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Is Improvisation Ruining Film Comedy?  Referenced in the Patton interview and very insightful. A must for my comedy aficionado readers.

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Bee BoyMon, 7/16/07 5:22pm

This is a great article and while I won't say that I definitively think improvisation is or isn't ruining film comedy, I absolutely think we need to be asking this question – and many others – about the trajectory of film comedy.

One distinction that I think gets overlooked in this improv discussion is the films' structure and driving force. The good ones (ones with heart, or a cohesive feel) are usually about story, while the more random ones (Talladega Nights, or even Blades of Glory which I'll admit I liked a surprising amount) define some outsized characters and zany situations, then watch them bonk off each other. To quote the great Oliver Stone (as played by Will Ferrell): "You're 20 clicks outside Danang. Go." It's like releasing a bunch of wind-up toys and training your camera on the carnage. I laugh a lot, but seldom feel it all adds up to much.

Maybe this means there's less actual improvisation in the good ones, or maybe it just means the bad ones have far fewer story points mapped out in advance, so it's like "The skaters hate each other; they get thrown together; they triumph. You fill in the rest, and don't forget to show your man-nipples. Go!" Seems to me it's not about "good" improv or "bad" improv, but whether or not you use "smart" improv: improv that begins with a thorough understanding of the characters, the story, and the world of the script, so it remains within those parameters and focuses on moving the film forward along the right path. This is what impressed me so much about Wedding Crashers. It may be imperfect, and it has its share of silly random moments, but it feels like one continuing story thread. Anchorman, less so. Dodgeball or Talladega, far, far less.

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