Adam McKay – What Is Smart Dumb Comedy?

Adam McKay – What Is Smart Dumb Comedy?


When you think of the best character introductions in film history what comes to mind? there’s Frank in “Once upon a Time in the West”, the Joker, Hannibal Lecter, Willy Wonka, Quint, and Here’s another I would rank among them. [A-one-two-three-four] [ba hoo ha] Derek Hough and his family from Adam McKay’s 2008 film Step Brothers and No, I’m not joking. This is a very, very, silly scene, but consider this in, a little over a minute, we now have a total understanding of what kind of person Derek is. [Okay I’m gonna save it with this solo.] We understand that his kids are essentially monuments to his own excellence and that his wife is trapped in a hostile loveless marriage This is really effective characterization in addition to being totally absurd. [I can sing hi-i-i-igh.] [Oh Jesus!] Adam McKay’s comedies are some of the many movies produced by Judd Apatow, probably the single biggest influence on American comedy over the past 15 years. Most Apatow productions are grounded, relationship-driven comedies, like raunchier versions of James L Brooks or Woody Allen films. But McKay’s films are pretty much the opposite. They’re anarchic, absurdist,
and not grounded in the slightest. Even though he’s now earned the status of ‘Serious Director’ and won an Oscar for the “Big Short”, Mckay is probably the best filmmaker working today when it comes to smart dumb comedy. Adam McKay’s comedies, all of which are collaborations with Will Ferrell, don’t take place in our world. In the world of these movies pretty much every character is a moron. Even the smarter ones think the best way to remove a knife from someone’s leg is to pry it out with another knife. In these movies, a scene of 40 year old men beating the shit out of middle-school kids is presented as a moment of heroic victory. Murder is shrugged off as a funny surprise. [Brick killed a guy.] Absolutely nothing in the stories is meant to be taken seriously. It’s not surprising that McKay points to “The Simpsons” as a major influence. Homer Simpson is one of the great comedy protagonists. Whose stupidity has a level of brilliance and originality that could only be crafted by truly smart writers. [Hey! Get off my sugar! Bad bee! Bad! Ow!] [Oooowww!] I know there’s nothing more annoyingly pedantic than someone explaining why a joke is funny. So I won’t bother attempting an academic analysis of this…[Paa!] comedy is incredibly subjective anyway and subjectively something about Rob Riggle making that sound in the middle of a dialogue scene is funny. [Pow pow!] But while I’m not going to discuss specific jokes, I do want to look at McKay’s approach to constructing comedies. Looking at these movies on a macro level, structurally they could all be serious dramas. Anchorman tells the story of a man’s rise, fall, and redemption as he learns to grapple with the concept of gender equality. Talladega Nights is a classic sports biopic and Stepbrothers tells an archetypal story of two people starting at enemies then realizing they’re meant to be together. Mckay uses familiar structures and story beats but for each plot point finds the weirdest funniest most interesting way to approach it. Basically he’s using the approach to improv you learned from studying under del Close for constructing stories. In Anchorman, Veronica Corningstone falls for Ron Burgundy not through an enlightening emotional conversation but from seeing him give a virtuosic jazz flute performance. In The Other Guys, Terry Hoitz, in classic cop movie fashion, is haunted by a dark event from his past. But it’s not shooting a child or letting a criminal escape, its accidentally shooting Derek Jeter and costing the Yankees the World Series. In Talladega Nights, Ricky Bobby leaves tickets for his father for every race in the hope that he’ll finally show up. At the climactic race he finally does and Immediately turns around and tries to scalp the tickets. [Who needs two? I’ve got tickets.] The movie sets up a big emotional payoff only to immediately subvert it. There’s a