Woody Allen. Mel Brooks. Steve Martin. Nora Ephron. Billy Wilder. Preston Sturges. Judd Apatow. Amy Heckling. Charlie Chaplin. Jon Favreau. Joel and Ethan Coen. They were all on the list as the Writers Guild of America unveiled its 101 Funniest Screenplays of all time in a rollicking presentation at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, giving props to the writers who sometimes don’t get as much respect as their drama counterparts.
The evening began with a clip reel of classic comedies that starred Cary Grant, Dudley Moore, John Belushi, Groucho Marx, Eddie Murphy, Gene Wilder, Dustin Hoffman and Kristen Wiig, amongst many others.
An irreverent Rob Reiner—whose “Spinal Tap” came in at number 11-- took the reins to host the proceedings before a packed house that included many of the lauded screenwriters.
The screenplays were introduced in groups until the top 10 were revealed and along the way, Reiner added his own commentary.
He first called on Jon Favreau, whose “Swingers” in 1996 not only gave him his start in Hollywood but came in at number 93. “You were skinny back then,” Reiner commented, before a clip rolled of a trim and fit Favreau calling a woman’s answering machine multiple times and making a complete fool of himself.
“It was a big moment for me. I’d started off doing improv in Chicago and I wrote the screenplay to get acting jobs for me and my friends,” recalled Favreau, who has gone on to a multifaceted career producing and directing. “What’s great is there’s always room for new energy and new people in Hollywood. This afforded me a living and a backstage view because people will say anything in front of you as a writer. But it made me more excited, not jaded. That opened the door more fully for me than just acting. But to see my name up here, I feel like a fraud with these classics.”
He then joined in a panel discussion including writers Marc Norman, Jennifer Westfeldt and George Gallo.
Alexander Payne, who wrote 1999’s “Election,” (number 77 on the list) then took the stage, remarking that while this is considered the golden age of television, there were no great film comedies this summer. “Where is ‘Groundhog Day,’ or ‘Trading Places,’” he mused. “We comedy writers, whether it be in theater, TV or film are unique in that we often collaborate. In comedy you have to be in the room together and make each other laugh. I’ve been lucky to have Jim Taylor in that room.”
The next panel featured some legendary writing teams that happened to be brothers – Bobby and Peter Farrelly and Jerry and David Zucker along with their long-time partner, Jim Abrahams.
“Our biggest influence was ‘Airplane,” Bobby Farrelly said, giving his due to the Zuckers and Abrahams. “It was a game changer.”
Payne agreed, calling “Airplane” a towering achievement. He then recalled the genesis of “Citizen Ruth,” which he wrote with Taylor, and directed, saying it stemmed from a story they read in the New York Times about a woman ordered to get an abortion. “Now that’s a comedy,” he said.
“Why is Alex here?,” another panelist interjected. “He does quality stuff that gets Oscar nominations.”
The next panel featured Daniel Petrie Jr., Dale Launer and Randi Mayem Singer telling anecdotes about their films “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “My Cousin Vinny.”
“’Beverly Hills Cop’ wasn’t conceived as a comedy and the plot isn’t funny. But the premise struck me as funny. It was the incidental humor,” Petrie said.
“The theme of ‘Mrs.Doubtfire’ was emotional truth that’s relatable and universal and has a heart, like ‘Big’ and ‘Splash,’” said Singer.
Legendary comedy writer Buck Henry received a standing ovation when he took the stage with Peter Bogdanovich and Carl Gottlieb.
As the night grew longer – and the laughter kept coming-- Reiner took out a bag of M&Ms and started munching.
The perfect capper to an evening of humor and history came when the final panel was made up of those didn’t make the list with their movies, much loved films including “Legally Blonde,” “Pitch Perfect,” “Hollywood Shuffle” and “The Opposite of Sex.”
“What IS the opposite of sex?” someone asked. “I’m living it,” said the film’s director and screenwriter Don Roos. “But that’s another panel.”
The full list can be found here: http://www.wga.org/101Funniest.html