When I was a kid, I was obsessed with listing my favorite things. I kept an index card with all my favorite foods folded in my wallet, just in case anyone asked me what they were. Then people walked away, I imagined they’d say: “Whoa, Gaby is so cool and self-actualized. Pizza is her favorite food, and she was able to tell me right away.” I was prepared for all kinds of potential fun situations when I was a kid. I kept a bathing suit in my backpack in case I went anywhere where there was a swimming pool. I grew up in a town that has only 4 public pools for the community, but still, I planned excessively.
When I started getting into comedy, my listing became even more important, because I thought having my favorite comedy moments on file said so much about me. I thought it’d be fun to share my favorites.
This list is pretty mainstream, so other comedy nerds will be made I didn’t include alternative comedy stuff or 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s stuff. That’s yet to come! This list also doesn’t include stand-up, because that would be its own can of excellent worms. I know there are probably glaring omissions. Come on guys, I’m not a professional list maker. Just be cool.
1. Will Ferrell Shouting from the Phone Booth in Anchorman
Anchorman is a strange little miracle of a movie, with some historic comedy film significance, too. It put together an all-star team of comedy actors that includes Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, and David Koechner. No other pairings of these guys would ever be as funny as this. I’m sure I’ll go see and really love, Uncle Retreat or whatever movie comes next, but it won’t make my mouth drop like Anchorman did.
When Ron Burgundy- amazing names in this movie, by the way- believes his dog has been killed by an angry motorist (Jack Black, used perfectly), he is so overcome with grief, he can’t do the news that night. He calls from a phone booth, in one of the funniest, most theatrical displays of grief I’ve ever seen. It’s like grief with a capital G.
There’s a heightened style of acting that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay employ in their movies that is incredibly difficult to pull off. If done poorly, heightened comedy acting can seem like you’re watching an inadvertently campy kids’ production of 12 Angry Men. But it is Will Ferrell’s sweet spot. He has made a career of making unlikely things not only totally work but also be the funniest things I’ve ever seen. (I’m of course referring to the movie Elf, whose premise reads like the ramblings of an insane little kid drunk off Christmas egg nog.)
2. Liz Lemon Crying Out of Her Mouth on 30 Rock
Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy Convinced Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon to get eye surgery on she’ll be more TV-friendly for her new talk show. Unfortunately (and fortunately) the surgery makes her cry out of her mouth. I believe this joke is a perfect joke. Funny in theory and thinking, and even funnier in Tina’s execution. Plus it is hilariously visual. I’m jealous of whoever wrote this.
3. Chris Farley as Matt Foley
The best parts of the great book Live from New York, by Tom Shales, are when performers like Chris Rock, David Spade, and Adam Sandler talk about Chris Farley. They speak of their friend in the most reverential ways. Chris Rock says that when anyone ever asked him who was the funniest of the group there, it was always, always Chris Farley. I totally get it.
Matt Foley, the motivational speaker, is probably my favorite recurring Saturday Night Live character, ever. The level of commitment from Chris Farley is astounding, almost disturbing. The famous one, when he picks up David Spade like king kong, and then later falls and smashes a coffee table, is one of the deliriously funny things I’ve ever seen in my life.
4. Amy Poehler as Kaitlin
In just the past ten years or so, Amy Poehler has produced a life time’s worth of awe-inspiring performances. Her hyperactive eleven-year-old Kaitlin is my favorite. There’s an innocence to the performance that is such a surprise. Kaitlin’s adventures with her subdued, kind, put-upon stepdad, Rick- played with the perfect amount of listlessness by Horatio Sanz- make me laugh but also make me want to take care of Kaitlin. One of my greatest pet peeves is women who infantilize themselves in real life, but I have a special place in my heart for women who can play little girls convincingly. Amy, all awesome, all woman, kicks ass as a little girl.
5. The Racial Draft on Chappelle’s Show
If you watch this sketch, you can’t believe it actually aired on television. The sketch portrayed all the races as professional teams, picking celebrities from a draft pool of all races to form the strongest race. Chappelle’s Show did consistently edgy sketches that pushed the envelope with political and racial comedy but was so funny that it never got in trouble.
6. Paul Rudd in Wet Hot American Summer
Paul Rudd plays the funniest dick boyfriend of all time in this movie. The scene in which he refuses to pick up a tray is the moment when Paul Rudd transformed in my eyes from handsome comedy in a handsome guy’s body. His past performances as nice guy in Clueless and Romeo + Juliet make this turn especially unexpected and fun.
7. Ricky Gervais as David Brent
Only people who have seen the British Office will remember the moment when David Brent says, “I think there’s been a rape up there” in a sensitivity training seminar he is holding. With the character of David Brent, Ricky Gervais guaranteed that he would live in the pantheon forever, even if he did years of terrible, mediocre stuff. (I’m not saying he will, but he could if he wanted.) He’s like Woody Allen, and the original The Office is his Annie Hall.
8a. Frank the Tank Getting Shot in the Neck with a Tranquilizer in Old School
Sorry, so much Will Ferrell. I just love this guy so much. This series of moments is a masterpiece of editing and excellent blocking choices by Todd Phillips. Here’s the sequence: Frank the Tank gets hit in the neck with an animal tranquilizer meant for a petting zoo animal. Groggy and heavily drugged, he meanders around a yard, knocking over a child’s elaborate birthday cake He then immediately falls into a pool- and while he’s under-water, the movie is scored to the somber and dulcet Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence,” in homage to The Graduate. It’s just a dense brownie of sweet comedy.
8b. Tied with Will Ferrell stabbing his own thigh with a knife to prove he’s paralyzed in Talladega Nights
9. Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids
Sometimes you watch something so funny you realize after the moment is over that you’ve stopped breathing. You’re actually breathless. That’s how I felt the first time I saw Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids, in the scene where she first meets Kristen Wiig’s character and tells her she hasn’t been doing so well because she “fell off a cruise ship,” and then “hit every rail down,” and finally “has several metal pins in her leg” from the experience. You don’t often hear the words captivating and gross used to describe the same character in a movie, but Melissa McCarthy managed to evoke both in the very best ways. I could not keep my eyes off her.
10. Michael Scott Hitting Meredith with His Car on The Office
There are many moments in the history of the The Office that I appreciate for the level of wittiness and writing style. However, one moment stands out. I believe the top, single funniest moment is when Michael Scott hits Meredith Palmer with his car, just as he’s talking about how much he loves his employees. I have seen some amazingly funny acting on the show, but when Michael Scott screams as Meredith’s lifeless body hits his windshield, I just don’t think anything that has been done is as purely funny as that. I think tribesmen in a remote jungle in the Congo would find this moment funny.