7 Woefully Underappreciated Comedies

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone 7 Woefully Underappreciated Comedies

Comedy can be difficult to appreciate during initial encounters. A lot of the comedy that is considered top class stuff today was dismissed as weird and sometimes irritating when it was first experimented with. You see this all the time: Will Ferrell’s comedy is still a point of annoyance for many, although Anchorman has established itself as enough of a comedy institution for this generation, this despite a preliminary cold reaction back in 2004, that it has a sequel set for release this winter. Other dated movies like Wet Hot American Summer are starting to take on new identities of comedy hits after their stars have endeared themselves to a wider audience.

The old adage states that comedy is tragedy plus time, but sometimes it feels more like comedy plus time. Comedy is one realm of culture in particular where boundary pushers take a while to catch on. Audiences need time to figure out what a performer is about, for lack of a better term. When someone is really different it’s tempting to just close the YouTube tab and dismiss them as being weird for weirdness’ sake. And sometimes comedy is downright polarizing, with no one able to agree on whether something is funny. Andy Kaufman is a good example of this, as is the huge variation across different cultures as to what constitutes humor.

My point is this: it’s normal for comedy to take a while to hit you. It’s like the moment it hits you that hey, what Steven Wright or Mitch Hedberg or Maria Bamford is doing is actually hilarious. And then suddenly everything clicks and the comedy washes over you. This is just as true with movies. Here are 7 underappreciated comedies that may be funnier the second time around.

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1) MacGruber

MacGruber1 7 Woefully Underappreciated Comedies

There’s a growing groundswell of appreciation for this 2010 comedy based on an absurdly short Saturday Night Live sketch. It was met with some pretty cold reviews upon its initial release, resulting in many, including myself, deciding not to bother with another disappointing SNL movie. It has been so well received years later, however, that they’re now working on a sequel. The response that I saw to this was mostly positive, which is surprising considering the original movie’s rather dismal box office showing. It seems as though this is one of those odd examples of a comedy being far better received years later than when it first came out.

When you actually watch it, it’s hard to imagine why audiences and critics didn’t respond more positively to the movie. It was fairly divisive, to be fair. Some hailed it as the funniest movie of the year, but it wasn’t until recently that this became a more popular opinion. There are so many little details that complement the big comedic set pieces in MacGruber which facilitate plenty of laughs throughout: the villain being named “Cunth,” the cheesy credit opening, the presence of a bunch of WWE stars with one playing a gay dude, and Ryan Phillippe’s solidly earnest performance serving as just a few examples of this. Then there’s the heart of the comedy, coming in the frequent juxtaposition between hyper-masculine action with consistently emasculating twists, most notably the sex scene in the graveyard. Describing it doesn’t do it justice. But it had me on the floor when I finally watched this movie about a year ago and left me wondering, what did audiences not like about this when it first came out?

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2) Hot Rod

Hot Rod 7 Woefully Underappreciated Comedies

Everyone loves The Lonely Island now. Or at least they love their big digital short hits like “I’m on a Boat,” “Jack Sparrow,” and “Dick in a Box.” Their contributions to things like movies haven’t been quite as beloved (Jorma Taccone co-wrote and directed MacGruber, for example). But there’s a distinct sense that the next big screen project they put their names on will find some success. Or perhaps not. People are starting to voice their appreciation of their first big movie project in recent years, though. Hot Rod came out in 2007, but it was mostly trashed and described as “unfunny” in numerous outlets (is there a more self-serious word in the English language?).

Its humor is, to put it mildly, unorthodox. Andy Samberg has become something of a comedy institution for his work on Saturday Night Live, but as the lead here he goes full oddball, with touches such as donning a fake mustache and emphasizing the “h” in “what” like old-fashioned people do. It sounds stupid in verbal form but something about the irony with which Samberg does it strikes a nearly perfect chord. Oh, and how did I not remember Ian McShane played Samberg’s father? His straight villainous performance adds another layer to the absurdity that this movie thrives on.

