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.”

comedy2

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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Watch This Space: September 7 – 13

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

Following the success of ‘Maze Runner’ last year, this week sees the release of its sequel, ‘Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials’. The plot continues with Dylan O’Brian returning as Thomas, the reluctant leader of his band of grizzled Teens. Set in a dystopian future, our protagonists face the new horror of navigating the Scorch, a vast, desolate landscape filled with perils. Directed by Wes Ball and featuring Kaya Scodelario and Aiden Gillen, this movie should see a good return after the surprising success of its predecessor.

Also released this week is ‘Legend’, the story of the infamous Kray twins and their fractious relationship as they terrorise London and rule the criminal underworld of the 1950’s and 1960’s, until their incarceration in 1969. Both brothers are portrayed by the ever malleable Tom Hardy in what promises to be an award-nominated double performance. Check out our review for more.

The new Movie carrying the “written and directed by Woody Allen” tagline is ‘Irrational Man’, starring Joaquin Phoenix as a Philosophy professor encountering an existential crisis which may lead to murder. With Emma Stone also featuring in a supporting role, the talent involved here looks set to throw another film full of deep character study and dark humour our way.

ON TELEVISION

Monday 23:00 GMT: Danny Boyle has brought us so many great films over the years, but arguably, none compare to his 1996 classic ‘Trainspotting’. At almost 20 years old, this iconic Brit flick is such a part of cinema history that we absolutely insist you stay up and catch it on Film4.

Wednesday 21:00 GMT: If you couldn’t stomach Monday night’s hard-hitting option, this may be more up your street. Starring Will Ferrel and John C. Reilly, ‘Step Brothers’ is one of our favourite comedies here at JumpCut UK. Watch middle-aged men act like children on Comedy Central, and try not to laugh so hard that you fall off your dinosaur (if you get it, you get it).

Thursday 22:50 GMT: Whilst the world is absorbed with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman, you could escape all that and watch erm…enjoy ‘Watchmen’ on Film4. They aren’t the most popular heroes, but this dark, violent comic-book adaptation is a severely underrated addition to the superhero genre.

Saturday 16:45 GMT: Travel back in time this weekend – in more ways than one – and join Marty McFly for the 1985 classic ‘Back To The Future’ on ITV. Gather the whole family and enjoy a fun, fantastical ride in the DeLorean. 

Saturday 21:00 GMT: If, like us, you love a good Brit flick, we have two for you this week. Alongside Danny Boyle, Shane Meadows is another master of the gritty, realist trade and Film4 is showing his most famous work, ‘This Is England’ this Saturday night. Alternatively, head to BBC3 15 minutes later for the uber-intense ‘Jarhead’ starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Jamie Foxx.

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.

A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984): After the very sad news last week that my favourite horror director, Wes Craven, had passed away, I wanted to celebrate his iconic career by watching my most cherished horror movie of all time. Set in suburbian America, this superbly crafted twist on the unstoppable, stalker format saw the killer (a burned faced and perfectly cast Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger) terrorise and murder a group of frightened teens from within their nightmares. Starring Heather Lagenkamp and a very young Johnny Depp in his first ever acting role, this movie raised the bar for the horror genre, and many films that followed owe an awful lot to the work of Wes Craven. With a cruel sense of humour, genuinely frightening set pieces and perfectly haunting soundtrack, 31 years have done nothing to quash the fear this movie will instill in you. Just try not to fall asleep straight after!

R.I.P Wes Craven 1939-2015

La Haine: Casting a great villain is often imperative to a movie’s success. Luckily, the latest installment in the ‘Bourne’ franchise has found theirs, in the form of French actor Vincent Cassel. The very talented Monsieur Cassel, who you will recognise as the repugnant dance choreographer in ‘Black Swan’, first broke onto the scene back in 1995 with his role in the critically-acclaimed, intensely violent French flick ‘La Haine’. Follow Vinz (Cassel) and his two young comrades as they navigate their way through the French suburbs after a heated riot, and get a taste of what we can expect with the untitled ‘Bourne 5’ next year.

Zombieland: ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ has just hit the small screen and how better to celebrate than by watching this sleeper hit of 2009. Starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone, the story sees a zombie-ravaged, post-apocalyptic world and the relationships between a small group of survivors. Beautifully written and genuinely funny, we see our heroes desperately trying not to become food for the undead, whilst seeking the sanctuary of a theme park. Featuring a hilarious and self-aware performance by Harrelson, as well as the perfectly neurotic Eisenberg, the movie also has one of the best cameos ever and possibly THE greatest opening credits scene.

