6 Secret Rules for Writing Comedy For the MCU
Funny guy Seth Rogen has seen the Thanos of Comedy, the monolith that threatens to destroy any and all comedy movies in its path. Seriously--what chance does a mere (albeit weed-enhanced) mortal like Rogen have against one of the most powerful forces in the comic cosmos?
“Marvel movies are comedies,” says Rogen. “Thor: Ragnarok is a comedy. Ant-Man is a comedy. There are $200 million comedies out there, and so that's something, as a comedic filmmaker, to be aware of. That is the benchmark that people expect! If you're going to make a big huge comedy, just know that your competition is, like, Marvel.”
So hell yeah, Marvel makes comedies. In fact, the few Marvel misfires -- looking at you, Eternals and Thor: The Dark World -- are the ones that are mostly humorless. Superheroes, by virtue of their spandex tights and ridiculous abilities, are hard to take seriously, so don’t. Comedy is essential, a lesson that Zach Snyder’s DCEU refused to learn. But is it as simple as buying a Spider-Man joke book and littering a script with webby puns? Well, True Believer, it’s a little more complex than that. Allow ComedyNerd to break down 6 secret rules for writing comedy in the MCU.
Conflict (but not just any conflict) is hilarious.No, not Superman V. Batman: Dawn of Justice “your mommy is named Martha too?!?” conflict (though that is its own kind of laughable). And not (Insert Superhero Here) endlessly punches (Insert CGI Monster Here) conflict. We’re talking good, old-fashioned
Paul Rudd and Robert Downey Jr. going at it? Always a good idea.
Let’s have Downey mix it up with Benedict Cumberbatch, while we’re at it.
So the first MCU comedy writing secret is not to have the heroes exchange banter with their enemies -- have them do it with each other. And why is it necessary?
“To protect your reality, douchebag.”
Goof up the tech.If you want to learn to ride a bike, you have to be willing to fall down a few times. If you want to learn to fly? Expect a few crash landings.
It’s practically Three-Stooges-level getting knocked in the head. Perfect. But it’s not just Iron Man. As Peter Parker finds out, Stark tech is pretty bad-ass--but only if you know how to use it. Don't even get us started on the glasses he gave to Mysterio.
New suits are funny, especially when heroes are willfully ignorant! Hey Scott Lang, why do all you guys refuse to read the instruction manual before armoring up?
Really, any “learning to use your superpowers” sequence guarantees laughs. But MCU comedy often adds a technology ingredient, one extra element of man vs. machine, that cranks up the chuckle factor.
Get yourself a fast-talking sidekick.Most heroes in the MCU are good with the snark themselves. But it’s the sassy sidekicks that really complete the comedy. Take it away, Ned Leeds.
Try to imagine the Ant-Man movies without the mile-a-minute mirth of Luis.
And somehow, we’ve come this far without referencing the funniest Marvel movie, Thor: Ragnorak. Here’s breakout rock star Korg getting his ridiculous on.
That’s not counting Shang-Chi’s Katy Chen, Guardians’ Drax, Mantis, and Rocket, Iron Man’s Happy Hogan, Black Panther’s Shuri, et al. They provide the comic counterpunch, popping the suspense balloon when things get too tense for our heroes. There’s nothing better than the punchline when you least expect it.
Take a lesson from Road Runner cartoons.
Loki might as well be holding up a little sign.
Superhero movies are violent by definition. A little comic mayhem is a good reminder that this is all pretend, folks.
Don’t take your hero too seriously.
Captain America is an overgrown, goody-goody boy scout (who just happens to possess America’s ass). Play off that image with a series of milk-and-cookies PSAs designed to make tweens roll their eyes until they come out the back of their skulls. “So your body’s changing. Believe me -- I know how that feels.”
Peter Parker’s still in high school? Let’s have Tony Stark infantilize him by dubbing him ‘Spider-Boy.’ (“Spider-MAN.” “Not in that onesie, you’re not.”) And make him the kind of guy who can’t join a top-secret mission in Germany because he still has homework.
And the new Thor: Love and Thunder trailer is an exercise in making fun of an Asgardian deity -- a fat, lazy dude with a dad bod who needs to get in shape, a wannabe warrior who no longer deserves the title of Thunder God, a sheepish schmuck who can’t own up to his schoolboy crush. It took a few movies (and Taika Watiti) to unlock Thor -- Marvel’s comedy secret is giving him no respect at all.
HIt ‘em with the ironic music sting.
Star-Lord is on a mysterious planet, about to embark on one of his most dangerous treasure finds. A little Hans Zimmer to increase the tension? Nope, it’s 70s schlock-rock, encouraging everyone in the audience to “Come and Get Your Love.” Shout-out to Redbone and prehistoric Walkmen that work in outer space.
Who would have ever guessed No Doubt’s “Just A Girl” could underscore a bad-ass fight scene? (Frankly, Captain Marvel needed the laughs.)
Finally, let’s juxtapose some pop classics while Dr. Stephen Strange is trying to perform surgery. The good doctor is clearly at home making incisions to the funky beats of Earth, Wind & Fire -- but the bigger laugh comes from dropping Chuck Mangione’s flugelhorn into the mix. Can you beat Strange and name the song and the year it was released?
It’s an easy comedy trick but a reliable one. Yesterday’s pop groaners are nearly foolproof laugh generators in superhero movies. Leave this secret out of your spec screenplay and you’re never getting past Feige’s assistant.
For more ComedyNerd, be sure to check out:
8 Characters We’d Kill Off In Your Favorite Sitcom
Rick & Morty: 15 Rick Moments For The Hall Of Fame
How Did Jeff Dunham Become A Record-Breaking Comedian?
For ComedyNerd exclusive content and more, subscribe to our fancy newsletter:
Top image: Marvel