Exactly 42 years ago, US president Richard Nixon signed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, which requires the packaging of all tobacco products to display a Surgeon General’s warning about the consequences of smoking. To commemorate this fateful day, our contributors have decided to recommend a few works that exemplify the administrative changes one can expect when a bill is passed into law… April Fool’s!
King of Comedy (1999)
I’ve always considered comedy a spectator sport. Take, for example, the 1999 film Hei Kek Ji Wong, better known this side of the Arctic as King of Comedy. With a title like that, directors Stephen Chow and Lee Lik Chi are pretty much asking for supercilious contrarians to come in with their arms crossed, refusing to laugh at even the best gags, such as the John Woo spoof with a Mexican standoff expanding endlessly under a cloud of pigeons. In fact, I remember the person I saw it with never cracking a smile, proudly declaring his ticklish humerus of superior sophistication.
It’s too bad because Chow strikes me as utterly charming as Wan Tin Sau, a struggling actor who falls in love with a prostitute named Piu Piu (Cecilia Cheung). Sure, the story kind of falls apart near the end with its various threads tied together in the most convoluted way imaginable, but I dare you not to cheer when our hero earns his Styrofoam box from craft services. Equal parts absurd and pathetic, King of Comedy will both warm the cockles of your heart and split your sides, leaving you a confused anatomical mess. You just have to let it. Better yet, maybe you should stay home and spare me the hipster condescension next time I invite you to see a classic hit by one of Hong Kong’s greatest comedians. Either works fine.
I Want to Go Home
I think everyone can agree that, at its core, comedy should make us laugh. Forget convoluted mistaken identity plots, uncomfortable errors in judgement that make you wince, or social relevance. I just want a quick read that makes me laugh out loud in a public place. As such, I recommend a book that first made my ribs hurt when I was eleven and still tickled my funny bone last year as I read it to my daughter: I Want to Go Home by Canadian children’s author Gordon Korman.
I Want to Go Home centers on Rudy Miller, an exceptional but antisocial boy sent to camp on the advice of his guidance counselor. Once there, he torments the staff and campers with his reluctant brilliance and increasingly creative attempts to escape the island. This leads to an absurd scavenger hunt, great wordplay, and the best practical joke ever played (by a beaver, no less), all filtered through the keen eye of a child who sees the humour in everything even when he himself isn’t amused. Neither intelligent nor pertinent, Korman’s ode to camp is quite simply the funniest book I’ve ever read.
When I look back at the yardsticks against which I’ve measured myself, it’s with comedy I always come up short. Though my palate for pretension developed early, there isn’t much I found funny growing up to which I’d dare go back now. It’s not that I consider these works embarrassments. Rather, I’m embarrassed for myself: did I really think that stuff was funny the first time around? I guess some standouts have turned out more than one-night stands. For example, the energetic inventiveness of the Looney Tunes begat the clever world-building of The Muppet Show, which, in turn, lead to the absurdist wit of Fawlty Towers. Soon later, I brushed up against cringe humour and fell in love with The Office and Extras, both brainchildren of Ricky Gervais.
As Carl Weathers says, “Baby, you throw it all together, and you’ve got a stew going on,” or, if you recognize the reference, you’ve got Arrested Development, Mitchell Hurwitz’ short-lived sitcom about the dysfunctional Bluth family: the well-meaning Michael (Jason Bateman), his insecure son George Michael (Michael Cera), his neurotic brothers Byron (Tony Hale) and Gob (Will Arnett), and his manipulative parents George (Jeffrey Tambor) and Lucille (Jessica Walter). Brush up now. With the series soon re-launching on Netflix, a fourth television season and a movie might still be possible.
Pick of All Who Submitted Their Contribution Late:
Schindler’s List (1993)
With Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg reminds us why he’s known as a pioneer of popcorn cinema by making us cry with laughter. We definitely had tears. Consider the running gag in which a little girl with a red coat appears in random backgrounds, brilliantly inverting Martin Handford’s Where’s Wally concept while emphasising the absurdity of Hitler having somehow removed colour from Germany between 1939 and 1945. Who is this child? Where did she get her magical garment? The young one dies before these questions are answered, and the punch-line proves unbearably tragic. Therein, of course, lies the director’s transcendent joke.
We’re told that Schindler’s List is based on true events, that families of Jewish, Romani, and Polish descent were brought to concentration camps and systematically executed by the Nazis, that between eleven and seventeen million lives were lost during the genocide, and that, despite all this, some people still find it fit to engage in anti-Semitic rhetoric and minimize the horror of the Holocaust, making this film all the more relevant today. If that’s the case, Spielberg surely deserves an Oscar for finding the humour in one of history’s worst crimes against humanity. Such a daring April Fool’s movie!