As a child, my mother would sit us down every weekend and make us watch old movies. Back then, my sister and I did nothing but grumble as we were subjected to black and white movies. Now, however, I understand that having this deep background has largely informed my taste today, and I know that I am a better person for it — especially when it comes to comedy.
Comedy has always been an important part of my life, but had these movies not come into my life at such an early stage, I likely would not be as well-rounded or have the same appreciation for finely crafted comedy as I do.
After much deliberation, these are the five most formative classic comedies in my life, and five movies I believe every household should own.
Quite possibly my favorite movie of all time, this brilliant mockumentary follows the fake metal band Spinal Tap during the twilight of their career. From getting lost backstage and viciously inane band arguments to horrible bookings and their constant string of dying drummers, this movie parodies the life of a waning rock and roll legend so well that even Ozzy Osbourne had a tough time figuring out it was make believe.
Okay, so I personally adore this movie. I think it is Mel Brooks’ most ambitious and uproariously funny movie. That said, it did come out in the mid ‘70s and it does deal with the issue of race relations — albeit not very delicately. It’s about a town in the wild west that gets a black sheriff, and the townsfolk respond almost exactly the way you would expect a group of late 1800s white frontiersmen. Which, to be fair, was the joke even at the time. Brooks was highlighting the absurdity and ignorance behind racially motivated hatred. So if you watch it with an open mind and try not to be overly critical of the dialogue, you will discover that, in reality Blazing Saddles was a movie well ahead of its time.
Monty Python are most well known for being irrelevant and nonsensical, and the Holy Grail is the perfect introduction to their brand of absurdity. This movie follows the story of King Arthur on his quest to find the Holy Grail. Along the way, they encounter snooty frenchmen, knights who say “Ni,” holy hand grenades, murderous rabbits, and much much more. Doesn’t sound like it makes sense? Good! That’s the point! I personally count Monty Python among my greatest influences, largely because they taught me that comedy is an art built around breaking the rules and subverting expectations.
One of the most iconic movies of all time, this supernatural comedy has since become an enormous franchise with two sequels and a Saturday morning cartoon, and for good reason. A well crafted spooky comedy is hard to come by, but Ghostbusters walks that line incredibly well — being both laugh-out-loud funny and edge-of-your-seat creepy. Plus, with their all-star cast (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis) this movie was destined for greatness.
This is where it all began. Okay, maybe not exactly. There was Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton doing silent comedy, but in terms of comedy “talkies” the Marx Brothers were a cornerstone. Duck Soup follows one Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) as he rises to power as the dictator of “Freedonia” — a role he is ill equipped to occupy, as seen in his insulting of guests and alienating his public with his barbs and underhanded compliments. His reign is then undermined by two spies (Harpo and Chico), and the slapstick antics commence. What makes this movie truly special is the fact that it is 84 years old and still contains some of the most clever jokes I’ve ever heard. Also consider watching the Marx Brother’s “A Day At The Races.” Or just get the whole Marx Brother’s Collection. Worth every penny.