I love this series of videos by Tony Zhou called Every Frame a Painting. Tony talks a lot about editing (he’s an editor by trade) and directing, but he obviously knows a lot about movies in general. I usually agree with the point he’s making, but when he argues that modern comedies could be improved by stealing some tricks from Edgar Wright (writer/director of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, among others), I disagree.
Tony’s argument is that most modern comedies consist of people SAYING funny things rather than DOING funny things – I agree. He contrasts two scenes from The Heat and Hot Fuzz, both of which are filler meant to show a character traveling from A to B, and states that he thinks Edgar Wright’s version is funnier and more interesting because it’s more visual – I agree. My problem is that I don’t watch comedies for interesting filler shots, and the actual comedy portions of Edgar Wright’s movies I don’t find funny.
Instead, I find them clever. For me, the difference between funny and clever is that funny makes you laugh, and clever makes you say, “Oh – I get what he’s doing here.” And too often, clever comes across as know-it-all, smug comedy: if you don’t think it’s funny, then you just don’t understand how clever it truly is (thus proving the old adage that a good joke requires explanation). Something like Hot Fuzz or Scott Pilgrim exists at the Venn diagram intersection of parody (as it never openly mocks its subject matter or genre), homage (as its jokes only work if you’re familiar with what it’s inspired by), and comedy.
On the other hand, 22 Jump Street – this has to be the longest road to the smallest house ever – falls squarely within comedy, with small helpings of parody and homage. I agree with Tony that most of the funniest parts are spoken, not visual. And the few visual gags it has are either broad (they’re now across the street at 22 Jump Street, and construction is underway at 23 Jump Street) or uninspired (they drive a golf cart through an outdoor art installation rather than around it). But I laughed ten times more at 22 Jump Street than I ever did at Hot Fuzz. If you don’t believe me, compare the clips in Tony’s video above to the clips in this video. Clever can improve funny quite a bit, but I’ll still take funny and boring over not funny and interesting.