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The Writers' Roundtable is an open-ended discussion forum in which a question or idea is posed, to be discussed at length by our team of contributors.

This month's question: what is the funniest film you've ever seen?

Simon Di Berardino: Team America: World Police

I remember long and painful arguments with my parents very early in my high school experience about letting me watch South Park. I went to a Catholic high school and after the first series of the show aired the school sent out a newsletter to parents warning them of this new, vulgar television series. While my parents weren’t totally conservative, that’s apparently all it took for their blind vitriol for all things South Park to flare up, and of course, that’s all it took for me to want to watch the show more.

It seems ridiculous in hindsight, but it’s more than likely partially responsible for my love of all things South Park. Well, that and the fact that it’s hysterical, clear eyed and biting satire. But this article isn’t about funniest TV series but rather funniest films, of which the previous few sentences act as a pre-cursor to the one film that tickles my funny bone most, and that film is Team America: World Police.

I think it’s fair to say that I’m biased towards anything Trey Parker/Matt Stone-related (the creators of South Park and driving force behind Team America), but I’m sure I’m not the only one. The duo is the perfect antidote to Hollywood’s self-congratulatory eminence, a shot of anarchic energy that aims to offend while standing upon a pillar of (usually) well thought out and coherent socio-political insights. It’s well documented that South Park (and by extension Team America) is a mouthpiece for Parker and Stone’s own politics, a fact they openly acknowledge, which helps make their humour instantly relatable. It’s also gut-bustingly funny.

Team America came around at the perfect time in my life, and I fondly remember my seeing it for the first time as one of the most incredible cinema-going experiences of my life. Coming into my own as a media-savvy, Internet-dwelling teen, the combination of blatant lampooning of modern American politics and grotesque humour struck the most intense of chords, punctuated by tears and breathless laughter. The moment that the World Police’s vehicle emerged from Thomas Jefferson’s head to the tune of “America (Fuck Yeah)”, I was absolutely sold. Or was it the Rent parody of “Everyone has AIDS”? It might have even been the opening vision of Paris through a stereotype-laden, ignorant lens. There are too many wonderful moments to even begin to pinpoint one.

At the end of the day though, Team America is a stupidly funny film. A summation of everything Trey Parker and Matt Stone had achieved up until that point, and a film that still gets me rolling on the floor with every re-watch (there have been many). All I can hope for is that The Book of Mormon film doesn’t take too long to reach our screens. I need another comedic adrenaline shot.

Luke Lewis: The Life of Brian

From Brian’s birth in the stable next to the Son of God’s, to the popular in its own right “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life”, Monty Python’s The Life of Brian is easily the funniest film I’ve seen. The religious/political satire is insanely sharp, and mixed with the Python’s off-the-wall humour it becomes this genius mix of crippling parody and psychedelic slapstick.

Probably the scene that has me rolling on the floor the fastest is the first time we see Michael Palin’s Pontius Pilate, and his hilariously demeaning speech impediment; Pilate calls our mistaken messiah Bwian. Stitch inducing on its own, the scene gets funnier and funnier when Pilate brings up his friend Biggus Dickus, which causes the extras playing his guards to crack up. Palin/Pilate then gets up in the face of one the guards, right up in there, asking the man, “Do you find it wisible when I say the name Biggus Dickus?”. The way he pauses between Biggus and Dickus is just perfect. The poor guy is trying his best to hold in his laughter but it’s overflowing, seeping out of his acting dyke (AKA: his lips doing that sort of fish lips thing to keep from laughing) while Palin keeps going. “He has a wife you know? You know what she’s called?”, they shake their heads. “Incontinentia”, he pauses, “Incontinentia Buttocks”. I think just about everyone in the room explodes into laughter. It’s hard to know whether the extras were meant to be reacting in that way, or not. I think it’s organic, grown from the pure hilarity and comedic genius of Monty Python. They really couldn’t hold in their laughter in the face of Palin’s widiculous performance, and it really shows just how great this film is; those in it found it hilarious to create, and it’s doubly funny to watch.

The Life of Brian was so feared by Christian groups at the time that it was banned throughout the UK and Europe, which only allowed the Pythons to have advertising slogans like “So funny it was banned in Norway”. I’ll always remember watching Brian with my family on Christmas, Dad either preparing us all for the coming scene (“Oh this scene is so great!”), or quoting lines directly after they’re said, often slightly wrong somehow (“He’s not the Messiah, he’s just a naughty boy”). Whoever you watch it with, it’s a fantastically and consistently funny film.

Ash Beks: Modern Times

Modern Times, Charlie Chaplin’s remarkable commentary on life during the Great Depression, is without question the funniest film I have ever seen.

