5 Ways Comedy Movies Can Make A Comeback (By Learning From Horror)

It's time to teach the old comedy dog some new tricks.
5 Ways Comedy Movies Can Make A Comeback (By Learning From Horror)

Hollywood is (sort of) back!  With Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, Top Gun: Maverick, and Jurassic World: Dominion cleaning up at the box office, it looks like the normals are back in theaters, spillin’ popcorn, whisperin’ spoilers, and makin’ out in those reclinin’ BarcaLoungers. The one thing they aren’t doing, however? Seeing comedy movies.

Check your local listings this week, and the closest thing to a comedy is probably The Bob’s Burgers Movie.  Lose the animation and the pickings are slim all summer long. While comedy blockbusters were a multiplex staple in the aughts, they’ve dwindled to pretty much zero today.   

But listen up, movie studios.  There’s a way to bring comedy back to the screen--and the solution might be found in a completely different genre:  Horror.  

It’s not as batty as it sounds. A few years ago, horror maven and Get Out producer Jason Blum gave advice to young producers at the Sundance Film Festival about getting into the scare business--but we think his advice could revive movie comedy as well.  Here are five things that comedy producers could learn from the frighteningly successful horror genre. 

Keep your budget low.

Well, duh.

If a comedy has an expensive budget (Paul Thomas Anderson, how exactly did you spend $40 million on Licorice Pizza?), then Hollywood’s chances of turning a profit are lower.  Math!   But as history shows, it doesn’t take big bucks to make people laugh.  You can get sloppy with a Wet Hot American Summer for less than $2 million.

The reason there always seems to be a horror movie playing?  Creative filmmakers can get ‘em done on the cheap.  Get Out had a budget of $4.5 million and made about $255 million.  Math!

And because flicks like Bridesmaids and The Big Sick don’t require special effects to create goo-spewing devilspawn, comedies should have a leg up.

The concept matters more than the stars.

OK, this is one of ours, not Blum’s. But the lessons from hugely successful horror movies still apply -- can you name any stars from 2017’s It? 2018’s The Nun? How about all those Conjuring movies?  The concept was the star, Junior!

Steve Carell had only made six episodes of The Office (at a time when no one was watching) when he made The Forty-Year-Old Virgin. The instantly funny concept was the star.

Other huge comedies in the 2000s were made with complete unknowns.

Look, we like Owen Wilson as much as the next guy, but you don’t need him to have a goofy hit.  Go find the next generation of comedy geniuses while they're still cheap.

Stop worrying about the theatrical release.

There are a bajillion (or so) ways to release films these days that don’t involve the huge marketing costs of theatrical release, says Blum. “Blumhouse is making movies for streaming services like Amazon and Netflix, which have huge audiences, can be very profitable, and have none of the pressure that comes with a theatrical release.”

Recent comedy movies like Hulu’s Fire Island, Amazon’s Comedy Punks, and Netflix’s Senior Year (which seems to have taken up permanent residence in the service’s Top Ten) show there may be hope yet for comedy movies. 

Streaming is where the guys behind Funny or Die believe the future is.  Provided, of course, the films can be done on a “responsible budget.”  See “Things Comedy Can Learn From Horror Tip #1.” 

Let funny people be funny and get out of their way.

In Hollywood Said No!, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross devote a chapter to “notes” they received from a studio executive about the Mr. Show guys’ new movie script:

Who are Bob and David? Do we care? Can this be Brendan Fraser and Pauly Shore? If we can’t get Fraser, what if Pauly plays both parts? Wait, what am I talking about? “If we can’t get Fraser”?! Of course we can. Scratch that. THE ONLY THING I UNEQUIVOCALLY LIKE is this serio-comic “promotional” section that opens the film. But please FIND OUT: Are these real products? Wonderful opportunity for Product placement! SOMEONE Call Marketing. Don’t we make rabbits? Get Karyn on this.

It’s funny, they say, because it’s true. 

That’s why producers should never force creative decisions on a filmmaker,  says Blum. Clear a path and leave the driving to the creatives.  While that advice was for horror producers, it applies equally well to comedy. Leave the laughs to the funny people.

Don’t worry about high art vs. low art.

Another arena where horror and comedy collide -- outrageous laughs, like jump-scares, aren’t always met with critical acclaim.  

Get over it. The “low art” label is gonna get applied to genre movies like horror or comedy.  But a funny thing happens if you wait long enough.  The critical opinion of “low art” -- like the Three Stooges, Jerry Lewis, Mel Brooks, or the Farrelly Brothers -- gets elevated over time. (Just like horror maestro Alfred Hitchcock was only considered a genre filmmaker in his day.)  “They’re geniuses!” we shout -- but often only twenty or thirty years after the fact.

For both aspiring comedy filmmakers and the producers who support them, don’t worry about winning Academy Awards. The important thing is laughs.

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Top image: Universal Pictures


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