Barber Shop: Their Own Style of Comedy

If you take a look at the list of movies and TV shows releasing in the United States, and the ones that succeed, you will find that comedy dominates the list. People love to laugh, and as the world becomes more and more troubled – with global warming, terrorism, and crime on the rise – there is an ever-increasing need for films that distract people from these issues. Or help them deal with these issues in a way that does not send them crying with despair.

As the country has a large African American population, the number of movies catering to them, is also quite high. While there are a few dramatic and romantic movies in this space, a large number of them are comedy movies. And the actors who star in these movies are hugely popular and iconic figures in their own right. Think of Eddie Murphy who was fantastic in the Nutty Professor films, Norbit, and Beverly Hills Cop series. There is Queen Latifah who is almost equally popular for her comic timing and style. She has been in the Ice Age films, as the voice of Ellie, she has her own talk show, and she was also part of the Barber Shop franchise (the second film titled Barbershop 2: Back in Business).

Barber Shop has been a very popular series for its star, Ice Cube, who has multiple other comic successes to his credit. It is set in a barbershop in the South Side of Chicago. The first film introduced Calvin (Ice Cube) who inherits a barbershop, a cornerstone of life in America at one time, from his father. He discovers the true value of his inheritance only after he sells it, as he realizes that it is a place for people of the community to bond.

The second Barber Shop film took the same premise and setting, and some of the same characters, and dealt with a new set of challenges. In this film, the antagonists were urban developers trying to do away with all mom and pop stores for a branded world. Ice Cube was joined by Queen Latifah for this film though Anthony Anderson (who has lately been seen in the hit TV series Blackish) who was in the first one, sat this one out.

He makes a comeback in the comedy movie Barber Shop: The Next Cut, reprising his role as J.D. This one also has Nicki Minaj. The story is about the increasing violence and crime in the neighborhood of the barbershop. Calvin and the rest of the crew decide to tackle it in their own way.

Will this be the last film of the series? That is hard to say, as the previous film had released a decade before this one. Even if a sequel is not on the cards, a remake may just pop up a decade after.

Date Night – A So So Comedy Thriller

Date Night is a so-so comedy thriller. For those wishing to master the screenwriting craft that’s a good thing, because you can often learn the most from a movie that isn’t too good or too bad. Its strengths and its flaws are easier to see.

With stars Steve Carrel and Tina Fey it’s hard to avoid comparing the film to The Office and 30 Rock. That just gives us another instance of the truism that the best writing in comedy is in television, not film. But the brilliance of those shows is actually more difficult to explain. With Date Night, techniques and choices, successes and failures, are clear.

The biggest challenge when you write a comedy screenplay is setting up the comic structure, what I call the “clothesline,” on which you will hang the jokes. This clothesline is essential in sitcoms too, but it is much harder to create in a movie because it has to stretch for at least 90 minutes, not 22.

You create the clothesline using two major structural elements, the comedy sub-genre and your hero’s desire line. This is where most comedy writers go wrong. They don’t realize that there are seven major comedy sub-genres, including romantic comedy and farce, and each has a completely different set of story beats you have to hit to tell the story well (see the Comedy Class for the beats in all 7 sub-genres).

In Date Night, writer Josh Klausner uses the comedy thriller form (a kind of action comedy), which goes back at least to the early Hitchcock films. Here we have the innocent couple on the run, forced to battle criminals or spies. This form is not used much nowadays because combining comedy with thriller creates real problems of tone. If the opponent is too deadly the jokes aren’t funny. There’s also a number of contrivances you have to explain away, most notably how two average shmos could possibly compete with, much less defeat, hardened criminals, and why don’t they just go to the police.

The Date Night script gets barely passing grades in these basic areas of storytelling. The unbelievability of Steve and Tina going up against professional killers is always present. But this isn’t a fatal problem because the audience just falls back on the fact that this is a comedy.

The advantage of using the comedy thriller sub-genre is that it gives the script a strong desire line that extends to the end of the story. Much like the detective line in The Hangover, this couple’s desire to escape attack and find the incriminating flash drive creates a strong narrative drive on which the writer can hang any number of funny but episodic scenes. It also allows him to save the funniest scene for last, which is one of the gold standards in a comedy movie and almost never happens.

As a comedy writer, your goal is always to make the comedy build. The laughs should stand on the waves of the laughs that come before until the audience is gasping for breath. That rarely happens in a movie comedy because you have to extend the story for 90+ minutes and because you have to tie up all the story business as you get to the end of the line.

Klausner solves this problem in Date Night, first by setting up the thriller line and second by keeping the final battle simple. Without a last omplex action scene to divert the audience from the jokes, Klausner can keep the focus on two top comic performers doing an incompetent pole dancing routine that brings the house down.