Of course, worldwide economic recession is no laughing matter, and Chaplin pointedly brings this to light in his scathing portrayal of mechanisation and industrialisation. Despite his unrivalled success and popularity during this time, Chaplin was able to unequivocally relate with the working-class and understand the struggles of life on the factory floor. Like the Little Tramp, whom he had “laid to rest” during his previous film City Lights, Chaplin’s factory worker is again a wholly understandable and lovable underdog; an everyman relatable to every man. 

As folks had little to smile about in the 1930s, Chaplin’s depiction of a bumbling, stumbling factory worker trapped in the rigors of modern life at least tried to loosen the tension. Even those deep in the throes of despair cannot help but laugh as Chaplin’s character foolishly gets caught in the cogs of a giant machine; or smile as he lovingly rollerskates with Paulette Godard in the afterhours of a department store, narrowly avoiding a fall to the floor below.

Modern Times is riddled with countless moments like these, each so carefully crafted by cinema’s true master of timing, that it is almost impossible to pick a favourite. However, regardless of how many times I’ve watched the film, there is always one scene in Modern Times which never fails to garner a boastful belly laugh from yours truly.

Early in the film, Chaplin’s character is encouraged by his boss to test out the latest technological advancement. This “eating machine” is designed to eradicate breaks for mealtime, enabling workers to eat while they continue on their line. At the beginning of the gag, the machine seemingly operates okay; Chaplin’s worker happily indulges in being spoon-fed bite-sized treats as he resumes his work. However, bugs in the machine inevitably begin to cause discomfort, and before long, the meal becomes a failed mess of flying food smashed against Chaplin’s face. Corn cornels fly across the screen, the arms of the machine lamely flail out of control and eventually Chaplin is soaked in sauce and food.

This gag whacks me in the funny bone harder than any other moment in cinema history. But, as previously mentioned, Modern Times’ true genius comes from Chaplin’s ability to approach life realistically; to take the good with the bad, the ups with the downs. As Chaplin himself once said, “To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it!”

Richard S. He: The Room

There’s only one possible answer to this question, and it’s Tommy Wiseau’s cinematic disasterpiece The Room. If you’ve never seen it, please acquaint yourself. I’ll wait.

What makes The Room so riotously funny is the gaping void between intent and execution. The simplest definition of comedy is surprise. Mainstream comedy has always struggled with this; even when a gag isn’t so broad the actors are practically mugging at the camera, a series of gags without a throughline is just that. Familiarity is comforting, sure, but novelty wears off. The Room, however, pole-vaults over your puny “intent“. Originally written as a melodrama, its attempts at emotion are so contrived, yet so utterly inexplicable, that absolutely nothing works as Tommy Wiseau intended. The occasional attempts at ordinary “American”-dude comedy are just as baffling. Tommy Johnny buys flowers, Denny deals drugs, Claudette has breast cancer, everyone plays football in tuxedos, a sex scene every ten minutes — so many disconnected things happen! Not one second of The Room is dull. Every detail of The Room only becomes more absurd, the more you try to understand it.

The deepest definition of comedy is catharsis. So many of the best comedians are intensely tormented; it’s what elevates a film like Bridesmaids, so honest about the sadness at its core, so far beyond typical Hollywood fare. We cringe when a character suffers like we might; we laugh with relief when they make it through. On paper, The Room sounds like a cry for help. The flawless, all-American, generous human being “Johnny” is betrayed by his best friend and future wife, for no reason other than the unknowable callousness of man. We laugh at it because it’s absurd; we laugh with because it takes a strange man’s deep, inarticulable insecurities, projects them as life-or-death melodrama, and somehow ends up as a weirdly affable, often even warm film. Johnny Tommy Wiseau just wants to be loved!

The Room’s surreal semblance of human behaviour could easily be disturbing, but it’s so difficult to play the uncanny for laughs that it can’t possibly be intentional. Ask David Lynch: Mulholland Drive shares many of The Room’s obsessions, among them “psychology” and Hollywood, but it twists its strained “ordinariness” into Edvard Munch’s The Scream. The Room closes with a similarly disturbing plot development, but it’s hilarious. How many other films invite you to yell “SUCK HIS DICK!” as the main character’s adopted son tearfully leans over his dead body? It’s “profound”, then profoundly bizarre, then eventually just truly profound. Post-irony: when something amusingly terrible brings you so much joy that your ironic appreciation becomes genuine.

Beyond the endless quotability and communal spoon-throwing, what makes The Room a truly great post-millennial film is that it’s actually fulfilled Tommy Wiseau’s delusions of grandeur. Thousands of people have laughed at Wiseau’s unfiltered, deeply personal artistic vision, but instead of dying of embarrassment, he’s embraced it. It’s the perfect un-American dream for the least convincing American alive. No part of The Room’s experience is replicable, and the truth is even stranger than the fiction. “What a story, Mark.” You’ll barely believe it.

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