Stand Up Specials And The Unintentional Death Of Blockbuster Comedy

Written by Patrick Alexander

The year was 2008. Millions of teenagers flocked to the cinema in the prime of adolescent sophistication with $10 bills and red vines in hand. In a 3 year span, they had witnessed the greatest comedy blockbuster run of their time. Call it youthful exuberance; call it an anomaly; call it what you want; just don’t call it Shirley. From 2006-2008, Hollywood had solved the comedy algorithm dishing out hits and home-runs like Alex Rodriguez in his prime. Personal opinions aside, take a look:

2006: Talladega Nights, Night at the Museum (underrated), Beer Fest, Little Miss Sunshine, The Break-Up [1], Grandma’s Boy, Accepted, Nacho Libre, Clerks II and Borat!  

2007: Knocked Up, Superbad, Hot Fuzz, Juno, Hot Rod, Rush Hour 3, and Blades of Glory (shut up critic).

2008: Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Tropic Thunder, Step Brothers, Pineapple Express, Semi-Pro, Burn After Reading, and Kung-Fu Panda [2].

However, little did anyone know, that run concluded an era when the comedy blockbuster mattered. After 2008, the pulse of the comedy blockbuster went dark. The wrong stars got together, in the wrong roles or at the wrong time. Decade long runs of chemistry and collaborative brilliance were traded in for experimentation and solo projects. Comedy sequels and remakes became the norm as studios shifted focus from creating laughs to cashing cheques. Sadly, the real issue might’ve been that the best comedic actors got old. The comedy blockbuster lost its mojo and burned its fans like citizens of ancient Rome. And from its ashes rose the conquistador we call, “Stand-Up Comedy Specials.”

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Now, the stand-up comedy special was nothing new. From Eddie Murphy’s ‘RAW to Chris Rock’s ‘Bring the Painto Dave Chappelle’s Killin’ Them Softly‘, stand up specials were always a readily available plan-B to the critically acclaimed recommendations dished out by your local Blockbuster clerk. Only stand-up specials had never screened in theaters nationwide or sold copies like ‘Titanic’, and therefore, couldn’t carve out an appropriate slice of the pie. The closest to relevance stand-up comedy ever made it was the HBO Comedy Half Hour series of the mid-90s. In August 2012, that all changed. After 5 years spent figuring out their streaming service, Netflix cracked open Pandora’s Box with it’s debut stand-up special, ‘Bill Burr: You People Are All the Same’. The comedy landscape would never be the same.

Following 2008, a half-decade of delivering only a couple solid comedy hits per year had fans losing trust. After dozens of whiffs with underwhelming numbers, the studios began to cede ground to its online and on-demand competitors. Watching Adam Sandler half-ass a smug grin, on a weekend trip to the theater for the comely price of $25+tax, just wasn’t enough for the American people anymore. The opportunity cost of going to the local cinema became too high; the options available became more expansive; the viewing public grew to be more efficient about their time. Overall, a myriad of outside factors contributed to the downfall of blockbuster comedy, but the greatest death knell of all came from the studios themselves – sequels.

In hindsight, it seems simple to speculate that we didn’t need two (possibly 3?) ‘Grown Ups films or four movies about fuckbuddies in the same year, but at the time who would’ve known? Oh yeah, anyone with a pulse. As comedians and comedy writers shifted away from handing over their top-tier material to screenplays for pennies on the dollar, Hollywood turned to its tried and true formula: running it back. One ‘Dirty Grandpa‘, two ‘Teds‘, three ‘Hangovers‘, four Will Ferrell comebacks nobody asked for, and 5 years later…well this is our hell.

To be fair, this hell was not created completely by studios. It was aided by Father Time and Uncle Greed. Guys like Owen Wilson & Ben Stiller started pursuing indie passion projects. Guys like Vince Vaughn & Simon Pegg started cashing cheques as leads in films they couldn’t carry. Guys like Will Ferrell & Adam Sandler became tired versions of their past selves real quick, going through the big-budget production motions. All in all, the stars of yesteryear got old and nobody truly rose to the forefront in their place. The new wave of blockbuster comedians never materialized. God bless Andy Samberg & Ed Helms for trying, but two guys does not a next generation make.