feeling of anarchic glee running through the movies, [Anarchy! Anarchy!] as McKay grabs traditional narrative structure and dives headfirst into absurdity. There is never a tension between story and jokes. The story is simply a vehicle for the jokes the greatest moment of conflict in “Anchorman”, the battle between the rival news teams that results in actual fatalities, is a total non sequitur that has absolutely no impact on the plot or characters. The mere idea of story is itself a joke. This is what separates McKay’s work from the rest of the pack. We’ve all seen plenty of Hollywood comedies where, in the 3rd act, it suddenly gets serious. The movie realizes it has to deliver an emotional climax and gets heavy on plot forgetting to be a comedy. “Stepbrothers”, McKay’s most deranged movie it takes that idea and twist it into something insane. In the movie’s 3rd act, the characters have all gone their separate ways and to follow in the Hollywood formula we’d expect some sort of emotional reunion, and we get one in the most brilliantly stupid way, imaginable. [Let
me go for a few bars.] [Come in soft but then finish strong.] [Ok.] The climactic scene features the two psychotic, manchild protagonists performing an Italian opera song at a helicopter leasing event that is so transcendent and beautiful that all the characters experience moments of emotional enlightenment. It’s making fun of the very idea of an emotional climax. [I made a kite fly. Brendan your the best big brother ever.] We obviously have to talk about improvisation which is a major component of comedy movies in the 2000s. While the movie is directed by Apatow or his alums, like Seth Rogen, they’ve have largely used improv in the form of friends riffing jokes at one another. [Your face looks like Robin Williams knuckles.] Mckay uses it to deepen the characters and mythology. Since the characters are already exaggerated cartoons, the lines improvised aren’t jokes the characters are making, they’re absurd details about themselves. They reveal their thoughts and fantasies building on the fictional worlds they inhabit. [I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo t-shirt because it says like ‘I want to be formal but I’m here to party too’.] As silly as these movies are, all the absurdity is built on a foundation of strong characterization. We understand the characters’ motivations, their fears and desires. The absurd choices they make are funnier because they’re consistent with who the characters are. [Milk was a bad choice.] So what exactly is Smart dumb comedy? As McKay, himself, put it “It’s that weird kind of satire where you’re making fun of it but you’re also doing it.” These movies proudly mock the concept of a logical story but at the same time operate on their own internal logic. Everything makes sense within the bizarre worlds they’ve built. And as much as I’ve talked about these movies being dumb, it can’t be ignored that McKay laces politics into everything he does. “Anchorman”, “Stepbrothers” and particularly “Talladega Nights”, were sharp commentaries on Bush Era America. Their protagonists were arrogant, narcissistic men with delusional views of the world and, honestly, in 2017 these might be more relevant than ever. Hey guys, thanks for watching and for indulging me because for months now I’ve been trying to find a way to talk about the “Stepbrothers” car acapella scene in a video essay. And I did it! Now you may have noticed that there have been more video essays than usual lately and that’s for scheduling reasons because I can make these totally on my own. But pretty soon, it’ll be back to just one a month which I’m excited about because I think these are more exhausting and harder to make than like shooting narrative stuff on location. I don’t know how some channels make one every single week. Anyway, if you like what we’re doing and you want to help us make more of these videos check out the Patreon. If you want to yell at me about anything and get updates on what we’re working on, follow me on all the social media platforms, and I will see you next Wednesday.

