For years, whenever I’ve found myself in conversations about the single funniest moment in moviedom, my answer has always been the “Where the white women at?” scene in Blazing Saddles, and I don’t see it being dethroned in my mind any time soon.
There are dozens of elements at work making it funny, from Cleavon Little’s line delivery to the absurd environment surrounding it. Here are two actors playing character who aren’t actors who have to act in order to fool two KKK members with “Have a Nice Day” smiley faces on the back of their cloaks. The result is so stagey that it wouldn’t fool anyone, and part of why it hits the laugh button (it’s an implant) so hard is the way that Bart enters the frame, pulled like a rag doll by The Kid and flinging his line like a wooden dummy. We see the full set up, we even see Bart walk behind the rock, but his re-emergence is a small surprise punctuated by a perfect use of stereotype and hyperbole.
For its minor inventiveness, I’d assume that Tony Zhou – the mind behind this fantastic video essay on Edgar Wright’s visual style – would appreciate the playful way that Bart enters the scene. After all, this video is more than an exploration of one filmmaker’s sensibilities, it’s a much-needed prod toward modern comedies who have forgotten that movies can be more than stages for their hilarious, probably improvised dialogue.
Watch and learn:
The criticism is apt, and there’s a welcome clarity to his breakdown of Wright’s style. Modern comedies haven’t exactly abandoned visual cues, but slapstick has been whittled down to Kevin James falling down a lot, and there’s a general safeness to the way situations are presented. Even if there’s chaos on screen, we might have a straightforward angle on it.
Which is maybe why scenes like Rose Byrne’s slo-mo pimp walk in Neighbors stand out so much. It’s not at all a new convention, but using it to highlight the mother next door on a low stakes mission proves that not all comedies are merely set on point-and-shoot verbal hijinks.
It’s a nice reminder that the camera and the editing bay can both be comedians, but maybe the biggest point hiding in Zhou’s characterization – seen best in the travel scene from The Heat – is that there are now a ton of non-comedic moments acting as connective tissue in comedic movies. In other words, missed opportunities. I imagine that if we dug into enough, we’d find that this phenomenon grew alongside the edict that comedies had to end their absurdity by the 80-minute mark in order to have a traditional, totally unfunny denouement where the wacky hero learns a lesson and says something real (yet totally unfunny). Gone are the days when Monty Python gets arrested in their own movie or Blazing Saddles ends at the premiere of Blazing Saddles. Now Jim Carrey has to stop writing on his own face long enough to tell his kid that he wants to be a better dad.
Now we also have scenes in comedies that are used for a single purpose like exposition or geography, which means it can’t also be used for, you know, making us laugh. Plus, Ryan Gosling still refuses to eat his cereal.