• Michael Rickard II

"What Makes a Comedy Funny?" 'Scary Movie' and the Comic Element."


While defining comedy can be difficult, Gerald Mast’s chapter “The Comic Mind” provides a structural guide to analyzing comedic works by identifying comic structure and comic climate. meets Mast’s first definition of a comic film in that it is “...one with a comic plot and comic climate” (12). can be classified as a comedy because it has a comic plot (in this case, a parody of the horror genre) and maintains a comic climate throughout its story. has many of the elements that David Mast argues are needed to create a comic climate. creates a comic climate through its cast, the characters’ actions, the use of stock characters, its comic dialogue, and its artistic self-consciousness (dispelling the illusion that the audience is watching a film rather than illusion).

Scary Movie is a parody of the horror genre. “The parodic plot is deliberately contrived and artificial; it is not an ‘imitation of a human action’ but an imitation of an imitation” (Mast 5). Scary Movie follows the laws of a horror film such as teenage victims, a mysterious, perhaps superhuman killer, and sex leading to death. However, these are exaggerated to ridiculous lengths as the film imitates the plots of two horror films, Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer.

A film’s cast can alert an audience they are about to see a comedy. The Wayans Brothers’ presence in the film alerts the audience to expect a comedy as both Shawn and Marlon Wayans are known for their comedic talents and appearances in funny films and TV shows. Marlon plays stoner character Shorty to comic effect and Shawn plays an athlete whose friends can’t seem to notice he is gay, despite some strong hints from him.

Mast notes that stock characters can contribute to a film’s comic nature. relies on character types to create a comic mood. Whether it’s the virginal, ditzy Cindy and her sex-starved boyfriend Bobby; dumb jock Greg; self-absorbed social climber Buffy; or confused Ray these stock characters all serve a purpose. “One dimensional characters who represent comic types, either physically or psychologically, also line up our responses in the intended direction” (Mast 10). Director Keenen Ivory Wayans uses stock characters to subtly show us the comic climate and why we should laugh. Stock characters include the sex-starved Bobby who turns homicidal thanks to Cindy’s abstinence and self-centered Buffy who ignores her boyfriend’s murder (in a parody of a scene from ) when she realizes she has won first place in a teen pageant,

The characters’ actions also create the comic climate with them acting ridiculously in what should be a serious situation i.e. a horror film. The film opens with a recreation of the early scene in where the killer terrorizes a young woman over the phone, asking her what her favorite movie is. recreates the scene with comic effect as the female victim passes gas while she’s being terrorized on the phone and excuses herself. Moments later, she runs provocatively through a water sprinkler while Ghostie (the villain) chases her, the camera slowing down to capture the moment. Later, Sheriff Campbell shows the film’s heroine Cindy what the audience thinks will be mugshots, but which are provocative photos of him. Another example of the characters’ comic actions is when Ghostie calls Shorty, presumably to terrorize him over the phone. Instead, Shorty and his stoner friends recreate the popular “Whassup” beer commercial from the 90’s.

Another way a comic climate can be created is through comic dialogue. has an exchange between Cindy and her dad, a heartfelt display of fatherly advice to Cindy, except Dad is telling Cindy he must lay low from drug dealers he’s crossed and he’s giving Cindy instructions on how to cut the drugs he’s left her. This is all done matter-of-factly which only makes it funnier. Another exchange occurs when girl’s gym coach Ms. Mann gives her students advice on protecting themselves from Ghostie only to quickly veer off into inappropriate advice such as dealing with crabs. This dialogue contributes to the comic climate.

Mast also discusses how artistic self-consciousness can create a comic climate. The idea that is in fact, just a movie is referenced several times, contributing to the comic climate. Early in the film, the theme music from the TV show plays while Cindy and Bobby are together, only for actor James Van Der Beek (who plays Dawson) climbing through Cindy’s window and saying he’s on the wrong set. The biggest example occurs when Cindy and Bobby are in bed and Bobby tells Cindy they are in a film. Cindy seems skeptical until Bobby refers to the film crew and we see them shooting the film.

Cinematic tools can create a comic climate, another element discussed by Mast. Scary Movie is shot like a horror film with its quick cuts and use of jump scares. However, the film’s comic climate makes it clear no one should take things seriously. For example, Buffy’s bloody death scene is shot like any brutal murder seen in a horror film, complete with clichés like a screaming victim, broken leg that prevents escape, and lots of blood. However, Buffy’s complete obliviousness to the fact she is in fact meaning murdered turn a well-shot horror scene into a laugh-out loud scene instead (And although horror films can have moments of laughter, this film is clearly a comedy).

With its comic plot (parody) and comic climate, Scary Movie cleverly spoofs the horror genre, using comedic situations, funny stock characters, humorous dialogue, and self-references to let the audience know they are watching a take on the horror genre. Given Scary Movie’s success, the film’s cast and crew had a clear understanding of what makes for a comic climate.

Mast, Gerald. The Comic Mind: Comedy and the Movies. Ward and Balkin Agency, Inc., 2012.

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