"Have you seen any comedies?" There was a wistful
tone in the voice of the man asking the question. He
was at Tribeca because he is a programmer for two
other festivals and he was looking for good prospects. He had no
trouble finding provocative, searing, troubling,
moving, and disturbing films on the schedule, but not
much luck finding comedies. While the people who buy
tickets like to laugh, the people who select festival
films tend to go for the earnest and sensitive over
the funny. As Woody Allen said, if you do comedy
you're always sitting at the children's table.
But with a little planning I was able to find some
great comedy moments at Tribeca. Jeff Garlin, who
plays Larry David's agent on HBO's "Curb Your
Enthusiasm,” adapted his one-man show into a romantic
comedy co-starring Bonnie Hunt and Sara Silverman
called "I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With." Garlin,
who also directed, based the script on his own life.
The main character performs with Chicago's legendary
improv group, as did Garlin and Hunt in real life.
Silverman and Hunt play the women in his life, Chicago
actor David Pasquesi plays his best friend, and there
are marvelous cameos by Richard Kind, Dan
Castellaneta, and Amy Sedaris.
Garlin, Hunt, Silverman, and the producers spoke with
the press about the film, covering everything from
having to make up an outrageous but not descriptive
name for a sex act described in the film to their own
worst romantic experiences to the pleasures of
shooting in Chicago (Hunt called it "a big Mayberry"
and Garlin was proud to have made the first film to
feature Chicago's famous new "Bean" sculpture) to
Garlin's commitment to comedy that is not "quick,
convenient, or mean-spirited."
Garlin also appeared on a panel that saluted "Animal
House" and its influence on film comedies, along with
Harold Ramis (co-screenwriter), Todd Phillips ("Road
Trip," "Old School"), and Jake Kasdan ("Orange
County"), whose new satire of network television, "The
TV Set," starring David Duchovny and Sigourney Weaver,
was a popular festival selection.
Kasdan said that Ramis' "Stripes" and "Ghostbusters"
were his biggest influences. "'Stripes' is a perfect
comedy because it is about lazy, shlubby rebels who
are the coolest possible guys." He said the perfect
structure for a comedy is where "a nebbishy goofball
finds himself in the middle of some large structured
system and raises hell." “Low status is always
funny,” Garlin agreed.
Philips said it was the anti-establishment culture of
the Ramis films that attracted him. He said, "it was
brilliant to set 'Animal House' in the 1950's, when
the culture was one of respect for authority."
"Actually," Ramis explained, "the movie is set in
1963. It concludes with the parade in the fall and we
had it in our minds that it ended the day before JFK
was killed. No good comedy is set in the protest era.
‘M*A*S*H’ was set in an earlier war. Someone will be
funny about this war some day."
They also spoke about the value of improvising in
comedy. Ramis said, "The script was what we would do
if we couldn't think of anything better. Shooting was
the final draft of the script. There are techniques to
keep things fresh in drama. It doesn't depend on
surprise. But to be funny is almost invariably to be
surprising. It comes naturally and organically out of
some very specific moment that can never be repeated."
Phillips agreed, "The element of danger keeps comedy
alive. There is a fearlessness about great comic
actors like Will Ferrell. As a director I am the
opposite of a technician. I try to create a nice,
loose, environment to make the actors feel safe in
trying new things, not to be afraid something might
The younger directors acknowledged their debt to
Ramis, and he acknowledged his to those who went
before him. "We ripped off everyone. Everything we
did was derivative of someone else, silent films,
Ernie Kovacs, Martin and Lewis, Abbott and Costello.
We took from them and added some political