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Comedy Face-Offs

Introduction to the Comedy Face-Off:

When it comes to film rankings, the comedy is arguably the most personal of movie genres. Philosophers, scholars, and comedians have pondered the nature of humour and our individual and collective senses of it for centuries and we’re still nowhere closer to any definitive answers. One look at cinema’s relationship with humour and comedy reflects this complexity. Films that make us laugh tap an elusive “funny bone” within us by inducing us to see beyond what’s on the screen in front of us. That can involve seeing something ludicrous or ridiculous in a character, situation, or event (such as the image of Slim Pickens riding the bomb in Dr. Strangelove). It can involve looking at something from a legitimate but unusual (even bizarre) perspective (“say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism but at least it’s an ethos”). Or it can involve something that shocks us into an uncertain emotional state so that we have no recourse but to laugh.

Within this broader framework of comedy mechanics there are the more subtle (perhaps even more artful) forms of humour that play on words and phrases to concoct notions, images, and abstractions of reality that we’ve never experienced before (like when Alvy Singer claims to be one of the few males who suffers from penis envy…. or when he asks Annie if she has plague… or when he asks her about her hostile gesture…or when…okay, we get it!). Then there are the straight up in your face “spoof comedy” jokes where the sheer obviousness of the humour gives it an additional element of the ludicrous (“and don’t call me Shirley”).

When we look at these different means of getting a laugh out of a movie’s audience, there can be no doubt that no one device is more valid than the other. But we do seem to have our preferences. This truth was immediately reflected to me as I began selecting what movies would feature on the Face-Off list. Specifically, it was reflected in the differences between what I felt should be included in a Top 20/30 list of greatest comedies and what was featuring in the various on-line lists I was sampling. For example, movies like Shaun of the Dead are indisputable funny but I rarely found my sides splitting (definitely no pun intended) while watching it and I’ve never once felt a desire to revisit it. The wilfully stupid comedy of Airplane and The Naked Gun similarly never really floated my boat despite my appreciation of their efforts. Conversely, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed more than when Ace Ventura shouted at his aide for a spear (and then another one) while fighting the tiny warrior in 1995’s When Nature Calls or when Jay ad-libbed his thoughts about a certain female body part in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. But alas, just as I don’t share a fondness for Shaun and Airplane, not one of those compiling the 14 lists I sampled on-line shared my fondness Ace, Jay, or Bob.

The List

Given there are many different forms of humour which reflect very different personal tastes, I was tempted to, at the very least, separate the comedy list into “Straight Comedies” and “Satires”. However, it felt wrong running a Comedy Face-Off that did not include the likes of Monty Python and the Holy Grail just because it was technically a satire. As such, I have decided to throw them all in the same basket and hope for the best. As always, I have omitted certain obvious contenders in cases where I feel not enough people would have seen the movies to generate sufficient votes to make for a viable comparison.

Groundhog Day vs Withnail and I

                

Groundhog Day vs Withnail & I

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Blazing Saddles vs Caddyshack

              

Blazing Saddles vs Caddyshack

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The Jerk vs Repo Man

            

The Jerk vs Repo Man

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Dr. Strangelove vs Monty Python and the Holy Grail

                

Dr. Strangelove vs Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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A Fish Called Wanda vs This Is Spinal Tap

                 

A Fish Called Wanda vs This Is Spinal Tap

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The Apartment vs The Graduate

                

The Apartment vs The Graduate

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Ghostbusters vs Groundhog Day

                  

Ghostbusters vs Groundhog Day

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Airplane! vs The Big Lebowski

            

Airplane! vs The Big Lebowski

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Repo Man vs Withnail & I

             

Repo Man vs Withnail & I

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The Ladykillers vs Monty Python and the Holy Grail

                

The Ladykillers vs Monty Python & the Holy Grail

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The Graduate vs The Jerk

               

The Graduate vs The Jerk

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Gremlins vs Groundhog Day

                 

Gremlins vs Groundhog Day

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Dr. Strangelove vs Ghostbusters

                  

Dr. Strangelove vs Ghostbusters

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Dazed and Confused vs A Fish Called Wanda

             

Dazed and Confused vs A Fish Called Wanda

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Blazing Saddles vs Clerks

              

Blazing Saddles vs Clerks

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Animal House vs The Apartment

           

Animal House vs The Apartment

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The Big Lebowski vs Caddyshack

         

The Big Lebowski vs Caddyshack

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Airplane vs Annie Hall

                

Airplane vs Annie Hall

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Withnail & I vs Young Frankenstein

           

Withnail & I vs Young Frankenstein

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This Is Spinal Tap vs Tootsie

                 

This Is Spinal Tap vs Tootsie

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Some Like it Hot vs There’s Something About Mary

                

Some Like it Hot vs There's Something About Mary

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Repo Man vs Shaun of the Dead

              

Repo Man vs Shaun of the Dead

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The Odd Couple vs The Producers

                

The Odd Couple vs The Producers

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Monty Python and the Holy Grail vs The Naked Gun

                

Monty Python & the Holy Grail vs The Naked Gun

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 The Ladykillers vs Manhattan

                

The Ladykillers vs Manhattan

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Groundhog Day vs The Jerk

              

Groundhog Day vs The Jerk

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Gremlins vs The Graduate

                

Gremlins vs The Graduate

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A Fish Called Wanda vs Ghostbusters

                

A Fish Called Wanda vs Ghostbusters

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Dazed and Confused vs Dr. Strangelove

               

Dazed and Confused vs Dr. Strangelove

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Caddyshack vs Clerks

         

Caddyshack vs Clerks

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 The Big Lebowski vs Blazing Saddles

              

The Big Lebowski vs Blazing Saddles

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Annie Hall vs The Apartment

             

Annie Hall vs The Apartment

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Airplane! vs Animal House

              

Airplane! vs Animal House

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Genre Set (Comedy)

Airplane!

Animal House

Annie Hall

The Apartment

The Big Lebowski

Blazing Saddles

Caddyshack

Clerks

Dazed and Confused

Dr. Strangelove

A Fish Called Wanda

Ghostbusters

Gremlins

The Graduate

Groundhog Day

The Jerk

The Ladykillers

Manhattan

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

The Naked Gun

The Odd Couple

The Producers

Repo Man

Shaun of the Dead

Some Like It Hot

There’s Something About Mary

This Is Spinal Tap

Tootsie

Withnail & I

Young Frankenstein

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