With the strong if hokey clothesline, the strength of the movie can come through, which are the funny bits that pop up throughout the story. Lines like “He turned the gun sideways; it’s a kill shot,” gags like the painfully slow motor boat and scenes like the marital spat between the Tripplehorns are laugh-out-loud funny. In Hollywood, the rule is if you have three laugh-out-loud moments in the film you have a hit. That’s a low bar for movies as opposed to television, but the important thing for writers to focus on is how you get those laughs. And that comes from the comic structure that supports the gags.

If setting up the clothesline is one of the big strengths of Date Night, the attempt to make the comedy come from character is one of the big weaknesses. Most writers have heard how valuable it is for the comedy to come from character, but few really know what it means, or how to do it. I discuss this a lot in the Comedy Class, because if you can master this set of techniques you immediately become one of the top comedy writers in the business. Let me focus on one technique in this area.

You must begin the story by establishing a deep weakness/need in the main character – in this case a couple – which then will be solved by the story line. In other words, the hero’s weakness must be embedded and solved all the way back at the premise line. The premise is your story stated in a single sentence. The Date Night premise might be described like this: a couple whose marriage has become predictable defeats criminals and renews their love.

The premise is like the hypothesis in a science experiment. It’s the fundamental truth about the world you are trying to establish. In an experiment you may determine that your hypothesis is wrong. But in a story you have to prove the premise. The sequence of story events must display in detail the truth about life you describe in one line. This is also called fulfilling the “promise of the premise,” the promise you make to the audience when they agree to come to the theater to see this story.

Klausner clearly wants to tell a story that proves the premise because he spends a great deal of time at the beginning showing that this couple’s marriage has grown stale from the demands of work and children. Even their date night hits the same old routine. The thriller structure is supposed to be the vehicle of renewal. It’s the same technique used, correctly, in Rear Window, where the Jimmy Stewart character learns to respect and commit to the Grace Kelly character by solving a crime with her.

But while this process is given lip service here, it never actually happens. Sure, escaping killers and bringing them to justice makes for an exciting night and a fun makeout session on the lawn the next morning. But it has nothing to do with changing what’s wrong between these two and how they will act differently toward one another for a 1001 nights in the future.

Klausner is definitely doing some things right here that most comedy screenwriters, even those with films under their belts, are not doing. He’s not reaching the level of the sitcoms in which these stars normally appear, but those sitcoms don’t have to tell a funny story over 90 minutes. Still, I can’t help feeling disappointed with this film. When a writer knows how to create comedy from character, you get great thematic comedies like Groundhog Day that express recognizable truths at the same time they make you laugh. Date Night is simply not in that league.

Good Movies – Comedies That Brighten Your Mood!

There is no one in this world who does not like a good comedy movie. There is nothing to beat it after a tough day when we feel depressed and mentally upset. It is a magical treatment which can easily lift up our spirits and forget all our troubles. When we get immersed in its plots and the way in which the actors deal with the fun situations, we automatically forget all our sorrows and find good entertainment.

Just by inserting a DVD, we are transported to a joyous world filled with sarcasm, irony, fun plots, etc. It was found that even during the silent movie era, people flocked to the theatres to see good comedy movies. At the beginning of 1895, audiences were treated with a visual treat on moving pictures with the unique combination of slapstick and burlesque.

The great actors of these times were Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Max Linder, etc. It is a matter of great pride to see that people have not forgotten the movies of Charlie Chaplin even to this day and he has proved to be an inspiration for many of the modern comedy actors. Even in modern times, producers and directors consider it as a safe bet and some of the top reigning stars are Jim Carrey, Ben Stiller, etc. There are different styles and tones in which comedies can be classified. They are:

Fish out of water style: In this kind of movies, we can see the hero trying to deal with different kinds of situations and mostly in unfamiliar surroundings. The focal point for comedy is the funny way in which the situations are handled. Some famous examples are Cabin Boy, Tootsie, etc.

Spoof or Parody: There are many movies which have adopted this style to make people laugh. Older films are made fun of, by using the elements of sarcasm, mockery and stereotyping. Even now many spoofs have been welcomed with both hands by the audience. Some of the all time favorites are Airplane, Blazing Saddles, etc.

Gross-out comedy: This style uses a complete slapstick style and elements such as very silly toilet humor is used. But the irony is that even such style of comedy movies are greatly enjoyed by the movie buffs. Some of the noteworthy movies to be mentioned in this style are American pie, Dumb and Dumber, etc.

Other major styles used in good comedy movies are comedy of manners, military comedy, science fiction comedy, black comedy, etc.