In his Block Party, Dave Chappelle comments on the connection between musicians and comedians: musicians can teach comedians a thing or two about timing (his personal timing hero is Thelonious Monk), and comedy is all about timing, he says. I've thought a lot about comedy in various aspects of my own life--comic films, cartoons, comic strips, the funniest people I know, comedic writing. Comedy isn't pretty, Steve Martin says, and I also remember someone saying that comedy is hard. But it can't look hard, or it's not funny anymore, unless it's the kind of comedy that's about how funny it is when someone's trying so hard to be funny, but they're not. Comedy also causes a headache.
I am moved to think about this in part because Dave Chappelle is very funny, and it seems like his comedy is nearly effortless. In the movie, there's a recurring bit, with Mos Def playing the drums, lounge band style, behind Chappelle's joke-straight man-punchline comic stylings. The jokes he's telling are not in the least bit funny, but the bit is funny, because they've got the timing right, and the imitation of bad comedy is exact, and it's Mos Def and Dave Chappelle doing this thing they don't do. "Hey, Mos," Dave says. "How's it goin, Dave?" says Mos. Insert silly set-up line here [Dave C.--"did you hear the one about the industrious prostitute?"), automatic straight man line here (Mos D.0--"No, I didn't, Dave"), and horrible punch line here (Dave C. again--sorry, can't repeat it, I have standards). There didn't even have to be a joke--I found myself laughing just because of the way he lifted an eyebrow. No jokes, just timing.
I envy comic writing. My friend Ann has a great column in the DNews that I have cherished and envied for years. I also treasure great comedies of all kinds. Given half a chance, I will tax my friends' patience by reciting my favorite lines from sitcoms past. There are certain movies whole tracts of which I (and those I love) have memorized. (Luckily for my readers, I just repressed a powerful urge to review an excellent passage from Tommy Boy, a movie that is way funnier than it has a right to be.)
What are your most valuable comedies? Decidedly lowbrow entries get extra points. For instance, I horrified my compatriots recently by revealing that Encino Man is, in my view, a very, very funny movie. (Extra points squared if a funny movie you love features Pauly Shore.)