As a comedian and a film buff, people often ask me what my favorite comedy movie is. I usually mumble unintelligibly for a few moments while I rack my brain for a suitable response, and eventually come up with something like Groundhog Day. This is after I’ve effortlessly rattled off a list of dozens of my favorite action, science fiction, fantasy, and Disney movies, because I am an unapologetic nerd.
It made me wonder why I struggle to pinpoint my favorite comedies, and I realized I don’t have all that many favorite movies that fall into the comedy genre. I began to reach some pretentious conclusions that Hollywood appeals to the lowest common denominator when it comes to comedies (or the lowest comedy denominator, gah-haw!). Movies like The Hangover and Wedding Crashers come to mind, which do very well at the box office, and nearly everyone I know thinks they are hilarious. But they rely on mostly physical, lowbrow humor, which tends not to appeal to me. Again, very pretentiously, I prefer more sophisticated comedy that relies on verbal puns and witty banter. Go ahead, throw stones at me.
This type of smart humor exists; it’s just rare to find it in a mainstream film. It got me thinking, perhaps it’s not Hollywood’s fault. Maybe a feature length film simply is not a great medium for smart comedy. When you think about the devices that are used for creating intelligent humor—recurring motifs, callbacks, thoroughly developed characters with an array of distinguishable quirks, pun and joke laden dialogue—a 100-minute film is a difficult space to masterfully accomplish all of this. But it’s a great medium for the classic “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets drunk, has some bowel movements, and puts his balls on display, boy wins girl” scenario.
This is not to say that there is not plenty of wonderful, smart narrative comedy out there. It exists and it can be found on television. That’s right, your idiot box! It seems a television series, which lasts several episodes and hopefully multiple seasons, provides a much better opportunity for the type of humor I crave. Think Arrested Development, which just announced its upcoming return to TV, which will precede an Arrested Development movie. I would wager a guess that the movie will be at least amusing, hopefully awesome, but only because it will have had three full seasons plus a mini season of a clever and hilarious series that built a basis for its humor. Without that intricate foundation of characters we’ve come to know and love, the movie adaptation couldn’t be nearly as brilliant.
So if you’ve got an itch to write a comedy, and you want it to be smart and pompous, consider developing a television series instead of a film.