The 100 best comedy movies: 10-1

The 100 best comedy movies, picked by experts from across film, TV and comedy

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10

The Jerk (1979)

‘A Cosmetologist? Really? Wow. Must tough to handle the weightlessness.’

Director: Carl Reiner

Cast: Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Carl Gottlieb

Defining moment: It’s obvious, but iconic: M Emmet Walsh and those damn cans. Die, you random son of a bitch!

How sweet to be an idiot… Surely Navin R Johnson’s tireless, gormless and outright hilarious pursuit of his ‘special purpose’ is an odyssey that we all of us must eventually undertake. Weren’t we all born poor black children? Didn’t we all fail everything on our astronaut application forms but our dates of birth? Aren’t we all – after all is said and done – jerks? Steve Martin’s big-screen calling card is such a soaring hymn to stupidity, such a canticle to folly, such a hosanna to hubris that only the sanest souls could resist the temptation to join in with the chorus.

It would have been easy and, indeed, understandable, if Martin – then at the giddy and, judging from his bittersweet comedy memoir ‘Born Standing Up’, personally and professionally unfulfilling zenith of his wildfire ’70s superstardom – had simply cashed in on his absurdist stage act for his first feature. The smart, structured, cine-literate film – imagine Preston Sturges on an ether high – that resulted was not only a revelation, and a monster hit at the box office, but served notice that 'the wild and crazy guy' was more than just a non sequitur in a white suit with an arrow through his head. He was, rather, a true screen-comedy great, and he was here to stay.

As Les Dawson used to say of his comically awful piano playing, you have to know how to play it right before you can play it so very wrong, and the same applies to ‘The Jerk’. To be this stupid, you have to be an absolute genius. Adam Lee Davies

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1 comments
nathan m
nathan m

The Russians Are Coming etc. may be the funniest movie of all time.