Kick-Ass: So, all the kids are back at school. Some of you might have, what, a couple of weeks until you return to university? Or…you could scrap all that, quit education and just become a superhero? From the fantastic Matthew Vaugn (director of ‘Kingsman’ and ‘Layer Cake’) comes this epic, alternative hero who will inspire you to drop it all, throw on the first piece of spandex you can find and take to the streets. The titular hero doesn’t quite have the muscle and skills of your everyday comic-book hero, but he more than makes up for that in courage. ‘Kick-Ass’ is entertaining and funny, whilst delivering a healthy portion of violence and action – if you haven’t seen this before, get ready to be very pleasantly surprised.

This week’s WatchThisSpace was compiled by Jakob Lewis Barnes and special guest Chris Murphy. Get more from Chris by checking out his Twitter activity here.

Watch This Space: July 20 – 26

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

Jake Gyllenhaal is a JumpCut UK favourite, but we are being completely unbiased when we say that his new film ‘Southpaw’ looks fantastic. Dark, powerful and intense, this boxing drama is sure to be a knockout (sorry).

James Franco and Jonah Hill come together again for ‘True Story’ this weekend. Another silly comedy movie right? Wrong! A real life true story of crime and deceit; no gags, no weed and no Seth Rogen. Check out our exclusive review for a better idea of what to expect.

Disney Pixar’s latest release hits cinemas this week and from the look of the reviews from those that have already seen it, ‘Inside Out’ is a real treat. The film addresses the problems facing a young girl in everyday scenarios from the viewpoint of the different emotions inside her head that are characterised into Fear, Joy, Sadness, Anger and Disgust. A story that is relatable for people of all ages, could this become one of the all-time animated greats? The early noise is very promising indeed.

Arnie returns to our screens this week in ‘Maggie’. This horror/action films is based around the onset of a zombie epidemic which Arnie’s daughter falls victim to. This doesn’t look like a classic “shoot ‘em up” Schwarzenegger film, more thought-provoking and subtle, with some definite sub-textual adolescent themes. Should be quite interesting, if Zombie films are to your liking. Check out our review for more.

ON TELEVISION

Friday 10:45 GMT: Set the alarm clock and get ready to pull a sicky because you won’t want to miss ‘The Hunt For Red October’ on More4 on Friday morning. This Cold War action thriller has a brilliant cast in Sam Neill, Sean Connery and James Earl Jones and is the film adaption of Tom Clancy’s debut novel. As far as the action genre goes, Clancy is somewhat of a powerhouse and that much is obvious if this film is anything to go by.

Friday 18:45 GMT: A 90s classic of the rom-com genre, see the late Heath Ledger in ’10 Things I Hate About You’ on Film4.

Friday 22:40 GMT: Johnny Depp stars as the notorious 1930s gangster John Dillinger in ‘Public Enemies’. See if Christian Bale can halt Dillinger’s criminal gang on ITV1.

Saturday 22:40 GMT: If you love your movies dark and mysterious, then you’ll love ‘Zodiac’, the story of a crazed serial killer and the men hunting him down. Watch Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo decipher the code on BBC2.

Sunday 15:45 GMT: Our recommended family viewing this week is of the rather large and fluffy variety. ‘Beethoven’ is the perfect way to spend the Sunday afternoon on ITV2. Fun from beginning to end, this film encapsulates everything that you could possibly want from the perfect family film. 

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.

Step Brothers: With the news that ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ will get a sequel, we immediately thought of John C Reilly’s best live-action comedy showing. Alongside Will Ferrell, these two form one of the greatest comedy duos on the big screen and help to make this Adam McKay production one of our all time favourite comedies.

Aladdin: Also in the word of film last week, you may have seen that we reported plans are in place to create a live-action Aladdin prequel, based on the story of the genie in the lamp. We doubt that anyone will ever bring to life this magical story as perfectly as the late Robin Williams did, so enjoy the classic Disney animation and bask in the delightful voice of the legendary actor.

Blood Diamond: Last week saw the release of the first trailer for Leonardo Di Caprio’s new film, ‘The Revenant’. This time Leo is teaming up with Oscar-winning director Alejandro González Iñárritu in his latest bid for that golden statue. One of Leo’s “near-misses” in terms of Oscar awards was the fantastic ‘Blood Diamond’ (he was up against a worthy winner in Forrest Whittaker for his performance in ‘The Last King of Scotland’). Set in Sierra Leone, this is a harrowing story that pits the unrelenting greed of man up against the hope that humanity can triumph in the face of adversity. A must watch, regardless of whether you’ve seen it before or not.

American Gangster: The Ashes are in currently in full flow as England take on Australia. Even though we’re obviously cheering on the 3 lions, why not take a moment to appreciate one of Australia’s greatest living actors. Russell Crowe stars alongside Denzel Washington in this crime thriller. With fantastic performances all round and with Ridley Scott at the helm, this film is exactly as good as you’d hope it to be. Don’t expect all out action from beginning to end, expect something more well thought through, polished and stylish.

This week’s WatchThisSpace was compiled by Jakob Lewis Barnes and Nick Deal