasters attempt to interview Michael Myers. The whole
sequence is full of self-aware commentary on true crime culture and the commodification
of popular criminal personalities. “We’re… we’re making a podcast.” “We’re investigative
journalists!” This scene feels decidedly more comedic than anything we saw in the film’s
1978 predecessor. You can see the modality of comedy working its way in, even as the
film prepares us for lots of bloodshed. And, of course, we can’t talk about modern
comedy without dealing with Marvel, which has basically turned the superhero film into
a debatably knee-slapping comedic experience with silly one liners, absurdist situations,
and all the self-aware humor you could want. Now one caveat – We think it’s reasonable
to assume that, in simpler times of filmmaking, it would have made more sense to view comedy
as a genre. That’s because before the late 1950s, films typically conformed pretty neatly
into defined categories, and were less likely to borrow from one another. It was unlikely
that you would see a sci-fi – drama like Arrival or a funny drama like Juno. As a result, comedy
may have acted more like a consistent genre and less like a mode. But today, we’re seeing
genres becoming increasingly more unstable. Indeed, films today are more likely to take
a buffet style approach to genre. Oftentimes, these are used to appeal to more media-savvy
audiences who have come to recognize tropes in a more conscious way. As this happens,
we see comedy becoming almost like ambient background music. Once we start thinking of comedy as mode rather
than a genre, it becomes clear that our comic sensibilities are not only alive, but perhaps
even thriving. With the world an ever-larger dumpster fire, maybe we’re more in need
of a laugh than ever – even if we’re not seeking it in the form of a washed up newscaster
and his accidental profanity “Go f**k yourself San Diego” And of course, if you’re looking for a laugh,
just turn on the TV, where comedy is more than alive and well in the form of It’s
Always Sunny in Philadelphia, South Park, Rick and Morty,  Bojack Horseman, Silicon
Valley and on and on and on.  Even still, we’d say comedy is also surviving on the
big screen as a mode, and if you agree with King, that’s all it ever was in the first
place. So what do you guys think? Is comedy in film
deader than Uncle Ben after another Spiderman reboot, or totally alive and well in unexpected
ways? Are you digging Jordan Peele’s brave new world of horror comedies or do you miss
the days of Tom Cruise running a brothel in Risky Business?? Let us know in the comments.
And a big thanks to all our dope patrons who support the channel and our podcasts. Don’t
forget to hit that subscribe button –

100 thoughts on “Is Comedy DEAD? (feat. Marvel, Jordan Peele, Men In Black) – Wisecrack Edition

  1. Comedy isn't dead, but it's ceratainly dying. People like Dave Chappelle and Sam Hyde are resented by the media, leading everyone to afraid to get cancelled, so they resort to cheap vanilla jokes like Marvel movies, or their comedy becomes insanely niche like the Coen brothers un Hail Caesar!.

  2. "When was the last time you went to the movies specifically to see a comedy?"

    Last month, Rifftrax Live: Giant Spider Invasion. Comedy is far from dead.

  3. Comedy can't die, it's a part of the human condition. Hollywood on the other hand certainly can and everything from there recently is oozing with preachy hard left politics. I just want to watch a story and not get told that I'm a piece of shit if I disagree with California's extreme social agenda.

  4. Americans just aren't likable people, thats why comedy is dead, we don't get along anymore. Comedy is about making friends and we aren't friends anymore. American jokes are too violent, too over the top, trying too hard, going for too low of a bar or having too much personality.

  5. Michael. Your mouth is smiling, but your eyes are hollow, and dead inside.
    Don't force a smile on your face if you're not happy.

  6. am I the only one that thought Get Out was boring, not scary, not funny, and basically just Invasion of the Body Snatchers? I mean seriously, what's the a peele of it?