100 comments

  • lone boi

    is it just me or is this vid good af

    Reply
  • Creasing Drip40

    Best character intro is the the guy from spy kids 3

    Reply
  • Gabriel Quinn

    Once upon a time in the west is the greatest movie of all time

    Reply
  • Wild Mitchell

    America is so smart and funny! 🤣🤣🤣

    Reply
  • vladimir ikic

    Step brothers my fav comedy

    Reply
  • Tandrarine

    Is that Papa Ferrell in the title? instant click

    Reply
  • Mason Taylor

    Best character introductions: Rey in The Force Awakens

    Reply
  • TheBanipaShow

    Vsauce's sane brother?

    Reply
  • Zoop Uniball

    amazing essay! great job!

    Reply
  • Sandy Bleach

    The intro to good bad and the ugly Is my favourite intro in a film

    Reply
  • Hercule Holmes

    Anchorman was just boring and unfunny.

    Reply
  • Royed King

    7:18 Micheal Vsauce here!!

    Reply
  • Spike

    “This is a house of learned doctors”
    That sums it up

    Reply
  • Food Tastings

    Words that everyone is using in media,essays, jokes,etc for 2018.
    VEHICLE
    VEHICLE
    VEHICLE

    Reply
  • Gregory Francis

    Got in his “liberal” jab at the end

    Reply
  • smaller cathedrals

    Dear God, … these videos. 50 seconds in and I'm done.
    You cannot seriously put this family introduction next to the likes of The Joker or Dr. Lecter. Your insane argument being that in one minute of film the audience gets to understand what kind of people these familly members are. They may be true, but it's not because it's such a clever scene.
    It's because the audience has seen this family hundreds and hundreds of times before.
    In contrast, the audience has never seen a psychopath such as Dr. Lecter. The audience is fed piewces of information about what kind of monster that man is. When he is finally introduced to the audience, the scene becomes a true masterpiece because of how the expactations are not met, yet the audience immediately knows what kind of man Dr. Lecter is. That is clever writing,
    Add to that the characters you mentioned – for fuck's sake, The Joker – are incredibly deep and well written and their introductions perfectly set that up.
    And then … then you go in and try to argue that Adam McKay plays in the same league because of a cookie-cutter introduction of cookie-cutter characters.
    I swear, you still believe the emperor is wearing clothes.

    Reply
  • NonsenseCrusade

    ugly ass nigga

    Reply
  • Kajdren

    I want step brothers 2
    I loved it as a kid and I still love it
    A sequel is well overdue

    Reply
  • bastiat6865

    Thanks. Great insights. I think you examined it down without killing it. Good job. Good laughs.

    Reply
  • Andrew Hey

    What is the song played in the background when talking about smart dumb comedies? It reminds me of One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

    Reply
  • Voidable

    Vsauce 4?

    Reply
  • Jacke28

    I think people who cannot see humor in the absurdity of his films shouldn’t criticize them becuase simply put, if they don’t find it funny then they won’t enjoy it.
    He uses the common story tropes of film and spins them on their back with stupid yet funny jokes. The films are merely for entertainment and theirs nothing wrong with that. If someone doesn’t enjoy these films it doesn’t make them smarter it just means they don’t find this form of humor entertaining

    Reply
  • Adam Morris

    Boats n hoes

    Reply
  • SANITIZED, INC.

    Re: Your comments about Stepbrothers — they're not "psychotic" — you chose the wrong word, Willems.

    Otherwise this is great.

    Reply
  • cartossin

    I don't get how I loved stepbrothers but hated anchorman. On paper, I should like both.

    Reply
  • whatshendrix

    Absurdity is the last resort of every person with no sense of humor.

    Reply
  • acid flashback

    …and no I’m not joking.
    That’s enough for me thanks then.

    Reply
  • wubbalubbadubdub

    Wow I thought Stephen Colbert was narrating this until the end.

    Reply
  • ryan durose

    Sometimes the curtains are just blue

    Reply
  • 1000ways2fly

    I wish people appreciated ‘the other guys’ as much as I do. People slept man…

    Reply
  • A Dimitri

    Adam McKay has made the funniest movies of all time

    Reply
  • Frank Helman

    You sir, Patrick Williams, are a film rhetoric genius. Now all I really want to do is watch Step Brothers..

    Reply
  • Jai Jackson

    BORAT WAS THE GREATEST COMEDY

    Reply
  • Ben Jammin

    I knew Adam McKay was a real director the moment I saw the other guys. His work in The Big Short did not surprise me at all.

    Reply
  • Kevin H.

    Arrested Development is a smart comedy about dumb people. Big bang Theory is a dumb comedy about smart people.

    Reply
  • Eugene Simakin

    It's like konosuba!

    Reply
  • Rizki Pratomo

    6:38 McKay's commentary reminds me of Terry Hoitz's line in The Other Guys about why he did ballet that good.

    Reply
  • KWANGJIN CHAI

    The other guy is the best comedy

    Reply
  • Simonstopher

    It's pronounced 'Mac-eye' oof

    Reply
  • Asi Boy

    You forgot Ali from Lawrence of Arabia.

    Reply
  • Kyle Kay

    I lost it at “The two psychotic man-child protagonists performing an Italian opera at a helicopter leasing event.” I’ve never stepped back and thought about how truly absurd that scene is.

    Reply
  • joshuabissey

    "…arrogant, narcissistic men with delusional views of the world…" That's an odd way to spell "Obama."

