They say comedy is back… with a vengeance. And with high turnovers this year on such laffers as Bruno, The Hangover and He’s Just Not That Into You, you can see how that assumption might be made. But Neal Brennan, director of the new comedy The Goods : Live Hard, Sell Hard, tells ASHLEY HILLARD and CLINT MORRIS he “kind of rejects” that oft-muttered statement that comedy has somewhat just been rediscovered in the foyer of a freshly-vacuumed multiplex.
“I don’t think comedies are like westerns where all of a sudden execs go, â€˜hey, the western is back – thanks to Unforgiven!’” says the filmmaker, who cut his teeth as a director, writer and executive producer on the phenomenally successful comedy series “Chappelle’s Show. “Comedy is, and has always been, a viable and profitable genre”.
Brennan says studios might are partly responsible for making cinemagoers believe the comedy has been away and is now inexplicably back from the celluloid graveyard.
“I guess the movies feel different and that’s how they trick the audience into thinking they’re watching something novel. But they might as well be saying, â€˜There’s a new crew in town with different kinds of dick jokes’”.
Brennan will admit the type of comedies we’ve been making over the years has changed quite dramatically though.
“In the mid 90s, there was Adam Sandler and his films -be it Happy Gilmore or The Wedding Singer, and his other films. Then there were the Farrelly Brothers – and their type of humour. In the early 2000s, there was the American Pie crew – all those crude teenage movies. And now there’s people like Adam [McKay] and Jay Roach, and also the Borat’s and the Bruno’s. And I guess Bruno was very out-of-the-box but in terms of it resurrecting comedies, I can’t say I sense a new dawn has come.”
“The Goods” is a comedy about a used-car liquidator who is hired by a flailing auto dealership to turn their Fourth of July sale into a cabbage-evoking major event.
And no, before you ask….
“I can’t say Used Cars influenced me”, admits Brennan. “Jack Warden selling cars really says something about a movie. I don’t know what it says, but it says something“.
Writers Andy Stock and Rick Stempson came up with the script, and Brennan was immediately taken with it.
The filmmaker felt that because used-car salesman are so “historically desperate” “The Goods” would make for a great movie, “And it’s amusing how people suddenly realize that they’re being tricked – and like they’ve just come to the realization that they’ve allowed it to happen”.
Rumour has it that before Jeremy Piven (“Entourage”) was offered the role of liquidator Don Ready, Alec Baldwin was in with a shot.
“[Alec] wasn’t up for it, but we did have a list of actors that would be right for the role of Don Ready – and he was one of them”, admits Brennan. “Vince Vaughn was one of them too. But no, Alec wasn’t up for it – though I guess everybody is up for everything at some point? – at any stage”.
By casting Piven in the role, Brennan had to make sure they not write the character too much like Ari Gold, the inimitable agent the Emmy-award winning actor plays on TV hit “Entourage”.
“One thing we tried to stay away from was being too â€˜blunt’. Ari is so blunt, so we didn’t want Don Ready to be like that. They operate the same, in a lot of ways, but Don is a lot nicer.”
Brennan has kind words for Piven, just as he does producer Adam McKay – who has worked on such films as â€˜’Step Brothers” and â€˜’Talladega Nights” (both starring Will Ferrell who, funnily enough, has a small role in “The Goods”).
“Adam and I are kindred spirits in what we deem to be legitimately funny”, he says.
And just because Brennan had proved himself to be quite the joke typist on “Chappelle’s Show” doesn’t mean McKay was overly confident he had – excuse the pun – the Goods. “He said, â€˜We’ll see’”, laughs Brennan.
Coming from a sketch comedy background, Brennan was conscious not to make a movie that felt like a string of sketches stapled together. Therefore his main concern was splicing in jokes around a good plot.
“You have to ground these movies a little bit – you can do that with characterization, but also with plot.
“In terms of movies based on sketches, The Blues Brothers is a successful one. It’s told in a very real way. It feels like a real movie. Another one is Wayne’s World – though its plot is more like a giant wink and a nod. So you can do those giant broad sketch comedy movies as long as your jokes fit – Wayne’s World doesn’t take you out of reality, because it doesn’t seem to be set in it. If you want to make a sketch comedy movie that’s real, you do it like The Blues Brothers – real stunts, real car chases, the whole thing at the country western bar… it’s real tension.”
In between keeping tabs on the returns on “The Goods”, Brennan has a film set up with prolific producer (and director) Ivan Reitman (“Ghostbusters”, “Road Trip”).
“I sold it before The Goods. And I’m trying to get actors attached now. All my comedy brothers and sisters have the script and we’ll see what they think.”
And has Brennan’s old cohort Dave Chappelle seen his latest film?
“Chappelle texted me about The Goods and said he thought it was â€˜really funny’ and asked if he could get a copy of it. And he wanted audio of DeeJay – of Craig Robinson’s part”.
But no, don’t expect to see the twosome reunite professionally anytime soon.
â€˜’I don’t think Dave’s going to be doing any of my projects. I don’t think he’s going to be doing anything anytime soon. Â If I sent him my script it’d probably be so he can tweak some jokes, or throw some ideas my way. That’s probably about it”
“Like Dave, I like it that I’ve got some really interesting, and very funny friends out there – and that also includes Steve Carell and Will Ferrell – that I can pool resources with. That’s what matters to me; getting to work with people you enjoy collaborating with and spending time with”.