Thursday, January 11, 2007

Funny hat or funny logic?

In Roger Ebert's review of 'The Jerk' (a film he liked far less than I did) Ebert said " It seems to me that there are two basic approaches to any kind of comedy, and in a burst of oversimplification I'll call them the Funny Hat and the Funny Logic approaches. The difference is elementary: In the first, we're supposed to laugh because the comic is wearing the funny hat, and in the second it's funny because of his reasons for wearing the funny hat." Anyone have any comments about this? Any examples of both kinds of comedies? It is obvious that Ebert finds 'The jerk" to be a 'funny hat' film (I agree).

Do you agree or disagree and why? Ebert also states that he much prefers 'funny logic' films. I find I can enjoy both types but must admit that I too enjoy 'funny logic' type films more. But hell, I can get a good laugh from a funny hat movie that is well made.
Which type do you enjoy more? (be honest--don't tell me which type you think you should enjoy more tell which actually makes you laugh more. For me a funny hat movie may make me laugh harder upon first view but a funny logic movie retains its humor better over time. Sometimes a 'funny logic' movie actually seems much funnier to me in later viewings well a 'funny hat' movie many times is not very funny at all upon later viewings. I still get a chuckle out of The Jerk but it isn't a film that remains especially funny after repeated viewings for me.

The interior logic is so bizarre that the logic is not important; the payoff is important. It is not logically important to the storyline of The Jerk that he was raised by a black family or that he thought he was black. The joke is the important thing. There is not a logical set-up for the joke that leads to a payoff laugh. The joke, in a sense, is funny because of its lack of set-up. It is funny because it makes little sense. (or it is unfunny for those reasons. It is a matter of what one finds funny). Though I get a laugh every time I hear Martin say "I was raised a poor black child" the joke relies on the strangeness and irony of the situation. It isn't funny because of WHY he thought he was black but rather BECAUSE he thought we was black but was in fact white. That is the 'funny hat' in that case--a white man who is surprised to learn that he is not black.

The 'logic' is not of central importance. I guess you could argue that the joke is funny (or not funny depending on the person) BECAUSE the logic doesn't add up. And the plots aren't very important and often exist for no other purpose then to have something to hang the skit on. Many people find these tpyes of movies a laugh riot. However, many other people find them to be barely movies at all but more like a series of saturday night lives sketches patched together into a 90 minute blur of stupidity. These people find jokes based on the set-up or parring contrasting character types against each other to be very funny. For these types of films character and plot are essential.

Ebert said in another review: "I do, on the other hand, laugh loudly at comedies where eccentric people behave in obsessive and eccentric ways and other, equally eccentric, people do everything they can to offend and upset the first batch." This review is for "A fish called Wanda" where there is a kind of logic woven into the story; the jokes wouldn't work without the set-up; the character and plot are carefully crafted. Without a meaingful reason (at least it has to be meaningful to the character) as to why these strange people are behaving as they do and how those opposing goals create friction with the other players in the story, the comedy would not work. Or perhaps it doesn't work. Again, it depends upon your taste in comedy.

I love "a Fish called Wanda' though I have not seen it in years. I have friends who loathe it yet find "Anchorman" a laugh riot. If you enjoy the type of comedy of Will Ferrel where the plot only exists to hang gags and skit type scenes---that is 'funny hat'. It is funny because it is funny to see Will Ferell act odd. Or, once again, it isn't funny depending on your humor preference. I am not the type that hails one is better than the other. But I do find that funny hats wear thin over time.

I was a fan of the original Austin Powers film. A film loaded with stupid sight gags, dirty jokes, body humor, etc. However, for me, the film worked because Austin and Dr. Evil were a 60s hero and villain trapped in a future they do not fit in. Though there are several 'funny hat' moments a lot of it worked for me as their behaviors and motives were funny because they were stuck in the past. Dr evil's 'one million dollars' worked for me because he had no clue about all the finances changes over the years. It was, basically, a fish out of water story and the jokes that worked for me played off that idea at least in some form. Austin Powers: The spy who shagged me, for me was much more of a 'funny hat' in that Austin was pretty much accepted 'as is' so the jokes were funny for the gag and not necessarily for their relationship to anything else. It felt more like skits sewn together with a plot. Where this is true of the first film as well it at least had at its center that it was about the fish out of water story.

I said earlier that I don't hail one type of comedy as being better than the other. However, I will say that funny hat movies do not hold up very well to multiple viewings. They are the type of 'joke assult' movies that you might laugh a lot at the first time you see it but find it barely funny at all upon repeat viewings. Some films, it seems, are better suited to be seen once and then forgotten about all together. And for me that isn't a sign of a great comedy or a great film.

I offer a new take: There are two types of modern humor: Laughing because someone slips on a banana peel and laughing because someone purposely put out the banana peel out for them to slip on. I shall dub them "Banana peel" and "Sadistic banana peel.”

For sadistic banana peel see Sandler's earlier works. But he's such a NICE GUY under all that rage. Also see "Punch-Drunk Love" In that film he is also a nice guy under all that rage. However, in that film his rage doesn't magically dissapear in the final act. In his other films, Sandler's anger simply melts way after he finally learns to understand 'true love' or 'true fatherhood' or whatever overly-sugary-sweet lesson his bonehead character was supposed to figure out. As anyone with true rage can tell you, true rage isn't about nice or not nice. True rage is about a lifetime of not getting what you wanted or not being treated the way you think you should have been and the inability to express the bitter dissapointment in a healthy way. True rage doesn't go away because you learn a lesson or finally get what you want. It is a learned pattern of self-protection and it dies a slow, stubborn death. I could go on...but that is a post for another day.


Blogger Doah said...

Mike, I just read this post. I think I almost always like funny logic and sadistic banana peel movies better. I think those are truly better kinds of films than the other funny hat or banana peel comedies. I actually was recently thinking about this when I was trying to explain my tastes to somebody and explain why I had no desire to see NORBET or something like that. I didn't like OLD SCHOOL or THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY and I don't like those kinds of movies. What are those, funny hat, right? I love movies like RUSHMORE or I HEART HUCKABEES. But, I find that I am an enigma too because I still love some "dumb" movies like ANIMAL HOUSE, HOLY GRAIL, or AIRPLANE. Now, the most I've actually laughed outloud in a theater in a long time was LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. I love dysfunction as humor. As, you know, I adore PUNCH DRUNK LOVE, but I don't find it so funny as I do profound now. I think I like a funny movie wherein the whole journey is funny as opposed to just "bits" or skits. Again, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE was the whole journey. I didn't like AUSTIN POWERS. I truly find stuff like THE LIFE AQUATIC or Scorsese's brilliant AFTER HOURS funny. That said, I own CANBALL RUN for crying outloud. Like I said, I'm an enigma.

11:06 PM  

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