    Reply
  • steven claggion jr

    Anchor man is literally my Rosetta stone

    Reply
  • nyak63RUS

    WHAT?!? When you characters are as simple as a block of cheese, it's easy to introduce them fully in a single scene. This dude misses all the details, and sees only the forest, never the trees.

    Reply
  • Matthew Hartshorn

    fake vsauce

    Reply
  • MrPresidential

    Yikes on the political ending there. But the rest was great.

    Reply
  • Anthony Nguyen

    Does anyone know the name of the song that starts @3:36

    Reply
  • Levi Ryan

    but now he has to make an update with holmes and watson

    Reply
  • WoahlyCow

    4:12– he says "Anarchic glee" over a clip of Jane Lynch… clever…

    Reply
  • Xxspaceman85xX

    My 12 year old self emotionally climaxed at the end of step brothers.

    Reply
  • Anemic Fiend

    Why does this guy look like discount vsauce

    Reply
  • Sexy McDeepVoice

    Eww a dirty liberal.

    Reply
  • Jeffrey Phillip

    1:05 good ol' Amy Schumer, the only one laughing… Probably at herself…

    Reply
  • John Smith

    Woody Allen used to make "smart dumb comedy". The Farrely Bros too. Adam McKay makes dumb dumb comedy.

    Reply
  • Michael Dodd

    Nice analysis.

    Reply
  • Aniki Aniki

    Good analysis, but I think Will Ferrell is often the major reason why the movies are so great

    Reply
  • Matthew Kakaris

    lol "anarchic Glee"

    Reply
  • Autisticus Asperganoid

    yes yes yes!!!
    ugh i look up to these guys
    I'm an absurd humour/Non-Sequitur conosir (wtf's the spelling for that wird?)
    i feel like tbere isn't an absurd humour community but whatevs there's enugh in my head
    ANARCHY!

    Reply
  • Bee Roni

    Idk if Adam McKay directed walk hard but it's sad no one talks about it

    Reply
  • Zac Lavender

    John Wayne's opening close-up in Stagecoach comes to mind as super iconic as well.

    Reply
  • T Vulture

    I'd like to submit Jake in The Blues Brothers as another, near perfect introduction.

    Reply
  • KimboSlice

    One of the exceptions from Patrick that are actually great!

    Reply
  • A Matter of Film

    "The Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria! I'll do you in the bottom while you're drinking Sangria!" Honest to God, Stepbrothers is one of the funniest movies ever made. Great video, man!

    Reply
  • Second Man Productions

    Adam McKay is a really really talented director. His comedies are some of the funniest things you’ll ever see but his serious work is also gripping and enthralling. He has a great range and always brings something strong to the table.

    Reply
  • Mj Marron

    OH FUCK U ENDED IT WITH THAT KID SINGING!!!!!! LMFAO

    Reply
  • dan tan

    just found out that i love jud apatow

    Reply
  • Metaception

    Back in 2017, I would have been annoyed at his suggestion that McKay's comedies also served as social commentary on the Bush era through observation of narcissistic, delusional men; but then he made a biopic of Dick Cheney in "Vice", so hindsight's 20/20 I guess.

    Reply
  • Michael Indiano

    The big short..?

    Reply
  • Mister G Rool

    After making a terrible political hot take like that, maybe you really do need to see more commentaries on arrogant, narcissistic men.

    Reply
  • yomega69

    "…sharp commentaries on Bush-era America" hmm I don't think see these films as "sharp commentaries". Yes, that may be the point behind the films but they certainly don't serve to function that way. If anything, these movies glorify those white narcissistic men. The people he is mocking make up a major portion of it's fan-base and they love these movies. It shows a world where there a no consequences for shit behavior/actions. The mirror reflects back to them a positive image… so I can't see how it is "what we need now". This has always been my issues with his films, interesting that you take the opposite side on this and see the positive effects.

    Reply
  • Average Gamer TG

    I'd rank Gus Johnson and many Reddit lores as this. They're so stupid yet so clever as well

    Reply
  • Richard Nixon

    Um, Hans Landa?

    Reply
  • Mark Woollon

    You lost me in about a minute. New record 😂

    Reply
  • Dirg Ramsey

    Do a vid on Peter Farely.

    Reply
  • Akmon Ra

    I think this is actually why the Big Short failed. It attempted to tell a real story in the real world, but obviously didn't want to.