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Meanwhile, as the comedy blockbuster sphere started acting more erratic than your average day on the NASDAQ, the millennials of the world slowly shifted their collective attentions to the screens right in front of them. Capitalizing on the streaming boom from 2013-present day, Netflix took over, launching Burr, Mike Birbiglia, Jim Jeffries, Chelseas Peretti, Iliza Schleshinger, Tom Segura and dozens of other comedians into the mainstream. Coupled with Comedy Central’s introduction of Aziz Ansari, Anthony Jeselnik, and Amy Schumer, it was enough for stand up comedy specials to become a regular part of our comedy diet. In under a decade, the stand up special transformed from plate-filling sides to the main course.[3] In essence, our tastes for how we ingest comedy changed.

The average American became filthier given more access to all the grimy, deranged[4] shit on the internet. We love to get dirty, but nobody to know about it which makes stand up comedy such a natural fit for the current climate. As a younger man’s genre, the millennial generation embraced the well-developed, levity-ridden, open dialogue stand-up brings on controversial topics such as race, abortion, sexual assault, and even the raunchier part of our daily lives. You know, the stuff you shouldn’t talk about in public.

Stand-up comedians write jokes that no Hollywood studio in their wildest dreams could green light. Try to imagine a comedy coming out this summer, starring David Spade and Melissa McCarthy, about rape. You can’t. It would be the most merciless beheading of actors, directors, writers, producers, studio, and everybody involved on down to the key grip 4, in film history. Stand-up might have been raised in that dirty niche under the noses of high society, but nowadays it’s your rich Uncle’s favorite house guest.

And just when Hollywood thought they’d earned our trust back with a balanced, more original 2016[5] filled with a few budding comedic actors, Netflix delivered “The Block“…aka Dave Chappelle. Game, set, match. With comedy legends Louis C.K., Tracy Morgan, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, and Sarah Silverman all slated for potential 2017 releases, stand up comedy specials have become appointment viewing. Combined with the paltry options of comedy blockbusters due out this year [6], stand-up specials ain’t giving the trophy back.

In an age of constant newness, the consistent discovery and evolution of new comedians with fresh material runs through the arc of open mic-er to stand-up regular to instant streaming special. A system set up to unleash a steady stream of hungry newcomers and thankful lifelong comics finally getting a fair shot. It’s automated for infinite future success and a winning formula developed over decades of stand-ups fighting for their right to air time. Comedians getting the pay off they deserve. Finally, something we can all agree on.

 

[1] and Jennifer Aniston’s backside! 
[2] Put some respect on it.
[3] Thanks, vegans. 
[4] read: funny.
[5] The Nice Guys, Deadpool, Popstar, Ghostbusters (women edition), Everybody Wants Some!!, Keanu.
[6] Baywatch, Fist Fight, Chips?…oh dear God, that’s…that’s Pitch Perfect 3’s music.
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Top 5 Movie Dance Scenes

Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

We all love a good boogie, right? Even better when there’s a touch of comedy to the dance moves, and these five dance sequences from the movies are equally entertaining as they are oddly impressive. 


5. Ben Mendelsohn (Lost River)

I only recently saw this film, and to be honest this dance sequence is probably the one which gave me the idea to put together this list. I loved this part of the film, mainly because I had no idea it was coming and it was so out of the blue in the context of the film. Ben Mendelsohn’s moves here are extremely creepy and sinister, yet you can’t help but have a wry smile on your face when you watch this scene.


4. Ben Stiller (Starsky and Hutch)

This one took quite a bit of pondering to come up with, but as soon as I remembered this sequence I just had to include it in the list. I’m not the biggest fan of Ben Stiller, but ‘Starsky and Hutch’ was, for me, one of his best films, and this hilarious dance-off scene is the highlight of the whole film. Stiller busts out some classic moves, and let’s be honest, he had Dancin’ Rick beat all over. 


3. Uma Thurman and John Travolta (Pulp Fiction)

This is probably the most iconic dance scene of all time, and I’m not disputing that at all. Uma Thurman and John Travolta’s legendary dance scene in ‘Pulp Fiction’ is the most recognisable and famous of them all, but that doesn’t make it the best. It is however, a magical moment in cinematic history and a real stroke of genius from Quentin Tarantino. 


2. Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina)

Now this is the ultimate in dark comedy! Oscar Isaac, who plays the mysterious, rather detestable genius Nathan in this sci-fi flick, comes out of nowhere to drop an incredibly synchronised dance sequence which took the film world by storm last year. This is arguably the best moment of one of 2015’s top films; so good, that I just had to recreate it for the JumpCut UK Film Awards (watch this and skip to 27:43, or watch the whole thing, your call).


1. Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite)

Only one dance scene could beat that masterclass from Oscar Isaac, and that is, of course, the awkward yet endearing display from Jon Heder in ‘Napoleon Dynamite’. Not only is this a sequence which cracks me up every time, but it’s actually pretty impressive too. Jamiroquai’s ‘Canned Heat’ track is used perfectly, and Heder nails every step. Confession time: I’ve also mastered the moves to this one too.


So there we have it. Have I missed any movie dance moments out? Let us know in the comments section or hit us up on Twitter @jumpcutUK or @jumpcutjakob.

Watch This Space: November 16 – 22

Welcome to your weekly go-to film guide – WatchThisSpace – where we recommend what to watch in the cinema and on the television, and remind you of those brilliant films hiding in your DVD collection.

IN THE CINEMA

Out this week is the final installment of ‘The Hunger Games’ franchise, with ‘Mockingjay Part Two’. The film will see the civil war of Panem reach its climax, as Katniss Everdeen (played by the perfectly cast Jennifer Lawrence) leads a group of rebels to the Capitol to assassinate President Snow. It’s also worth mentioning that this is the last film of the exceptional Philip Seymour Hoffman, after tragically passing away last year. The franchise finale is set to be a box-office smash, and for fans of the series this is definitely one to watch.

ON TV

Monday 22:45 GMT: Had a tough Monday? Unwind with the simple but brilliant comedy ‘Meet The Parents’ on BBC1. Easy-watching doesn’t come much easier than this, with slapstick humour aplenty from Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro.

Tuesday 19:00 GMT: Okay so it might feel too early to get into the Christmas spirit, but Film4 certainly think it’s time. Watch the classic story of Ebeneezer Scrooge, in the modern adaptation ‘Scrooged’, starring Bill Murray as the main miser.

Thursday 21:00 GMT: Have an excellent Thursday with the weird and wonderful adventures of ‘Wayne’s World’ on 5*. Check out our review if you need any more persuading. Alternatively, newbies to ‘The Hunger Games’ franchise can see where it all began on Film4.

Friday 23:35 GMT: Loosely based on true events, ‘Badlands’ is all about James Dean lookalike Kit, played by Martin Sheen, and the much younger lady he falls in love with, as they embark on an unfortunate road trip through the South Dakota badlands. Filled with violence and murder, this fantastic Bonnie-and-Clyde-esque film makes BBC2 the place to be this Friday.

Saturday 21:45 GMT: With an outstanding ensemble female cast, including Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard and Octavia Spencer, ‘The Help’ is one of those films that everybody should see at least once. Luckily, BBC2 are on hand to deliver a movie which will make you laugh and break your heart in equal measure.

DIG IT OUT

This is our favourite part of the WatchThisSpace section. We delve into our own DVD collection and pick out some amazing films, that may not instantly spring to mind when you’re stuck for inspiration to make your movie night a success. Maybe you’ve never seen a film that we pick – or even heard of them for that matter – but you’re gonna have to trust us on this one, and Dig It Out.

The Artist: How can you describe one of the best movie experiences of one’s life?  How can you make a black and white, silent movie set in 1927 (but made in 2011) sound appealing? Would a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 97% swing it? How about the exemplary French and American cast, including Jean Dujardin and John Goodman? Maybe the quirky plot piques your interest, as silent movie star George and young dancer Peppy’s lives drastically change as the pioneering ‘talking pictures’ take over Hollywood. Reams and reams could be said on behalf of this modern film which says nothing at all, but truth be told, seeing is believing. Beautiful, uplifting and inspired by simpler times, this is one you should definitely seek out.

Mean Streets: It’s Mr Martin Scorsese’s birthday this Tuesday, and whilst this man should be celebrated on a daily basis, now would be as good a time as any. Last week, our Twitter debates focused on the legendary director, with ‘Goodfellas’ crowned his finest work. One film which didn’t feature in the discussions was ‘Mean Streets’. This beautifully crafted crime movie is one of Scorsese’s earlier works, but with the familiar faces of Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel in leading roles, its appeal still resonates with today’s audience. Fans of Marty, and the crime genre as a whole, should check this out as a priority.

The Nightmare Before Christmas: It’s not quite the most wonderful time of the year, but the spookiest time of year has officially passed. What better film to settle you in for the transition between holidays than Tim Burton’s classic stop-motion film about Jack, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, as he decides to take over Christmas for one year. With a catchy soundtrack by Danny Elfman, a love story between Jack and Sally, the rag doll, and a heart-warming conclusion, this is the perfect film to watch now those darker nights are settling in.

