Classic Comedy Scenes That Were Ad-Libbed

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Sony Pictures Releasing

Comedy is all about timing. Sometimes, that timing comes from a well-written script. Other times, it comes from an actor being so inspired by a well-written script that they produce a line or some spontaneous action that has the crew and audience members rolling in mirth. These are those times.

The Cologne Scene, Home Alone

Arguably the most famous child actor of the ‘90s, Macaulay Culkin was legitimately good at playing everything — from a nerd boy with a bee allergy to the wily kid who got stuck at home, much to the terror of two unfortunate thieves. Culkin was so good that he created one of the most memorable scenes of the movie — where he smacks some cologne on his cheeks — by listening to the director, then doing his own thing. 

As Chris Columbus told it to Insider:  "He wasn't supposed to do that. If you put something on your face that burns, most people move their hands right away. So my direction to him was when you pat your face, move your hands and scream. And I think it was the first take, he kept his hands on his cheeks. We all started laughing hysterically.”

”What Hump?”, Young Frankenstein

The classic comedy horror starring Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman featured a great running gag that saw Igor’s hump switch from side to side in between scenes — a bit that was completely improvised by Feldman, and took a while for his fellow actors to notice. At one point, Dr. Frankenstein (Wilder) brings up the hump, to which Feldman ad-libbed innocently:

Louis’ Party Scene, Ghostbusters

While everyone remembers Bill Murray improvising the bejeezus out of Ghostbusters, few might know that Rick Moranis had carte blanche with his dialogue, too. In fact, the scene in which his character Louis Tully throws a party in his apartment is totally made up of lines Moranis invented on the spot.

Tim Meadows’ Line, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

In an interview with The Ringer, Tim Meadows said that the line most often quoted back to him is the one where he tells Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly): “You never paid for drugs. Not once.” Meadows said that every time the camera came back around for him to say a line in that scene, he was supposed to say something different each time, but the actor instead chose to repeat the line three times, creating the classic comedy moment and making sure everyone gets that Dewey never paid, not even once.

The Dance Scene, Napoleon Dynamite

The iconic scene in which Jon Heder busts some moves to Jamiroquai was shot with only one roll of film left — which means director Jared Hess could only get about three takes of the dance sequence. They had no choreographer, but Hess simply told Heder, “Dude, you just do your thing,” and well, Heder did just that.

Billy Crystal, The Princess Bride

Bless director Rob Reiner for allowing the incredible actor and comedian to do his own thing with Miracle Max and ad-lib to his soggy heart’s content. Crystal not only took that allowance and ran with it but produced some of the funniest quips and one-liners to make his scene come alive.

The First Winchester Pub Scene, Shaun Of The Dead

You’d think Simon Pegg and Nick Frost ad-libbed most of the movie, but they were, in fact, sticking to a tight script. Director Edgar Wright, however, allowed them to improvise the first Winchester Pub scene, with Frost throwing different lines at Pegg to cheer up his buddy and get a genuine laugh out of him.

The Tuna Lion Fight Scene, The Other Guys

That definitely didn’t go the way we thought it would — that scene in which Will Ferrell’s character Allen Gamble finally retaliates and takes Marky Mark on about his piss-poor logic of the animal kingdom. All it took  was for Adam McKay to ask Ferrell, “How would a tuna fight a lion?” and the rest was a detailed improv masterclass.

Steve Carell And That Wax Scene, The 40-Year-Old Virgin

The classic comedy scene in which Carell gets turned into a man-o-lantern was literally too real. Not only that, but the actress Judd Apatow cast to do the uber real, extremely painful deed, lied about her waxing experience, and Carell can be glad he didn’t lose a nipple that day.

The Airplane Scene, Bridesmaids

While the rest of the script was kept tight, the airplane sequence in this 2011 comedy classic wasn’t in the original script. The writers had to quickly pull something together, and according to Melissa McCarthy’s husband Ben Falcone (who played the air marshal), the actress totally winged it. 

In GQ’s oral history of McCarthy’s performance in Bridesmaids, Falcone elaborated: “From the skeleton of the script, the plane ride became wildly improvised. Melissa's talking about putting a Nano up my butt, or up her butt—the Nano was going up someone's butt. I ruined millions of takes by laughing. In the scene outside the bathroom, she had to say, “Let's go to the restroom … and not rest,” and after that she was free to improv. She had such good ones that I ruined. Like she said, ‘Do you like this leg? I got another one just like it. I can put them both over my head and comb my goddamn hair.’”

We wouldn’t mind seeing a two-hour cut of all the footage taken during the airplane scene.

Thumbnail: Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Releasing


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