An earlier Sideband references the, “These go to eleven,” bit from This is Spinal Tap. As I mentioned, some people I know consider it one of the funniest bits in all of film, but the phrasing I just used should clue you in that it’s not mine.
Make no mistake, I do consider it a classic moment, a very funny moment, and a moment that has become a cultural icon. But it didn’t make me laugh until I hurt too much to laugh anymore. And that begs the question, “So what are those funniest moments?”
There are three that spring to mind. In one of them, I laughed so hard I literally fell out of my chair!
That one was Bill Cosby‘s dentist routine. The one where he’s talking with a jaw full of Novocaine (which, in fact, is a brand name for procaine; I never knew that until just now when I looked up the spelling of Novocaine). It’s on the Himself album (and movie) from 1982. The whole bit is hysterical, but the part of talking after Novocaine just slayed me. Laughed so hard I—no fooling—fell out of my chair. Until then I didn’t realize that was literally possible.
The next is the movie Airplane from 1980. From the opening credits (remember the plane’s tail as a shark fin?) and throughout the film, I laughed until my sides hurt, and I was too exhausted to laugh any more.
To this day it remains one of the funniest movies I can think of. And who knew Leslie Nielsen was funny? Until then he’d always played serious roles. Same with Peter Graves (also hysterical as the pilot). And what a cast; exactly like the actual disaster movies of the day (which it parodied brilliantly), it was wall-to-wall stars.
There are so many great bits. Ted Striker’s drinking problem, Elaine Dickinson and the auto-pilot, Steve McCroskey (“I picked a bad day to give up sniffing glue.”).
It was (nearly) the first (and in my heart, best) of the Zucker, Zucker, Abrahams movies. (Their first was an odd-ball movie, The Kentucky Fried Movie, which was pretty funny, although it doesn’t survive the test of time nearly as well as Airplane.)
Another contestant in the three-way tie for funniest movie is Monty Python and the Holy Grail from 1975. Here, again, laughing so hard I had to stop because I was exhausted and it hurt to laugh any more.
The opening credits (the moose jokes) had me, and it just got funnier from there. (I confess I was always a little let down by the ending, although, really, where could you go from there?).
Holy Grail and Airplane have both provided a rich set of cultural icons that have been used and repeated ever since.
Holy Grail provided killer rabbits, bridge guardians with questions about swallows and Knights who say, “Nie!”
Airplane began the whole spoof movie business and launched Nielsen’s comedy career.
The third place spot is a two-way tie. The first one (going by date) goes to a somewhat unknown Bill Murray movie. I don’t mean Groundhog Day, although that is a favorite of mine (and it’s hardly unknown). I mean The Man Who Knew Too Little!
This is your basic “mistaken identity” film (Murray is mistaken for a top hit man while believing himself to be participating in a live audience-participation improv theatre gift from his brother.)
What makes the film brilliant, beside the basic comedy shenanigans, is how adroitly the mistaken identity stuff is handled. It’s never forced. All the dialog makes perfect sense to both characters, and it’s perfectly organic to the situation, but also perfectly taken to mean two different things.
Tied with this is the delightful Galaxy Quest, which asks the question, “What if an alien race watched our Star Trek TV series and—because they lack any sense of fiction or untruth—took it seriously as a documentary?” And what if they needed a hero such as Captain Kirk to save their planet from a terrible enemy? And what if they came to earth and got William Shatner?
The film is a brilliant parody of the Star Trek world; its actors and fans alike. To me, it works on three levels: First, it’s a pretty funny science fiction movie all on its own. Second, it’s a delightful parody and deconstruction of Star Trek. And finally, it’s a loving tribute to both the show, the actors and the fans.
Plus, it stars Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub and Enrico Colantoni (who you man not recognize as the photographer Elliot from the fun TV show, Just Shoot Me!). With a cast like that (Alan Rickman! Sigourney Weaver!!), it just has to be tasty as all get out. And it is.
This devolved a bit from funniest moments to funniest films, but that’s okay. Life is a process, and the journey is everything.