The Foolproof Secret Way To End Comedy Movies

Sing it, sister.
The Foolproof Secret Way To End Comedy Movies

Whether it’s a sketch or a full-blown feature film, maybe the only thing harder than creating comedy is ending comedy.

Watch any random episode of Saturday Night Live for proof.  A given sketch might have a funny premise, promising characters, and solid jokes … only to peter out as the writers try to figure out how to end the damn thing.

We suspect that’s the reason there are so many talk-show and game-show parodies on SNL.  They have built-in endings!  Someone wins Celebrity Double Jeopardy or the talk show signs off until next time  Nothing to figure out - the end is already baked into the mix.

In SNL’s early days, producer Lorne Michaels tried out a device he called “dropping the cow.”  The concept, borrowed from Monty Python, suggested forgetting about endings altogether -- just drop a cow on the scene and bloody move on already. In SNL’s first couple of seasons, they did just that -- a life-sized, stuffed canvas cow came crashing down from the rafters to end a sketch.  Weird enough to be funny once or twice, right?


Dick Cavett's too-long monologue is brought to a merciful end by a falling bovine.

But when you’re making a comedy feature film, dropping the cow isn’t an option.  Judd Apatow, for one, was completely stuck for a way to end The 40-Year-Old Virgin.  The logical climax, as it were, would have been to show Steve Carell’s character finally doing the deed -- but how?  Apatow turned to his mentor Garry Shandling, with whom he’d worked on The Larry Sanders Show.

“Garry kept saying to Steve Carell and I, ‘You need to find a way to show that his sex is better than his friend’s sex, because he’s truly in love,’” remembers Apatow. “And I’m like, ‘Garry, I can’t show the sex, I don’t know how to do this ending.’ One day Steve just went, ‘What if I just sing a song?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, like "Let the Sunshine In." And we said, ’Oh, that sounds good!’”

Of course!  Hilarious, thematically on the money, and a great celebratory way to wave goodbye to the audience.  An idea so good, in fact, that producer Apatow and writer Kristin Wiig went to the well again with Bridesmaids, ending the film with our heroines joining Wilson Phillips for a rousing chorus of Hold On.

Wiig must have liked the idea, bringing back a song for the whoop-it-up ending to Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar

What do you do with Step Brothers, a movie about grown men who seem beyond redemption?  You give them a musical triumph, of course!

The bit is foolproof.  And if your comedy already has musical themes, like School of Rock or Sister Act?  It’s practically a crime against laughter not to finish with a huge musical ending. Come on, you get a standing O from the dang Pope.

So there you have it, comedy fans.  Don’t know how to go out with a big comedy bang?  Just burst into song and you’re home free.  And if you don’t believe us, just ask Shrek.

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Top image: Universal Pictures


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