Annie Hall opens with a great joke, "two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of 'em says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know; and such small portions." No set up whatsoever, all you have is Woody Allen staring at you as if you met him at a party and he slings a zinger at you trying to win you over in order for you to hang out with him for the rest of the night.
And it works, you are enamored with the charm and the wit of this man that you can't help but wait to hear what he has in store for you in the course of two hours. And where does the charm come from? Yes the joke is funny in its own right but there is something in it that lures you into the humorous anecdote. And I think that I found out what it is and it took me nearly a year to figure it out.
It's that it is clean.
No sexual innuendos, no crass language nothing that implies any type of filth in it. Now far be it from me to be demean any writer who uses language in their dialogue to emphasis a joke, which is what those words are supposed to do. And I admit that I do love the expletives in several exchanges in some of my favorite movies and plays. George Carlin, God bless him, became famous on the words that too taboo to say on TV.
Martin McDonagh has implemented choice words and phrases in his pieces that truly fit the characters and allow the language to roll off of the actors tongues as if it was apart of the Bard. And its damn funny, as seen in a dialogue example from "In Bruges"
Ken: Harry, let's face it. And I'm not being funny. I mean no disrespect, but you're a cunt. You're a cunt now, and you've always been a cunt. And the only thing that's going to change is that you're going to be an even bigger cunt. Maybe have some more cunt kids.
Harry: [furious] Leave my kids fucking out of it! What have they done? You fucking retract that bit about my cunt fucking kids!
Ken: I retract that bit about your cunt fucking kids.
Harry: Insult my fucking kids? That's going overboard, mate!
Ken: I retracted it, didn't I?
The sincerity of the lines from Ken, as crass as they are, are validated cause he is genuinely trying to give an honest opinion. And the humor comes out of the fact that Harry doesn't even defend the fact that his kids are "cunts" but that he would rather leave them out of the argument in order to make a point.
In movies nowadays you hardly are able to get a great bit of dialogue without the gross out toilet humor that we frequently see in the "Scary Movie" franchise or "Superbad" which brings me to the thought that some writers are sacrificing good jokes with just toilet humor in order to garner a laugh.
The Marx Brothers themselves were able to use simple jokes in order to distinguish themselves as a great comedians such as:
"Last night I shot an elephant in my pajamas, what he was doing in my pajamas I don't have the slightest idea."
I think I am able to respect people who are able to use clean dialogue to make me laugh. It requires someone with great comedic timing and charm in order to make something so simple seem so funny.
Which allows me analyze why recent films use dirty language blanketed in "fucks" "shits" and "cocks" that have been layered throughout the movie "Cop Out" and several others ones through the recent year. And it all comes down to one thing, cheating.
"Cheating" in my sense of the word when it comes to writing is when a writer bombards their scenes that are comedic with the language that we are often so fond of. It shocks the audience into an uncomfortable position that they have no other choice but to laugh. Its definitely a cop out. Speaking of which lets examine a scene when a grown man interrogates a ten year old kid from the movie "Cop Out"
Paul Hodges: Now we need to know about the Mercedez
[Jimmy looks on with a grin]
Paul Hodges: that was stolen a couple o' nights ago, in the back of a Mini-Mart, in Bay Ridge!
Tommy: I ain't tellin' you shit! You can't DO shit, cause I'm a miiiinor
Jimmy Monroe: Heh heh heh heh
Tommy: Fuck you too, Professor Ass-Licking Mother Fucker!
Jimmy Monroe: You are an angry young man.
Tommy: Yo, you're messin' with my business, bitch.
Paul Hodges: Whose car is this?
Tommy: Yo Momma's!
I am not too sure but when I look at this exchange it kind of irks me that the laughs seem manufactured and it is just the product of lazy writing. Not to mention the topical mention 'yo momma' as a slam, man I remember the 90's too. The dialogue results in not only a frustration with the characters but also a frustration with the audience and not in a good way. This scene has the potential to be funny, the scenario itself is ripe for comedy and could be lengthened to a much more than a minute and a half.
The possibilities of great comedy are there in the premise but they are diluted with language that lowers the scene, the comedy and the actors themselves on an entirely different level. The result of a badly written comedic scene can only be blamed on the poor taste of the writers and the laziness of the production company for not being able to see the apathetic approach to making a good comedy.
There aren't really too many incarnations of previous classical comedy writers such as Woody Allen or Steve Martin, the only ones that I can specifically point out now are Tina Fey and Ricky Gervais. Their use of comedy is poignant and presented in a pleasant way that doesn't make you feel like you need to take a shower immediately after watching one of their shows.
I just hope that in the end the audiences are able to find the humor in alot of the intelligent dialogue of what the joke can be and not just the words that emphasis the scene.