The 101 Funniest Movies, Part Two

Awhile back, I wrote that the screenwriters’ organization I belong to, the Writers Guild of America, was compiling a list of the 101 funniest movies ever made.  Each writer was invited to nominate 15, and the ballots were compiled to come up with the top 101.  The results are in, so here are the top 10 vote-getters.  The envelope, please:

1.       Annie Hall

2.      Some Like It Hot

3.      Groundhog Day

4.      Airplane!

5.      Tootsie

6.      Young Frankenstein

7.      Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

8.     Blazing Saddles

9.      Monty Python and the Holy Grail

10.  National Lampoon’s Animal House

11.   This Is Spinal Tap

12.  The Producers

13.  The Big Lebowski

14.  Ghostbusters

15.   When Harry Met Sally

If you’d like to see the entire list of 101, it’s at

Now, compare those final results with the 15 I nominated, in no particular order:

The Pink Panther
A Shot In The Dark
The Graduate
The Producers
Caddy Shack
Weekend At Bernie’s
Ferris Beuller’s Day Off
Broadcast News
Driving Miss Daisy
The Long, Long Trailer
Home Alone
My Cousin Vinny
Mrs. Doubtfire
The Birdcage

As you can see, only one of my nominees, The Producers, made the top 15.  8 of my 15 made the final cut of 101, but those were mostly far down the list.  It would seem that my sense of humor when it comes to movies is woefully out of touch with that of my fellow screenwriters.

When I shared my list of 15 with you last year, I said that what makes a movie funny is – to me at least – great comedic acting.  To be funny, a movie script has to start with humorous words, and that’s what screenwriters contribute.  But a fine comedic actor can take those words and turn them into something much more.  That’s why 2 Peter Sellers films are on my list.  I stand by that.  It reinforces my notion that one of the best parts of working in film -- or stage, for that matter -- is the collaborative nature of the work.  When a host of talented people bring their creativity to storytelling, it produces something unique and special.

You’ll have your own list of funny movies, and your own reasons why you think they make the grade.  I welcome your comments.

Where Has The Laughter Gone?

Several years back, when I was going through a challenging time, a wise person gave me an unusual piece of advice: “Watch Comedy Central.”  I did, I laughed a lot, and I felt a lot better.  It was good medicine, good therapy.  It still is.  I have satellite radio in my car, and one of the stations I listen to often is “Laugh USA.”  Again, good stuff for the soul and the belly.

Laughter can at times be vicious and demeaning – jokes told at someone else’s expense, a put-down, a mean-spirited slam.  Those jokes get laughs, but they leave me feeling a bit demeaned myself, and guilty.  My favorite comedians are those who laugh at themselves, who tell jokes at their own expense, celebrating their own imperfect lives.  And that’s why one of my all-time favorites is the late Rodney Dangerfield, whose signature line was, “I don’t get no respect.”  A couple of examples:

“My wife was afraid of the dark, saw me naked, and now she’s afraid of the light!”

“When I get in an elevator, the operator takes one look and says, ‘Basement?’”

And in 2004, entering a Los Angeles hospital for heart valve surgery, he said, “If things go right I’ll be there about a week, and if things don’t go right, I’ll be there about an hour and a half.”  He lapsed into a coma after the operation and never recovered.  I think he would have found it profoundly funny.

Rodney, despite great success as a comedian, suffered bouts of deep depression and low self-esteem.  But his self-deprecating humor wasn’t the work of a man wallowing in all that, it was both an escape from grim reality and a way of facing his demons and laughing at them.

I’ve thought about Rodney Dangerfield a good bit in recent days as I’ve watched events unfold in places across our globe – grim reality that has the potential of making us both fearful and cynical.  There doesn’t seem to be much to laugh about these days.  And I’ve thought that folks who perpetrate violence, who create havoc and heartbreak by taking lives, take themselves and their credos so incredibly seriously that they have absolutely no capacity for laughter, especially about themselves.  Those terrorists in Paris, in fact, wanted to kill laughter.  I hope we don’t let them.

Lest it seem that the assault on laughter is only the work of terrorists, consider our political systems – here and elsewhere.  People of every conceivable stripe who hold high office are by and large humorless people, unremittingly grim about their ideologies, bent on demonizing anyone who disagrees.  How long has it been since you’ve seen a member of Congress laugh?  I think if we can find occasions to laugh at ourselves, that means we realize we aren’t perfect, and that somebody we disagree with might have an idea worth considering.  It also means we've found some joy in what we believe.

I love using humor in my storytelling.  If I’m sitting in the audience at a performance of one of my plays, my greatest joy is when one of my lines provokes laughter.  I believe in humor leavening drama and – lest the story lapse into slapstick – drama leavening humor.  The writers I admire the most are those who have an exquisite balance of both drama and humor in their work.

I wish we had more laughter.  I wish we had more Rodney Dangerfields.  If we gave ourselves a little less respect and a little more humor, we might be better off.