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3) Nacho Libre

Nacho Libre 7 Woefully Underappreciated Comedies

By now, Napoleon Dynamite is pretty much one of the most beloved comedies of the last ten years. Just about everyone who saw it back in 2004 was baffled, but repeat viewings bring out the jokes. I think once you get the tone it’s going for you can tune into the utterly bizarre wavelength it’s operating on and the strange comedic details are able to make contact with your funnybone. The team of Jared and Jerusha Hess followed it up (with the help of co-writer Mike White) in 2006 with the Jack Black-led Nacho Libre. Once again, it was coldly received, but unlike Napoleon it hasn’t been rehabilitated in the public eye quite yet.

That’s unfortunate, because this is one of those comedies that sustains the kind of humorous tone throughout that you don’t necessarily laugh out loud at (unless you’re with a group of people who aren’t getting it and you want to coax them into laughing by exaggerating your own amusement. Shoot is that what I’m doing now?). But that seems to be a recurring theme in a lot of these underappreciated comedies. They don’t pile on joke after joke but just create this world that feels absurd and interesting, which you appreciate more after the fact, when you can consider the movie as a whole. That’s not to say they’re without jokes; Steven’s statement of “I don’t believe in God…I believe in science” is pretty surprising and hilarious. Those Hesses have a way with comedy that is entirely fresh and different and always compelling in a bizarre way (for further evidence of this, see Gentlemen Broncos).

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4) Land of the Lost

Land of the Lost 7 Woefully Underappreciated Comedies

I don’t know why I even watched Land of the Lost in 2009 after it was so brutally panned by just about everyone who saw it. But I don’t know if I’ve been more surprised by a comedy before or since. And so it became a topic of interest to me to figure out how in the hell people didn’t love this Will Ferrell/Danny McBride farce. Were they expecting something serious? Something like the 1970s TV series it was (kind of) based on? Some of this could of course be chalked up to a failure in marketing, which didn’t highlight the elements that made this movie a really good, really funny parody of 1970s TV.

Just about every scene featuring Ferrell and McBride riffing off of each other is a riot. Ferrell’s rocky relationship with the Neanderthal character dude is so ridiculous. You see in their scenes just how much of a mistake it was for the studio to market this as some sort of family comedy when Ferrell mouths to this non-verbal creature “F**k you!!” Observed as a family film that’s meant to be loyal to the original series, this movie is of course an absolute failure. Seen as a raunchy comedy with Ron Burgundy and Kenny Powers doing stupid stuff in a prehistoric setting and seemingly being given free rein to make any moment even more absurd and hysterical, it works like mad. If you watched it in the former fashion originally, give it a second chance.

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5) Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Walk Hard 7 Woefully Underappreciated Comedies

Walk Hard is one movie that garnered pretty positive attention from reviewers back in 2007 but ended up not even making its budget back, which is a shame because it’s a pretty uproariously funny movie. Perhaps it was too soon, or just generally misguided, to expect John C. Reilly to lead a film to financial success. He was really great in Talladega Nights, but he was relatively new to the big budget comedy scene; remember back in 2002 when he was in three of the five nominees for Best Picture? He was pretty serious just a few years prior. Of course, the seriousness he brings to his role makes his comedy work even better, but in terms of recognition as a star who can carry a picture, he’s probably still somewhat lacking.

There’s a couple things about this movie that work incredibly well. The big picture aspect where it parodies movies like Ray and Walk the Line that border on irritating hagiography is certainly ripe. The timing on this was pretty good, and movies that have tried similar styles of portrayal toward historical figures have floundered. But there are small elements that can sneak past if you blink, like the dancing going on in the black club that is so over-the-top in its sexuality that it’s hilarious, and then the cameos of well-known faces playing historical musicians that they look nothing like is an amusing twist. And everything Tim Meadows touches is gold. Maybe next time they ought to release something like this in the summer instead of December if they want people to laugh.

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6) Youth in Revolt

Youth in Revolt 7 Woefully Underappreciated Comedies

Michael Cera seemed to be everywhere in 2009. I think most movie enthusiasts were suffering from Cera fatigue. It didn’t help that Youth in Revolt was basically marketed on his back, screaming in commercials “Hey! Michael Cera is being a little different here because he’s acting as an alter ego to his usual socially awkward character! Check it!” This didn’t work, because it wasn’t interesting enough to entice people into seeing the it, and it was also misleading for people who did decide to indeed check it.

