M.A. Peel is hosting a Comedy Blog-a-Thon at Newcritics. The question posed in the blog-a-thon was "what is the purest comedic moment you have ever witnessed?" It's a great question and not an easy one to answer. And I think before anyone can blurt it out (knowing full well there is not one correct answer) you must first define what pure comedy means. To me, pure comedy is the unexpected. It is not a joke told for the 20th time. What makes us laugh the hardest? The funny guy or gal being funny, or the one who is rarely funny suddenly being funny. You expect comedy from the expected and are surprised and delighted when it comes from somewhere new. That's not to say that extreme hilarity cannot ensue from the funny guy or gal. Will Ferrell takes the stage and already I'm smiling because I never know what to expect from the guy (that feeling is quickly fading as he continues to remake the same movie over and over again).The best written joke from a movie may not come off funny at all if you don't allow some room for spontaneity. The right inflection, the right look, transposing some words. You have to allow for the unexpected because it's there that pure comedy lives. And it is with the improv comedians who bring pure comedy to life. To me, there is no comedy in the security of knowing a routine. The phrase "take my wife, please" or "I get no respect" would not have had me rolling in the aisles. On the other hand, The Carol Burnett Show still remains one of my favorites because I never knew what was going to happen. As Carol Burnett tried to crack up Harvey Korman with something new and different, so too was I cracking up.
So in thinking about the purest comedic moment I have witnessed, I will have to say it is the cafeteria scene in Animal House. M.A. Peel says that when you examine comedy, you destroy it and she is correct. But this scene cannot go without examination because when you look at the elements, you understand how perfect it is. First, look at the cast - John Belushi, at the time and still might be, one of the funniest men to take the stage and appear on the big screen. John had many brilliant moments in this movie, but this was maybe his finest because it allowed him to do what he does best. Second, look at the scene - a buffet line overflowing with comedic opportunities. A comedy toolbox of gags. Who needs false teeth when you have jell-o? And who needs a crazy multi-colored wig when you have an entire hamburger to shove in your face. All Landis had to do was turn on the camera and watch a master make us laugh. It would be impossible to shoot this scene the same way twice because it is filled with the unexpected. And it's the unexpected that makes it so good.
In my mind, I remember this scene going on forever. An endless buffet of comedy that Belushi milks for hours. But in reality, the scene is not long at all. Just a few minutes. And as it turns out, that's all it takes to make pure comedy.