Midweek Mumble Takeover – Comedy: The Release Valve
It is Takeover week, and today we have Colin from Nevermind Pop Film with a piece all about Comedy
For as long as anyone remembers, entertainment has served as a release valve for moviegoers in troubled times. Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Frank Capra, all the way up to Kristen Wiig and the rest of the Bridesmaids, all of these actors have entertained audiences desperate for a laugh in a time when laughs were rarely had. Dramas have always fancied themselves as a mirror to society and its woes, but comedies are far more authentic in reflecting society in a downswing. Recessions, depressions, and bad economies are all part of a daily reality for some and what poses a better escape than the cinema? The depression during the 20s and 30s presented a bleak outlook for getting by, fortunately, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd were on the scene. Yet it was Chaplin who connected with audiences with his delightful Tramp.
The Gold Rush, one of the great release valve comedies of that era, featured a tramp, down on his luck, looking to strike it rich in the wilderness of Alaska. Meals consist of eating rubber shoes with a side of tin can. At a dance hall, the Tramp sees who he believes to be the girl of his dreams in Georgia. She blows him off and he slumps away to his cabin where he risks being eaten by Big Jim. The Tramp eventually strikes it rich and finds Georgia hanging on his arm as he travels back to the mainland. If the Tramp could be a winner, why couldn’t we?
Another similar film is arguably Frank Capra’s most famous. It’s a Wonderful Life chronicled the life of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) and the decisions that led him to his state of being. George is initially quite a happy man, until his Uncle loses several thousand dollars and finds himself left at the mercy of Mr. Potter, the town misanthrope. Through the help of Clarence, George is lent a hand by the town whom he has aided so often. Filmgoers left the theatre with a sense of hope that the little guy could win in modern-day America, but in reality, Potter wins. Every patron stepping out into an urban landscape was living in Pottersville.
But films didn’t stop comforting audiences during recessions, comedies found themselves lifting hearts in the eighties and beyond. This time, the job was not done by heart-lifting stories, but by the harsh light of post-modern laughs.
Trading Places took the oft-used story of switching lives and cast a spotlight on the 80s business world in the process. Louis Winthrope III (Dan Aykroyd) and Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) find themselves at the center of a gentlemen’s bet of the Duke Brothers. The two men each living in the other side’s shoes for a couple of weeks for the amusement of two millionaires with nothing better to do. Ultimately, Billy and Louis turn the tables on the Dukes by fabricating orange futures and swindle the men out of all of their money and put themselves right back on top. Trading Places had the potential to really tear into the heart of the Reaganomics, but instead went for easy laughs. Reform of a system that creates such discord in society was left off the table as capitalism solves the crises created by capitalism. The film reassured audiences that they too could luck into a fortune just like Billy Ray Valentine.
2008 saw the world economy collapse overnight and left nearly everyone scratching their heads. The Hangover tapped into the zeitgeist by telling the story of three men who wake up, disoriented, hungover and wondering what the hell happened. The parallels are easy to find. Most could take comfort in watching three grown men stumbling around in a drunken haze. We weren’t any worse off then they were. Chaos wasn’t the only theme passed around this last decade, businesses going under was a regular sight in film lately. In Bridesmaids, Annie (Kristen Wiig) is forced to sell wears at a local jewelry store after her baking shop closed. Dreams are put on the back-burner, but she still finds herself in all of the mess. However, the most prominent goof on the workplace was Horrible Bosses. The Bateman/Sudeikis/Day-starrer asked exactly what is it that one will put up with in a bad economy. Three men tolerating the abuses of psychotic supervisors just to bring a check home, even when it involved murder. It wasn’t that far off considering how coveted jobs were that summer.
The economy always turns around and when it does comedies move on to other topics, but they will always be there for us in times of need. Comedies have always existed as a means to blow off steam, they always have and they always will. From the silent-era shenanigans of Charlie Chaplin all the way to Kristen Wiig’s scaled-back bachelorette parties. They connect with what is going on in our time. More importantly, these films make us laugh when seemingly few things can.
Colin Biggs is main author and founder of Nevermind Pop Film, be sure to visit his most excellent site HERE
Did you enjoy Colin’s article? What are your thoughts on Comedy? Comment below…