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Are We Living in the Age of the Jokeless Movie?

Adam Sternbergh sure is steamed at Judd Apatow and Todd Phillips in his New York Times article “The Hangover and The Age of the Jokeless Comedy,” essentially blaming the pair for crushing “joke-driven” comedies in favor of films that rely more on everyday people falling into situational gags, rather than making specific jokes. At least I think that’s what he’s saying, because this article is all over the place. “The films of Phillips and Apatow arrived as an antidote to tired, mechanistically joke-driven comedies, like the reference-packed Scary Movie clones. But their movies wound up acting as a kind of comedic nerve gas, wiping out joke-comedies en masse,” Sternbergh says, though he also plays pretty fast and loose with the definition of the words “character” and “joke.” I can’t read the claim that Austin Powers is not a character-driven comedy without my brain screaming “Does Not Compute.”

Because of the success of Apatow and Phillips particular brand of bro-centric comedy, Sternbergh conflates concept of bros with the look and feel of a film that relies heavily on improvisation, which are of course not the same thing, unless you are a studio executive who wants to sleep on a giant pile of hundies. Sternbergh also throws Bridesmaids into the mix as a jokeless bro comedy, despite the fact that was a scripted comedy by two women, and most people could probably cite their favorite lines (or will after it’s on DVD). As amorphous and many layered as Sternbergh’s argument seems to be, he makes a reasonable demand: somebody needs to kick off the next comedy wave. What does a post-Apatow comedy landscape look like? Are we due for a return to Airplane-esque spoofs, or is a Stefon movie actually the comedy cure-all that I’ve been hoping it would be?


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