A Scanner Darkly: Based on the novel by Philip K. Dick, this surreal, futuristic film is interesting for many reasons. First of all, the whole thing is shot in a quirky, animated style which gives it a strangely fun feel, which is cleverly contrasted against a narrative focusing on identity, law, surveillance and drug use. Starring Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson and a brilliant performance from Robert Downey Jr, as well as being directed by Richard Linklater (Boyhood), this crazy film is executed brilliantly. ‘A Scanner Darkly’ has achieved something of a cult status since its release in 2006, and now is the time for you to find out why.

This week’s WatchThisSpace was compiled by Sasha Hornby and Jakob Lewis Barnes

Watch This Space: July 13 – 19

Welcome to your weekly go-to-guide – WatchThisSpace – where we give you recommendations of films to watch in the cinema, on the television and those brilliant films hiding at the back of your DVD collection.

IN THE CINEMA

It’s been nearly three months since Marvel last graced the silver screen, so it’s about time they brought us something new. ‘Ant-Man’ promises to bring a unique and fresh edge to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and should entertain cinemagoers of all ages.

I saw the trailer for ‘Self/Less’ recently and I have to say that, despite a reasonably strong cast of Ryan Reynolds and Ben Kingsley, it looks like a flop. And judging from various reviews dotted around the web, that hypothesis seems to be correct. Feel free to take the risk though.

ON TELEVISION

Monday 21:00 GMT: Splitting the polls, ‘Bad Teacher’ is a relatively crude, adult and comedic film. Cameron Diaz stars as the detestable, yet hilarious educator on Film4.

Thursday 21:00 GMT: This year’s ‘Furious 7’ was an absolute monster hit at the box-office. See where all the action began with ‘The Fast & The Furious’ on ITV2.

Friday 22:45 GMT: Surely we don’t need to tell you how great ‘Gladiator’ is. Winning 5 Academy Awards and finding itself in the IMDb top 50 films of all time, this is a must-see on ITV1.

Saturday 21:00 GMT: Way back in 2000, Ben Stiller graced our screens in ‘Meet The Parents’. Still as awkward and funny as ever, you can find it on BBC3.

Sunday 20:00 GMT: A family-fave due to its obvious youngster appeal and added wit, sarcasm and emotional reach for the adults, ‘Shrek’ is deservedly the winner of the first Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Catch the loveable ogre on BBC3.

DIG IT OUT

This is our favourite part of the WatchThisSpace section. We delve into our own DVD collection and pick out some amazing films, that may not instantly spring to mind when you’re stuck for inspiration to make your movie night a success. Maybe you’ve never seen a film that we pick – or even heard of them for that matter – but you’re gonna have to trust us on this one, and Dig It Out.

Batman: Our news feed was absolutely dominated by San Diego Comic Con last week, most notably the emergence of a trailer for ‘Batman v Superman’, which we LOVE by the way!! The signs suggest that Batfleck might just be a success after all, but until March 2016 we have to make do with the caped crusaders of the past. Tim Burton’s 1989 classic should calm your impatience for a while.

American Psycho: Almost as exciting as the footage of Bats and Supes, was the ‘leaked’ trailer for ‘Suicide Squad’. The man everyone wanted to see – Jared Leto’s Joker of course. He may only play a bit part in ‘American Psycho’, but we don’t need much of an excuse to advocate this gruesome great of modern cinema. Plus, Christian Bale is Batman too, so there’s another link if you weren’t already satisfied.

Grease: This week, the people of Greece united and stood their ground against a harsh and unfair austerity plan, a slap in the face for greed worldwide. Tedious, but phonetically correct, our link comes in the form of 1978 classic musical, ‘Grease’. Both John Travolta and Olivia Newton John will forever be known for their roles as high school lovebirds Danny and Sandy. Complete with “gang” rivalry (gang being used in the loosest sense of the word), adult-scale drama and musical hits a-plenty, it’s a must-see if you haven’t already.

Catch Me If You Can: Based on a real life wonder, this biographical crime drama depicts the fascinating and surreal life of fraudster Frank Abagnale Jr. JumpCut favourite Leonardo DiCaprio leads, successfully demonstrating Abagnale’s tenacity and charm when battling with the law, in the form of Tom Hanks as Carl Hanratty. Working as a doctor, lawyer and co-pilot before his 18th birthday, Abagnale’s journey is a riveting one.

This week’s WatchThisSpace was compiled by Jakob Lewis Barnes and Molly Dolan