[There is a companion podcast to this article, by Cook St. Productions, which you can stream or download here, or get through iTunes here. On the podcast, we run down this list and my colleagues Travis and Evan outline their many disagreements.]
So what am I talking about when I say “The 20 Best Funny People Right Now?”
It’s a title intended to be vague, and one that I settled on by default. I say ‘Funny People’ because that avoids the term ‘Comedian,’ which suggests it’s relegated to stand-up. And I say ‘Best’ because ‘Funniest’ sounds somehow more subjective, and ‘funny’ ain’t all that’s being measured here.
I made the following list using my own opinions and tastes, but also combined with whatever ‘facts’ or statistics the Internet could offer. I then evaluated the contestants based on these conflicting merits:
Success – past, present, and projected future.
Popularity – amongst the general popularity, or critics, or other comedians.
Versatility – how they’ve fared across multiple projects and media.
Talent – charisma on-screen or, presumably, in person.
Voice – is it distinct, and how much ownership they have over the comedy.
Relevance – are they important to the comedy landscape, and will they be moving forward.
Trust – This might be the most important metric, but the hardest to qualify. A relationship without trust fails 100 times out of 100, and when you lose faith in someone’s ability to make you laugh, that’s kind of it. For instance, when you hear someone’s in an upcoming project or you see them pop up on TV or in a movie trailer, what’s your gut reaction — is it ‘yes!’ or is it ‘uh oh what is this?’ Do you trust their talent to transcend their project? Do they make interesting creative choices? Do they seem to still care? The answers to these questions come from the gut, and as inexact as that science may be, it helps settle some ties. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Andy Samberg are both extremely funny people, but I do not trust Andy Samberg.
For Part 1 of this 2007 movie retrospective, please click here.
Cutest Couple: Seth Rogen & Judd Apatow
In 2006, a movie called 40 Year-Old Virgin came out, directed by Judd Apatow and introducing Seth Rogen in a supporting role. The movie performed moderately well, but gained more traction on DVD than it did in the theater. It did, however, load the bases for 2007, when Knocked Up and Superbad made a quarter-billion dollars (domestically) at the box office. Rogen starred in Knocked Up and was a writer/actor in Superbad. Apatow, who wrote and directed Knocked Up, in addition to producing Superbad, became a household name and finalist for TIME’s “Person of the Year.”
thanks to these two men and their brand, the term ‘bromance’ was coined, and soon everybody in the world (i.e. age range 7 to 90) thought they would be considered funny if they casually used it in normal conversation
Over the past few months, The Computer Newspaper has re-visited the year 2007 for an occasional feature called P.I.E., or Perspective Is Everything. This has ranged from an-entirely-too-thorough-to-be-readable music tournament of albums to a retrospective on the Florida Gators’ NCAA basketball success. Naturally, within the holy trinity of popular culture, this leaves us with only film to dissect. Let’s at least have fun with this biotch!
(Editor’s Note: ‘biotch’ is a variation of the word ‘bitch,’ but one would definitely have to travel further back in time than 2007 to remember an instance when this was a funny thing to say)
While doing the research for this piece, it became clear that looking at a list of movies that came out five years ago is an experience fundamentally akin to reviewing your old high school yearbook. Flipping through those pages, skimming images from a simpler time, there are fleeting moments of fond nostalgia.
[Tangent: When I look through my yearbook, ten years later, the nostalgia I feel is not for high school, necessarily, but for the idea of the yearbook itself. I don’t get transported back to a pep rally or English class, but only to the moment I first looked through our senior yearbook and thought ‘oh wow, they put in that picture… that is going to be priceless in ten years!’ Now, honestly, it could be burned in a terrible fire and only like an hour of the rest of my life would be affected. Otherwise, I live in a weird, wistful boomerang where the only thing I remember is what it was like to need a yearbook to remember things. Clearly none of us that shelled out $60 per copy were taking into account the extent to which we all would just live on the internet.]
Traipsing through your high school yearbook is just like looking at a list of movies from five years ago. And in case that does not seem like a fair comparison, how else do you explain this retrospective, hastily-fashioned list of Senior Superlatives for 2007 film? You cannot, unless you believe in the existence of journalism gimmicks. Continue reading →
The Computer Newspaper is notorious for its impatience. In that spirit, we are starting a recurring segment called ‘Hey Famous Person, Impress Me’ …. This series will call out members of the entertainment industry who, of late, have been coasting through popular culture on reputation alone.
If we track Johnny Depp’s long and celebrated career (he’s about to be 50 next year), we see a likeable leading man blessed with good looks who spent the 1990s doing cult films and avoiding the mainstream. See this era’s notable films and their respective Rotten Tomatoes scores below.
1990 – Edward Scissorhands – 91%
1993 – Benny & Joon – 75%
1993 – What’s Eating Gilbert Grape – 89%
1994 – Ed Wood – 91%
1997 – Donnie Brasco – 87%
1998 – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – 51%
After his first decade of work, Depp had dug a specific niche. The American public seemed to respect him as a charming actor whose skill-set was more important than his pretty face. He spent a few more years taking on interesting projects such as Sleepy Hollow, Blow, and Chocolat. By playing Hunter S. Thompson (essentially) in Fear and Loathing and cocaine magnate George Jung in Blow, he was a hero to the younger, drug demographic. His face was all over dorm room walls. There was an anti-establishment cool about him, exhibiting an attitude found more often in musicians than actors. He even went on Inside The Actor’s Studio in 2002 and rolled (and subsequently smoked) his own cigarettes while answering questions. Johnny Depp probably doesn’t take shit from anyone and is the kind of stoic guy at parties that is full of provocative wisdom about the world.
Let it be said that criticizing originality in Hollywood is as natural as second-guessing referees at sporting events. There is some vague entity out there, a faceless ‘they’ in the film industry, that has ‘run out of ideas,’ reduced to just releasing sequels and re-makes. Every year, The American Public sits in movie theaters, during the coming attractions, rolling their collective eye at trailers for another comic book movie (including head-scratching re-dos like Hulk or Spider-Man) or an apparently-still-open-ended saga like Pirates of the Caribbean or Men In Black. What is largely misunderstood, however, is that these unsolicited, big-budget movies are a threat to the art of film itself. In reality, the kind of movie (hint: not Inception) that typically earns a sequel is mindless fare, anyway, so making four or six Fast and Furious flicks is ultimately harmless. What I cannot support, as a general rule, is the misguided notion that a great hit comedy deserves a sequel.
Comedy, in film, is a medium of freshness. The movies that resonate with the largest audiences, the ones that become ‘must-see’ phenomena, succeed because they entail variations we, as hungry consumers, have not seen before. In this sense, comedy is a cousin to music; jokes become outdated as fast as bands do.
[Comedy, on television, conversely, relies on familiarity–anticipating what dunce shoe-shiner Andy will say in Parks and Recreation or how Charlie will react to a situation in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia creates the biggest laughs. Kramer enters a room and the studio audience cheers because week after week, he fulfills our expectations (in the program Seinfeld…do you know it?). Television has this inherent advantage over movies. Not enough time lapses between episodes for these indelible characters to become stale. When there is too much of a hiatus, the audience loses interest. Napoleon Dynamite, the recent animated version on Fox, was dead-in-the-water from Day 1 because the show was released seven years after the movie was popular. Shows like Family Guy and Arrested Development are examples of what an extended absence can do–they both peaked via word-of-mouth after they were cancelled, only to return (presumably for Arrested) to network television with diminishing returns. There is a reason (let’s be honest, there are several) why Dave Chappelle still doesn’t call Comedy Central back.] Continue reading →