    Reply
  • h d

    Apatow has been more consistent. Step Brothers is the only McKay comedy worth watching more than once. In fact I'd say his best film thus far has been The Big Short.

    Reply
  • Eric Berman

    This is edited brilliantly. Well done!

    Reply
  • Inazuma Tan

    0:22 isn’t that Megalovania!?

    Reply
  • Alex Oakley

    And then he made Vice

    Reply
  • photondance

    “ANARCHY’
    “ANARCHY’

    Reply
  • Giovanni Giorgio

    Adam McKay is the ironic shitposter of a whole generation

    Reply
  • Robert_6- _

    So there smart cuz they are funny in there own way cuz there themselfves

    Reply
  • Exiled

    Hes a bi-racial angel

    Reply
  • Silas Clairmont

    this so will ferrell is the best comedic actor of our generation

    Reply
  • Gentism Brizzledarie

    LIKE

    Reply
  • C Brown

    I have to respectfully disagree. Will Ferrell & Adam McKay's comedies have parts that are funny but a lot of the jokes seem like we're supposed to find them funny simply because it's absurd. I did like Step Brothers and The Other Guys, but a lot of the movies just seemed like they were doing the same gags & characters only with a new script. They are both very talented and they both have films and other projects that I have enjoyed. However, I feel like their work together has kind of run it's course and they need to maybe go back to the drawing board and start with something fresh or maybe do more work on their own. Holmes & Watson bombing kind of feels like a sort of confirmation that people have already seen that act too many times. I did enjoy the video though, very well made!

    Reply
  • Kyle Fagan

    Stepbrothers is the worst movie ever made

    Reply
  • Big Moist

    Every time I make smart dumb jokes everyone thinks I’m stupid. Even though they’re super funny to me and I enjoy to make them, it pisses me off when they assume I’m actually dumb.

    Reply
  • monstersince

    me Kay. fawlty towers Cheers

    Reply
  • Psychedelic Lizard

    4:10 I see what you did there

    Reply
  • A S

    You had to insert your faggy little political jab at the end.

    Reply
  • Tessa Rossa

    Sixty percent of the time, McKay's films work EVERY time

    Reply
  • Doggie Style

    The dad in Talladega Nights is possibly the greatest movie character ever constructed.

    Reply
  • Cliff_Dingle

    Right after I watched this I decided to watch these movies on Netflix since they’re in my recommended. And of course they’ve all been taken down

    Reply
  • Davin Eldridge

    WHOA! Hey now, Patty. Hold the horses there, partner. "…Judd Apatow, probably the single biggest influence on American comedy in 15 years."

    Thought you could just fit a quick Hattrick in there when no one was looking, did you Patrick? Look, this is the first and probably last time I'll pipe-up with a comment on any of your videos. Until now, your work's been nothing but exceptional, sir. But with one exception, and I think I'll preface that with — I think you meant to say 'Judd Apatow, probably the single biggest influence on American comedic *cinema in 15 years.'

    No doubt, ol' JudApa's a silly feller. But any consequence or influence he may have on American COMEDY is negligible at best. Sure, he himself did have what's been called a background in standup comedy. But even Judd'll tell ya that didn't turn out too well for him. It's not that he wasn't talented, capable on stage, accepted by the standup community to any degree, or anything like that. It's just that he wasn't… He wasn't especially great at it. Nothing memorable or special. And I recall nothing about Apatow having a background in improv or humor writing either.

    Where your statement is correct, sir, is on the back-half of the seventh sentence of this nit-picky diatribe, where it's been revised for accuracy. In cinema, JdAptw's greatest strengths lie in his comedy productions. End rant.

    Reply
  • elnubnub

    Best characters introduction in movie history… La Haine (1995)

    Reply
  • Sierra

    Finaly someone said it! Now I can show this video essay to all my friends that think me and these movies are just dumb trash

    Reply
  • Senjuti

    so……this is why everyone was nervous about the nightwing movie… i see

    Reply
  • Doug Stewart

    …OK, I guess I need to see Step Brothers.

    Reply
  • Gnarwhal

    Dumb and Dumber is another example of a smart dumb comedy

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *