Funniest Screenplays of All Time

Drama MasksBack in 2012, the Writers Guild of America surveyed its membership to identify the Best Written TV Series of All Time and I used the occasion to share my own list. This year the WGA is doing the same for the 101 Funniest Screenplays, asking members to submit fifteen titles to collect the 101 most mentioned. Again, I am not only happy to oblige, I am happy to share my picks with all of you even before the definitive list is published!

Of course funny means different things to different people. Is it slapstick funny, quirky funny, shock value funny, social critique funny, outrageous, embarrassing, or simply impossible to describe? How can you compare so many different kinds of funny, and is the contest even worthwhile other than as a recommendation list? Many wonder if it’s the writing that’s funny, or the performances, or the directing and editing. For me, you have to give credit to the writer if the movie ranks as one of the funniest, no more who contributes. Of course as someone who types a lot of words to share with others, I’m clearly biased toward recognizing writers for their contributions no matter the collaboration. Call me old-fashioned about the important of the written word, but my sense remains that if it’s not on the page ready to be made funny, no one can come to work to make it more funny!

I reached out to my Facebook friends to see what they thought, and what you see below, not in any specific order, are my fifteen, followed by all others that were mentioned frequently or emphatically. Mel Brooks is a clear and recurring winner here, along with the mockumentary Christopher Guest ensemble, a healthy dose of Monty Python, and a rousing run by the Coen Brothers. There were definitely generational trends in the responses I collected, with any number of people on this or that side of political correctness and golden age vs. modern age vs. contemporary leanings. Like music and literature, comedy is very personal, and taste is an individual expression of who we are what makes us tick. There’s a wide net here, and it will always be open to argument, rebuttal, reform, and addition.

I somewhat arbitrarily capped the list below at sixty titles because, well, I guess I didn’t want it to go on forever. Some of the motion pictures named by my friends were less familiar, so I tried to stay with more mainstream and recognizable fare. That should leave plenty of room for surprises when the WGA list is published next winter, and also for any others might want to add. I’m sure you’ve enjoyed many of these:

1) Young Frankenstein

2) Blazing Saddles

3) Monty Python and the Holy Grail

4) Animal House

5) Airplane

6) This Is Spinal Tap

7) When Harry Met Sally

8) Arthur

9) A Fish Called Wanda

10) There’s Something About Mary

11) Trading Places

12) Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

13) Stripes

14) Dr. Strangelove

15) MASH

And then from my social media community…

16) Waiting for Guffman

17) Best in Show

18) Some Like It Hot

19) What’s Up Doc?

20) Duck Soup

21) A Night at the Opera

22) Flirting with Disaster

23) Raising Arizona

24) The Producers

25) Caddy Shack

26) Bridesmaids

27) Wedding Crashers

28) Fast Times at Ridgemont High

29) The Princess Bride

30) Shakespeare in Love

31) Caddy Shack

32) Monty Python’s Life of Brian

33) Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life

34) The Jerk

35) O Brother, Where Art Thou?

36) The Big Lebowski

37) Rushmore

38) Napoleon Dynamite

39) Being John Malkovich

40) Annie Hall

41) Harold and Maude

42) My Cousin Vinny

43) My Favorite Year

44) Groundhog Day

45) Ghostbusters

46) Tootsie

47) The Hangover

48) National Lampoon’s Vacation

49) His Girl Friday

50) Office Space

51) The Naked Gun

52) The Forty Year Old Virgin

53) Dumb and Dumber

54) Tommy Boy

55) Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

56) The Blues Brothers Movie

57) The Graduate

58) The Pink Panther

59) The Party

60) A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

That’s a more than decent start, plenty of chuckles, guffaws, and belly laughs to go around. Remember, it all starts with the written word, or as many writers like to say: “You know that joke? Somebody wrote that!”

Please feel free to add any of your favorites in the comments below!

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Best Written TV Series of All Time

This is not a “normal” blog entry for me, but it seemed fun and worth sharing.  Earlier this month, I received the following announcement from the Writers Guild:

In 2006, the Writers Guilds of America, West and East presented the 101 Greatest Screenplays, honoring the best screenwriting of all time as chosen by WGA members. The final list and tribute event garnered major media and industry attention.

Now in 2012, the WGA turns its attention to the small screen with plans to unveil the 101 Best Written TV Series, honoring the most outstanding television writing of the past seven decades and spotlighting the writers who crafted the acclaimed TV shows that helped shape our lives.

If you would like to take a trip with the Ghost of TV’s Past through an extensive but still incomplete list of WGA acclaimed television series, they have provided the link included here.

The request was to vote for my own Top 20 in no particular order, which I found so interesting, enjoyable and difficult, I offer it here.  I share this not because it is definitive or I think my choices are in any way the correct ones, but to offer a perspective of what gets me jazzed about good commercial writing for the media.  This is highly subjective ground and potentially controversial, but what it says to me is that our choices of what we find to be good writing help define our own unique place in the world by nudging us to articulate a personal sense of aesthetic.  Storytelling in any compelling form can offer a window into interpreting our own motivations.  What we like is what we like, and that helps make each of us who we are.  No doubt you will think I am wrong for both what I included and did not, but hey, that’s the fun of it.  Maybe you’ll talk me in or out of a title.  Vive la difference!

Some of these lasted a single season, a few more than a generation.  Clearly the ones that went on longest had the most ups and downs, but even where they may have been inconsistent, the fact that they held my attention to stay connected kept me from penalizing the rough patches.  I tried with each to think about writing specifically as the key element in my selection, although too often it is hard to tease apart the written word from acting, directing, and even show design.  Television is known to be the writer’s medium, but there are times when a featured actor creates a character so defining it can carry the show beyond the craft of the teleplay.  Although outstanding writing is a critical component in what I enjoy, I did not approach this as a “favorites” list per se — otherwise as many as a half-dozen of these picks might have been switched.

The shows noted all had an impact on me for all kinds of reasons, personal, professional, in work and play, writing and non-writing professional work.  In no particular order, with a touch of bias toward recency, here is what I came up with for my best written 20:

1) Hill Street Blues

2) NYPD Blue

3) Friday Night Lights

4) Roots

5) thirtysomething

6) My So-Called Life

7) Man Men

8) Sopranos

9) Lost

10) The West Wing

11) Boardwalk Empire

12) The Dick Van Dyke Show

13) Mary Tyler Moore

14) All in the Family

15) Modern Family

16) M*A*S*H

17) Cheers

18) Married with Children

19) Daily Show with Jon Stewart

20) Saturday Night Live

If you want to know why or why not, please feel free to comment, but make sure you suggest at least a few of your own!  We’ll see how all our tastes aligned with the compiled WGA ballot tabulation when the 101 Best Written are announced later this fall.

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