In some cases though, this served as a pleasant surprise—rather than being faced with a dumb Superbad rehash, audiences were treated to a remarkably smart and interesting teen comedy that actually wants to examine the nature of teenage masculine identity to an extent, through the trope of the “nice guy.” It dismantles the notion that a “nice guy” is somehow nobler than the douchebags that the girls fawn over, framing him instead as just having too much insecurity and not enough confidence or shamelessness to pull off the asshole card. And it does this with a really hilarious plot and some really funny observational stuff that works well with some of its weirder elements.

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7) Hamlet 2

Hamlet 2 7 Woefully Underappreciated Comedies

This last one may be more particular and less universally appealing than some of the previous entries. It’s possible a person has to be in just the right mood to watch it. You have to feel a little silly. And want something to be silly at you. Hamlet 2 is that silly movie.

Steve Coogan has an incredibly unique quality that very few comedic actors possess, where he can seem as though he’s playing something completely ridiculous in a deadpan expression that results in magic. Jason Bateman can do this at times. In fact, most of Arrested Development depended on this brand of humor. Coogan does that here, best epitomized in the line delivery featured in the trailer, where he angrily asks his staring cat “What is your f**king problem, man?” Somehow, the way he says it, the look he gives, makes it amazing. And there are other little moments in the movie like this, all building up to the show-stopping musical featuring the sublime tune “Rock Me Sexy Jesus.” It also has perhaps the best title in history.

We often want two things out of comedy that are sort of in opposition to each other. We want it to push boundaries of taste and style and show us something new that we haven’t seen before, to surprise us. We also want it to satisfy our desire for familiarity, to show us something that we see all the time and point out how ridiculous life can be. It’s a difficult balancing act, and oftentimes humor takes some warming up to before it can go from “WTF” to “LOL.” In my experience comedies have a way of feeling completely different years later that is even more pronounced than drama. This is largely intangible though. If anything, this list proves how hard it is to articulate why something is funny, both in the difficulty of putting a feeling into words, and in inevitably removing all humor from a gag by describing it in sentences. It’s probably best to just let the movies speak for themselves. He said at the end of 8 written pages.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-Donato/556930521 Matt Donato

    Hamlet 2, MacGruber, Walk Hard….you couldn’t be more right my man. Hilarious movies I watch over and over again.

  • http://twitter.com/MinimeJer05 Jeremy Lebens

    Excellent list! Great to see MacGruber finally get its due.

  • Steve

    Agreed…fantastic list of movies that I constantly go back to…I guess I need to run Land of the Lost again…its been a while…

  • Ryan Deadpooln

    I loved all of those movies. Especially Hot Rod

  • freefreefreeman

    What about the movie “Stacy’s Mom”?

  • Kuke

    Andy Samberg is not funny.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Daniel-MSadoques/1155610231 Daniel M’Sadoques

      Except…..he is.

  • Yep

    I watched Hamlet 2 went it first came out, expecting it to be really great. I was disappointed that I barely laughed through it. I agreed with everything else on the list, so maybe it’s time to finally rewatch it again. Great list.

  • nik

    All of these movies are great. Good job on the list.

  • acrossalloceans

    Great list, Walk Hard, Hot Rod & MacGruber were some of the funniest films Ive ever seen. . Id like to add in Casa de mi Padre as well. such a completely underrated film that a lot of people hated. Hilarious on so many levels.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AaronGlennBoyd Aaron Boyd

    I would add ‘Zohan’ and most definitely ‘Your Highness’ to this list. The rest are very true as well.

  • BJ Bear

    Walk Hard is one of the funniest movies ever. Hot Rod is frickin awesome, and Land of the Lost has its moments, The rest- not funny

  • Alex Lowe

    Fired Up! So hilarious. And no one respects it.

  • Tez

    Walk Hard is fucking hysterical

  • Cleborp

    hot rod ftw

  • Jake Anthony

    NACHO LIBRE! Hot Rod for sure! Still need to check out MacGruber, but I can say I agree with everything on this list except for Hamlet 2 – that one was just a liiiiiiiittle too silly for me. Excellent list.