I’d say we all enjoy political comedy now and then. Whether it’s making fun of Hillary Clinton dabbing or making fun of anything Donald Trump tweets, nothing feels as good as teasing those in power. So, when I first saw ads for The Death of Stalin, I was thrilled. It’s a British film based on the French comic La mort de Staline, and only recently opened here in the United States. The film has some weak points here and there, but manages to deliver plenty of laughs and has a good heart.
In Mike Birbiglia’s 2013 special My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, Birbiglia basically tells only one joke: the story of how he got married to his current wife. Sure, there are many small sub-jokes, and every so often he decides to go a bit off-topic to provide backstory, but everything is focused on how he and his girlfriend eventually decided to tie the knot. This is Birbiglia’s comedy style, whether it be on his Netflix specials or while appearing on This American Life. Instead of jumping from subject to subject, with segways to link each bit together, Birbiglia decides to follow a cross between Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey theory and Dave Chappelle’s insight. He does not use any extreme ideas or absurdist routines.
It was hard to hear a character’s response after a joke had been cracked during Blockers. The close to two-hour runtime was filled with laugh after laugh which was unexpected, given the film’s old-fashioned premise of sex and its relation to women. However, after its screening at South by Southwest Film Festival and the positive response it received, it is no surprise that Kay Cannon’s (who wrote Pitch Perfect and several episodes of NBC’s 30 Rock) film solidified itself as an effortless comedy, bringing laughs as easily as Superbad or 21 Jump Street. The only thing different about this film is its attribution of raunchy comedy to women, a recent turn that has been explored in comedies such as Bridesmaids, Trainwreck, and Girls Trip. Blockers follows three parents’ (played by Leslie Mann, John Cena, and Ike Barinholtz) desperate attempts to prevent their teenage daughters (played by Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Gideon Adlon) from losing their virginity on prom night.
Weston Barker ’21 and the Midnight Comedy Troupe are deathly funny. The seven member outfit is Cornell’s newest and only dark humor sketch group that does its best to shock, awe and entertain. They hit the mark, brilliantly. Judged on just their comedic chops, this group stands alone. But what really sets them apart is their secondary goal: to inspire (or incite) meaningful dialogue and bring people together with conversation and laughter.
Athina Rachel Tsangari’s film Chevalier, showing at Cornell Cinema this Friday, understates its oddities and creates a hauntingly realistic picture of humanity. The film draws from various and strange inspirations which result in a Frankenstein-esque human species. But, it remains non-committal. Just like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein directly condemns neither the monster nor his creation, Tsangari only subtly questions specific behaviors, habits and desires. Chevalier disguises itself as the story of six friends on a luxury fishing trip.
If you’ve always wanted to take your date to that amazing improv show but not wanted to be “that guy” who takes their date to improv shows, have I got a film for you. Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice offers a harshly authentic look into the rough and tumble world of professional comedy, and the often depressed, existentially bewildered and ultimately confused players that writhe in it. While movies about the unique struggles that plague comedians have made a resurgence in the past few years since Annie Hall in 1977 (notably Obvious Child and Birbiglia’s own Sleepwalk With Me), Don’t Think Twice is the first to deal with improv as a unique art form. Balancing the arduous duty of creating good art with furthering one’s own professional goals becomes an impossible task when even your teammates, students or partner is competition. Miles (Birbiglia), the nearing-40 founder of The Commune, an acclaimed NYC improv troupe, serves as the de-facto patriarch of its current six members.
As someone who watches comedy TV a lot — and I mean a lot — I’ve found that there’s one key ingredient in creating a successful TV comedy: don’t make your show based on a funny plot; make it based on funny characters. Write good characters, and the good plots will come. The Detour, created by The Daily Show power couple Samantha Bee and Jason Jones, completely fails this litmus test for a sustainable, quality TV comedy. The new TBS series follows a family of four attempting to drive to a relaxing beach vacation, finding themselves embroiled in misadventure after misadventure. To make things more complicated, father Nate Parker (Jones) recently lost his job at a nefarious biopharmaceutical company and keeps this hidden from his family, paving the way for even more clandestine antics as he tries to frame his ex-employer for unethical behavior.
What happens when you give comedians free reign for a 30-minute special? Utter absurdity. At least, that’s what the Netflix comedy special, The Characters, would suggest. The avant-garde experiment features eight lesser-known comedians who write and star in a 30-minute episode completely under their own creative control. The big twist?