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Fear of Comedy
by Bobby B.

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I'm not laughing with you! I'm laughing AT you!

I'm not laughing with you! I'm laughing AT you!
I'm trying to get up the nerve to go see GET SMART. To do that I'll have to get over my fear of comedy. Recently, I went to go see DON'T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN. My date and I sat in the half-filled theater, in dread anticipation. Both of us were of the same mind-set: neither one of us were Adam Sandler fans. But the previews had been funny, the premise seemed rich with possibility and heck, Sandler's popular. Apparently, he makes people laugh sometimes. So there was some hope.

I tried. I really did. Sometimes audiences just need someone to start the laughter to let them know that it's alright. So I tried to laugh when he caught the fish with his butt. Somehow I didn't quite get there. Neither did anyone else in that theater. It was pretty stunning at just how quiet the theater was. Both my friend and I just sat there not wanting to ask the other one to leave in case they were digging the movie. When the lights came up everybody left quietly as though we were leaving a wake. No one spoke. No one looked at each other. When I got home, I'm not sure how I wound up there but there was some kind of video review on Youtube. Some blonde chick was talking to people on the street … and they were loving ZOHAN. I couldn't believe it. I was shocked. Hopefully, ZOHAN will be the worst movie I see in the theater this year because I really try and avoid bad movies. But what is it sometimes that happens when other people think something is funny and you…I…just can't see it? What the hell?

It's one of the great ironies of my movie-going life that I have seen all three AUSTIN POWERS movies…and hated every single one of them. I never thought I would like any of them. When the first one came out, well, it was the first one, fair enough. My girlfriend and her best friend wanted to see it.
Roger Clemens denies steroids? Now that's funny!

Roger Clemens denies steroids? Now that's funny!
So we all went. I'm miserable. They loved it. Years later I'm not gonna see the second one, right? But that girlfriend wants to see THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME and every critic, every fan I hear says it's supposed to be better than the first, Heather Graham is in it, how bad can it be? It sucked of course, ridiculously juvenile, unimaginative, completely devoid of wit or charm, whatevuh. Fine, my bad. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. No way I'm going to see the third one. Third one comes out and I'm working with a theater company of talented, bright, discerning artists. We're actually not working that day, we're over at one actor's house, just hanging out. None of them can stop talking about GOLDMEMBER which had just come out the Friday before (it's Sunday). They are all like “Bobby, have you seen it?”

“No, I don't do Austin Powers.”

“WHAT???”

“I don't do Austin Powers. I don't think homes is funny, I don't get the humor, I just don't do it.”

“But you gotta see this one! It's hysterical!”

“I'm sure it is. I won't think so. I'm cool, thanks.” Of course, they're not having it. Back and forth, back and forth. This one is different, it's so funny, maybe I just wasn't in the right environment, etc. I patiently repeat, “I don't wanna go.”

“We'll pay your way.” No.
“We'll get you stoned.” Damnit. My Achilles Heel. They know me too well. Turning down free weed is like turning down free food…or sex…or alcohol. It just doesn't happen in the world of Bobby B. So I go.

So there I am sitting there in the Lloyd Center Mall multiplex in Portland, Oregon, watching GOLDMEMBER (har). The theater is packed, not an empty seat in the house, the energy is high, I'm stoned out of my mind. Perfect, right? I sit there the whole
Yo mama's funny!

Yo mama's funny!
movie long. The old guy eats his own dead skin. Har. The audience explodes in gales of laughter. The submarine shaped like Dr. Evil farts a missile. Hee. I can't even hear myself think everyone's laughing so hard. But that's the thing. I'm sitting there thinking. I'm looking around, baked to the gills, watching everyone else laugh their asses off. I mean, they were all digging it. It was just me. I couldn't help but wonder: what is wrong with all of them?

Is there anything more mysterious than humor? Is there anything more unsettling, maybe even upsetting �" than when every one else is having the time of their lives with a joke you just don't get? Even the times when you do get it when you are there, does it make sense? I mean, how different was the humor in AUSTIN POWERS from say, THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY? Yet, I loved that one. AIRPLANE, CADDYSHACK, BLAZING SADDLES, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, FRIDAY…none of these are exactly what you'd call “high-brow” but I loved every one of them �" and was left cold by NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. What is funny?

Chris Rock once famously observed that funny is funny. The idea being that humor crosses racial lines, class lines, political lines, the whole shebang. Is that true? Is that your experience? Maybe the lines in humor just aren't drawn in the same place as lines in other cultural instances. I did not want to see SCHOOL OF ROCK for anything in the world. They showed it on a plane I was flying on so I wound up watching it. I fell out. Who knew? Actually, traveling seems to galvanize my funny bone. I also saw ABOUT A BOY on a plane. Any movie with Hugh Grant I avoid like the plague, but that one killed me. I was shocked. I hated SPACE BALLS. But I saw GALAXYQUEST on a train and loved it.

This random inconsistency drives me
You're laughing cuz I paid full price! Aren't you! Aren't you!

You're laughing cuz I paid full price! Aren't you! Aren't you!
crazy. As far as genres go I'm always on the lookout for a good scary movie. I'll take a chance on a scary movie before I will anything else. I saw HOUSE OF WAX with Paris Hilton in it at the theatre for crying out loud (and paid dearly for it-- two hours of my life -- gone…hey, it was a midnight showing. I have a special place in my heart for midnight showings). But for whatever reason I will not take the same chances with comedies. I love to laugh as much as the next guy but I just won't do it. SUPERBAD, FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL �" I didn't bother with either one and I've heard nothing but good things about both. The last movie I can remember really laughing at in the theatre (was well, JUNO, but was that actually a comedy per se?) was the Altman-esque THANK YOU FOR SMOKING. That was two years ago.

Maybe laughter is too personal, too invested. So, if that's what you're paying for and you don't get it there's no place else for you to go emotionally. Say, if a horror movie sucks it then becomes a comedy you can laugh at. Or something. If you're watching Keanu Reeves plug away at “seriou' drama that's always good for a laugh. But if you go to a comedy that's not funny there's only boredom and anger. Yeesh.

So I wait. GET SMART. Should I see it? I want to see WANTED, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, THE HAPPENING (even though I hear it's bad. See? What the hell is that?). But GET SMART? Now I want to see it but I'm terrified that all of the funny parts are in the previews a la DON'T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN. I mean, if I go and it's worse than ZOHAN I'll be mad at myself. As it is, I've already got my lawsuit pending on Sandler for the price of a date. Don't mess with the Zohan, indeed. I should whup his ass.



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The Bible of Film
Every other Friday

The Gospel according to Bobby B or Taking a look at our defining art form and how it affects and is affected by the world around us.


Other Columns
Other columns by Bobby B.:

The Sound of Summer Blockbusters

It's the Acting, Stupid

Trinity's Legacy: Badass Babes in Tight Clothes

A Prayer for Indiana

The New Face of Race in Hollywood

All Columns


Bobby B.
Bobby Bermea inherited his deep and abiding passion for movies from his mom. He writes about them as a fan: from the heart, without agenda or rancor and if he's lucky, with a little humor, wisdom and common sense.


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If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Bobby B. by clicking here.


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