  7. Guys… this is ridiculous. The left has made comedy toxic. Don't believe me, look at rotten tomatoes rating of Dave Chappelle latest comedy special. People love him, but the culture guardians don't. That's why there's less and less comedy, fewer and fewer topics are acceptable to laugh at and I think that's just gay

  8. Wisecrack your wrong!! Comedy can be a genre too. A movie is a movie and can be anything it wants to be. When I see movies, I don't think about Jordan Peele, Geoff King, or "Modes"? I determine how I fell about the movie. If the movie is mostly funny and is meant to be. Than that is comedy, therfore a "genre."

  9. Good essay, but did this video seriously diss Bad Santa? Out of all the unfunny mainstream comedies, you picked this modern cult classic as unable to generate laughs?

  10. I feel this video intentional left out the social climate we live in. Which is understandable, because of the social climate we live in.

  11. I didn't know this was such a widespread problem. I avoid comedic films because they are too hit or miss for me to make the time and financial commitment, especially since I don't go to theaters as much.

  12. Pretty much the very reason this video exists can find its answer in that news about the movie of the boys, that shit sold well and apparently made people have a good time, why? well R-FUCKING-RATED.

    We live in an ever increasingly sensitive world that needs comedy now more than ever and comedy isnt for people who are puss about laughing about shit that at some point can offend someone, quoting duckman here (btw look out that video if you are reading this): "It's precisely when comedy is offensive that we need it most, comedy should provoke, it should blast through prejudices, challenge preconceptions, comedy should ALWAYS leave you different than when it found you. Sure, humor can hurt, even alienate, but the risk is better than the alternative; 'a steady diet of innocuous, childproof, flavorless, tasteless MUSH'. DEMAND TO BE CHALLENGED, TO BE OFFENDED, TO BE TREATED LIKE THINKING REASONING ADULTS and raise your children to be the same"

  13. …And Good Boys looked like such a stupid movie… the one gag is replayed over and over again and no one sees how cheap and in bad taste it is… People are morons… dope smoking, pin pill popping, morons.

  14. Name a comedy that didn't have some "wokeness" in it? By that, silly, stupid, incompetent men, and Mary Sue "she's the best eveh!" wamyn. Also, the best comics are doing streaming videos, not stupid Hollywood movies – because half of America could care less about Hollywood and it shoving politics down our collective throats. No thanks!

  15. I could say that the Postmodernist's ruined it but people just get bored of the same jokes repackaged. We have millennia to stay entertained, comedy has to evolve to still be able to continually surprise the audience.

  16. It really comes down to the cost of movies let me explain. A movie ticket cost $17 per person, so if I go with a date that is $34, plus popcorn and soda thats $11, times that by 2 its $22, all together I spent $56, So should I go and see that new romatic comedy or should I go and see that new blockbuster action pack superhero movie with explosions, special effects and cgi, Which movie gets me more bang for my buck?

  17. Huh, he missed the domestic market revenue for these "comedies" which has fallen prey to a fear of the Cancel Culture and Outrage Mobs. Comedians no longer want to be the targets of these critics and the films that pander to the above mentioned cultures. Thus comedy movies have fallen to #getwokegobroke

  18. It's because people stopped writing comedy. Studio hacks just assemble a cast of well known stand up comedians and the stories just consist of the characters standing in a series of rooms improving bad stand up at each other.
    This is the difference between a Bridesmades, or a Ghostbusters, and a Hot Fuzz.

  19. Oh please. It's this stick-up-their-ass generation that's killing comedy because they get triggered at anything even remotely funny.

  20. Comedies these days are all the same movie at their core with different gimmicks on the surface. Studios are afraid to venture outside of the Judd Apatow-esce formula. Comedy needs to change and go unexpected and surprising places to be a hit. Not just repeat with different wrapping.

  21. Oh wait! If comedy is just a mode for any genre once you make people laugh, then is horror just a mode once your western/sci-fi/war film is scary enough?

  22. I think stuber was freaking hilarious. It seemed like my whole theater was dying the whole time. I'm not sure if it did so well.

