Spinal Tap is back!  Rob Reiner and the original cast (minus a dozen defunct drummers) are returning with a sequel, with a contractual obligation forcing the famously feuding band back together for one last show.  

Embassy Pictures

We're guessing Harry Shearer will put on a shirt for the sequel.

We’re thrilled!  And terrified.  That’s because it’s darn near impossible to make a comedy sequel that’s as funny as (or, God forbid, funnier than) the original.  Let’s tick off a few of the reasons:

 * Original characters like Austin Powers and Ron Burgundy are hilarious on first viewing, but the endless repetition of catchphrases (by both your drunk stepdad and the characters themselves) does not make the comic heart grow fonder.

 * Comedy filmmakers feel a need to up the ante in subsequent installments.  So if 100 cars were destroyed in Blues Brothers, 1000 must be demolished in Blues Brothers 2000.  (Why do the Dan Aykroyds of the world think car crashes are so hilarious?)

 * The surest way to get a laugh is with a fresh, original joke. But movie studio heads want the safe bet -- give the people what they want(ed last time).  Unfortunately, it’s much easier to give Dr. Strange a new baddie to battle than to successfully retell the same Superbad jokes.

Here are three comedy sequels that demonstrate just how tough it is to do a comedy sequel -- and three more that somehow defied the odds and got it right.  Paying attention, Rob Reiner?

The Hangover Part II

The original Hangover movie was a comic smash, the highest-grossing R-rated laugher ever with an 84% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Two years later, our drunken comedy heroes reappeared in The Hangover Part II, this time scoring a 52%. Hangover III got a 44%. Anybody notice a trend here?

Critics noted that the sequel “lacks the element of surprise,” rehashing the successful elements of the original in ways that were no longer fresh or unexpected. The original was the perfect mix of heart and jokes in bad taste. The sequel doubled down, not on the heart but on the bad taste. Got a chuckle from the Asian caricatures in the first film?  You’ll love Hangover II, once again humiliating Ken Jeong before relegating him to endless Fox reality shows for the rest of time. Terrible.

Legendary Pictures

Ken Jeung and three actors who wouldn't be caught dead on The Masked Singer

Any of the American Pie sequels

Like many of the comedies on this list, the original was a surprise hit, combining the illicit thrills of 1980s sex comedies with fully realized female characters who had desires of their own. And the characters actually had … feelings!  Add Eugene Levy and you strike comedy gold.

Universal Pictures

How many pies can one man violate?

Unfortunately, the film’s producers strip-mined their franchise, removing its heart and creating a straight-to-video machine whose only relation to the original was the occasional fornication with baked goods.  We’re talking American Pie 2, American Wedding, and American Reunion. Then a supremely weird string of American Pie Presents films, including Band Camp, The Naked Mile, Beta House, The Book of Love, and Girls’ Rules. Any goodwill generated by the original has long been obliterated. And in one of the most shameless money grabs by any comedy icon, Eugene Levy appeared or had a cameo in eight of these embarrassments.

Little Fokkers

So many candidates for terrible comedy sequels to choose from, but let’s go with Little Fokkers, the third installment in the Meet the Parents franchise.  Once again, the original film had a simple, relatable premise, exploring the implicit terror that comes with winning over your in-laws. 

Anything resembling authentic human relationships is long gone by Little Fokkers. All you need to know about this career low for all involved is Stiller’s character is required to inject father-in-law DeNiro’s chemically aroused body part with a shot of adrenaline.  This cringe-inducing example of upping the ante makes Stiller’s zipper scene in There’s Something About Mary seem positively quaint. 

Lucky for comedy (and This is Spinal Tap) fans, however,  it’s not impossible to make a killer comedy sequel. Here are three examples, with a hint of how exactly they pulled it off.

22 Jump Street

22 Jump Street gets it.  And by “it,” we mean that it knows that the franchise works because of the charming-as-hell Channing Tatum/Jonah Hill bromance, not any of the messy spectacle around them. 

It’s also smart enough to wink at sequel tropes in general.  “Just do the same sh** you did last time,” advises Capt. Ice Cube.  “That’s all anybody wants to see.” 

When a comedy has a deep understanding of sequel cliches and can subvert them at every turn, you get something fresh rather than a repetitive rehash. There’s no better example of this than the end credits, where the film hilariously previews all its sequels yet to come.

Addams Family Values

Credit the makers of Addams Family Values for somehow finding additional angles in a one-joke idea. The central premise -- a ghoulish family has no idea that they’re not perfectly normal -- was enough to make the original a hit.  For the sequel, filmmakers did not one, not two, but three twists on that central set-up.

First, they drilled down into the incredibly loving relationship between Gomez and Morticia, somehow funny because romance is not what we expect based on their ghastly appearance. Second, by sending Wednesday and Pugsley to a summer camp for normies, we get a great fish-out-of-water story that allows the spooky siblings to wreak havoc. 

Paramount Pictures

The best summer camp is the one that's burning to the ground.

Finally, by introducing a Fester-chasing nanny (the brilliant Joan Cusack), we have a new ‘normal’ character who’s more macabre on the inside than the family is on the outside. 

Addams Family Values is a great example of finding new jokes in a premise vs. repeating the same old gags and plot beats from the previous film.

Borat Subsequent MovieFilm

Big props to star Sacha Baron Cohen. The logical way to go here would be a double-helping of catchphrases such as “I like sex. It’s nice” and “Not!”

Four By Two Films

Sasha Baron Cohen does the unthinkable: He shares the spotlight.

Instead, Borat Subsequent MovieFilm is not about Borat at all. The movie’s new protagonist is his long-neglected daughter 

Unlike Hangover II, which doubled down on crudity and lost its heart, Borat Subsequent MovieFilm goes the opposite direction, focusing on the emerging relationship between father and daughter.  Yes, the crudity remains -- but rather than leaning on Borat, a character whose catchphrases we can all recite by heart, it’s his daughter Tutar (Oscar-nominated Maria Bakalova) who confronts America’s absurdities with fresh eyes.

You’re up, Spinal Tap. Let’s hope you fare better than your last drummer.

For more ComedyNerd, be sure to check out:

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Top image: Legendary Pictures

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