Scary Movie 5, David Zucker’s 15 rules of comedy, and the death of the movie spoof

Back in September, Burnsy called Scary Movie 5, which coughs and wheezes and hacks up mucus and slips on a rotten banana peel into theaters today, the “worst thing ever.” He wasn’t exaggerating — Dimension Films isn’t screening the movie for critics because, well, it’s unlikely “…starring Kendra Wilkinson and Audrina Patridge as Christian Grey’s slaves” will win over those who contributed to Scary Movie 4‘s dazzling 37% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Those Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo and President Bush reading a book to schoolchildren jokes were just too smart, I guess.

This profile of the movie does little to contradict Burnsy’s claim.

“This is the hardest thing to do, to weave together plots from different movies,” he says. “You have to make your best guess. In all these movies, we end up reshooting. You have to put it in front of an audience. What happened in [Scary Movie V] is that we used Paranormal Activity, elements of all of them, and Black Swan, and Planet of the Apes. What we found out was, none of those movies had an actual monster. We didn’t realize that until halfway through. (Via)

The clueless-sounding “he” quoted above is David Zucker, the former genius who, occasionally with his brother Jeff, has given us three of the funniest movies of all-time in Airplane!, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, and The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear, as well as the very good Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult and BASEketball. So…what the f*ck happened? [Vince’s Note: I’m going to melvin him ruthlessly for not mentioning Top Secret!, one of the greatest films of all time].

Back in 2006, EW asked Zucker to share his “15 Rules of Comedy,” as they relate to spoof films.

1. JOKE ON A JOKE: Two jokes at the same time cancel each other out. When an actor delivers a punchline, it should be done seriously. It dilutes the comedy to try to be funny on top of it. Likewise, if there is something silly going on in the background, the foreground action must be free of jokes and vice-versa.

2. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Actors in the foreground must ignore jokes happening behind them. At the end of Naked Gun, Priscilla Presley tells Leslie Nielsen, “Everybody needs a friend like you.” They never acknowledge O.J. Simpson’s wheelchair careening down the steps and launching him into the air.

3. UNRELATED BACKGROUND: A joke happening in the background must be related in some way to the action in the foreground. The reason why the O.J. Simpson joke works is because he’s flying through the air as a result of being slapped on the back by Drebin.

4. BREAKING THE FRAME: Don’t remind the audience that they’re watching a movie. This is the rule most often legally bypassed, but a movie has to be a strong one to withstand more than one or two of these.

5. TRIVIA: A joke using references so arcane that few people will ever get it.

6. JERRY LEWIS: Don’t use a comedian in a straight man role. Scenes in a parody ought to mimic the real thing. That means, basically, follow Rule #1. You’ve got funny lines in the script. If you add comedians (and “funny” character names, “funny” wardrobe, etc.), it’s a joke on a joke.

7. AXE GRINDING: When the joke is overshadowed by some message, it gets unfunny fast.

8. SELF CONSCIOUS: Any jokes about the movie itself, the movie business, or comedy itself. A strict no-no because it prevents the audience from being invested in plot and character.

9. STRAW DUMMY: Where the intended target is set up by the writer instead of real life. Even if the joke hits the target, who cares?

10. CAN YOU LIVE WITH IT?: Once a joke is made, it can’t be allowed to hang around after the initial laughs. In Naked Gun, Frank and Ed are seated in a car, their lips turned ridiculously pink from the pistachio nuts they’re munching. But one scene later, when Frank goes snooping in the bad guy’s apartment, he’s got to be clean. It’s kind of like buying a personalized license plate. How long can “I H8 MEN” be funny?

11. THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN: Something that totally defies all logic but is on and off the screen so fast that we get away with it. Example: Robert Stack in Airplane! yells to Lloyd Bridges, “He can’t land, they’re on instruments!” And of course we cut to the cockpit and four of the actors are playing musical instruments. Seconds later, in the next scene, the saxophone and clarinets have disappeared. If it’s done right, no one in the audience will ask where the instruments went.

12. LATE HIT: You know a particular target has had enough when it’s been raked over the coals by Leno, Letterman, the MTV Awards, etc.

13. TECHNICAL PIZZAZZ: Special effects don’t necessarily mean funny.

14. HANGING ON: Don’t play a joke too long. When it’s reached its peak, get the scissors.


There’s some good advice in there (all rules should be taught though Frank Drebin references), though I don’t think it explains why *hitches up Old Man Kurp pants, gets finger in wagging position* most spoof movies are terrible these days. Here’s every post-2008 movie listed on Wikipedia’s “Parody Film” page:

Meet the Spartans (2008)
Superhero Movie (2008)
The Onion Movie (2008)
Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild (2008)
An American Carol (2008)
Disaster Movie (2008)
Extreme Movie (2008)
Black Dynamite (2009)
Dance Flick (2009)
Not Another Not Another Movie (2009)
Stan Helsing (2009)
El Agente 00-P2 (2009)
Land of the Lost (2009)
Spanish Movie (2009)

There’s approximately one very good (Black Dynamite) and one decent (The Onion Movie) movie in there. The rest: utter crap. And what separates Black Dynamite from the likes of Stan Helsing and, ugh, Superhero Movie is that it’s ageless; there are no of-its-time Charlie Sheen jokes and Juno spoofs. (This is also why Shaun of the Dead and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story work — they’re not dependent on mid-2000s pop culture references.) The key to making a timeless parody film is to literally make it timeless. You don’t need to have been alive in 1988 to piss your pants in laughter at the baseball scene from Naked Gun. Twenty years from now, are we even going to remember what this is making fun of?

Also, kill Friedberg and Seltzer. That’d help, too.

(Via) (Via Hollywood)