Why don’t comedians always work in a film?

As you may be well aware there is a new Gary Marshall film out called Mother’s Day (2016) which is being panned right across the board. Although I haven’t seen the film itself, I was unfortunately subjected to the trailer. The trailer featured a brief moment in which comedian Jack Whitehall does a stand-up performance in character. Although the clip was only about ten seconds long, I begged for those ten seconds back. It was a horrendous joke, and from what I have heard from critics, the rest of the scene is so bad, they must have paid the extras in the audience double just to laugh during the rest of the scene.

I have to say, I have a deep respect for stand-up comedy. I wouldn’t be a huge Jack Whitehall fan and I can understand that this film is a big opportunity for him to break into the states, but at what cost? I actually watched his American debut on Conan (2010-present) and his performance was so much better. It was like the writers of Mother’s Day just said “here is the type of humour we want, completely lame, nothing to push any buttons, and really sell yourself short”.

This actually really worried me. Because it takes me back to something Bill Burr said about how comedians are never respected, and he is absolutely right. I know many comedians have made a career by switching to the silver screen and have made some classics, but what else came of it? One of my favourite stand-up comedians ever is Eddie Murphy. His performances on Delirious (1983) and Raw (1987) still have me cracking up to this day. But when he went on to make some very successful movies, they quickly declined in quality.

Although the likes of George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce were some of the first comedians to really start pushing people’s buttons, they were severely disrespected at the time due to people’s uneasiness with what they label vulgarity. But that trend still continues today. I know a lot more people are given the freedom to do their own thing now, which is great, but a majority of the time you see a comedian in a film as a comedic character, and it’s almost insulting to see their talents go to waste.

A comedian I really like and many may agree, is Kevin Hart. His stand up specials have me in hysterics at times. However, not ONE of his films have ever made me laugh. I can never understand why that is. One of the reasons is definitely the fact that comedians don’t write the part themselves, they are written for them. And that is pretty much it right there. Most of these jokes aren’t their own, they are lines they are forced to read. It’s a good thing nowadays that films allow actors to improvise their jokes which has given us some endlessly quotable moments, but is it fair to subject comedians to such a level of untrustworthiness that you have to write the jokes for them?

I know not all comedians are going down that path though. Some have even been in successful films and even TV shows where they play a much more serious role. Like the aforementioned Bill Burr appearing in Breaking Bad (2008-2013), and Louis C.K. even starring in his own show Louie (2010-present). But if you have men and women who are naturally funny and you rid them of that talent to what you favour to be more acceptable, you’re not only making them look lacklustre to their real and much funnier appearance, you are making people think less of these men and women. I do hope this trend stops soon because it’s really disheartening to see people I admire come across as somebody who pales in comparison to their true selves. Just give them the opportunity to be themselves, and you never know, it could pay off way more than you think it would.