  23. Comedy has always been a flavor (or mode) more than a genre. Pure comedy for the sake of nothing but comedy or overwhelmingly about comedy is actually rare. By far and large, the "genre" we historically called comedy is commentary with indeed a comedic mode. Usually social commentary of some kind, but not just. You can go back through all your catalog of historical comedies and you should see it. If you don't see commentary, chances are much higher that you just lack the appropriate perspective for its time (be it social, of the very craft, or whatever it is commenting on) than it being comedy for the sake of it, or it being multiple commentaries with humor holding it together (hence the "genre" being comedy since its the only easy to name constant)

  24. As an avid television show binger, and a very infrequent patron of the theater, I can't say I'm bothered by this at all. I can't think of any movies I've seen that have made me laugh harder than television shows like Arrested Development, Community, and all the ones mentioned in this video. Running jokes and inside gags are a staple of serial television, something that single-installment film lack. And typically when movies are serialized, the sequels almost never live up to the original

  25. So the economic model has made it so that studios don't invest in comedy films since they're less likely to succeed overseas? Damn, then I guess I'm glad there are talented writers who are modifying their genre with comedy.
    Thanks for the video.

  26. I think you've overlooked the damage done to comedy as a genre by the fart joke fad that dominated for so long. most people find this offensive and tiresome but Hollywood just kept forcing it on us for so long that we just don't want to go to a Hollywood comedy any more. I know that's what killed it for me.

  27. Don't confuse comic relief with comedy. You want comedy? Watch the Marx Brothers, or Abbot and Costello, or anything with Peter Sellers in it, or Barbra Streisand's early films. Comedy actually died around 1980.

  28. Could Western be almost a 'mode' or variant of action or other genre? As western tends to be more of a setting with a number of generic features.

  29. Isn't looking at "COMEDY" through the lens of American filmmaking a bit reductive? Funny is funny. It feels good to laugh. Otherwise, God wouldn't have created the platypus.

  30. The problem is that for like 5yrs now movie companies have mostly farted out objective garbage, so it’s more that there’s nothing left in the barrel but the bottom

  31. The reason the new… ugh… MIB failed miserably is simply because they choice the wrong actors for the job. Chris Hemsworth… are fucking nuts? How can one decide that those two air-heads are even close to a worthy replacement of the OG's J n' K… Its disgusting. Don't support such mistreatment of a classic duo. Imma pat myself on the back for not acknowledgement its existence, now I know it has been released, great.

  32. Pure comedy films work best when they are on a smaller budget in general. A lot of these blockbuster wannabe comedies have insane budgets and they spend most of it on effects, sets, and decorations. To be funny you only need funny idea, which for the most part are free. Every movie is trying to be huge nowadays. I think we need more smaller movies on the big screen getting wide releases. That would surely increase the amount of comedies if the amount of movies being produced was higher.

  33. Hi wisecrack
    I wanted to know if you could make a video on LISA:THE PAINFUL? I don't know if you heard of it but it's a really great game and I was wondering what you think of it or if you can find a philosophy in it. Thank you!

  34. When it comes to the comedy in the MCU, I think it also works because to put it simply, a person needs a break, even if it can only be found in making a quip about something. Humor is a well-known coping mechanism. The heroes are basically acting as soldiers and anyone who has been in that kind of job, knows there are times you have to laugh to keep from crying. There's also the ER doctor mindset. Would you rather get treated by a doctor who keeps it together, saves your life, but later makes a tasteless joke when talking about it with his buddies or do you want to be treated by someone who takes one look at you and falls to pieces?

  35. Action movies are better in the theater. Comedies don’t need to be viewed on a big screen. It’s pretty simple. It’s not an international issue.

  36. How about learning from non-American comedy film? Like "Extreme Job" from Korea. Their humor smart and not just there for the sake of laughter. And not sexual (I abhor sexual jokes).

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