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Barbie
Photograph: Universal Pictures

The best comedy movies and TV shows of 2023

From drug-crazed bears to caterers on shrooms, here's what cracked us up the most this year

Phil de Semlyen
Matthew Singer
Written by
Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Matthew Singer
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It was a comeback year for the movies, but if we’re totally honest, it wasn’t a great year for comedy movies. Sure, the biggest film of the year was an off-the-wall feminist satire of the world’s most famous doll franchise. Beyond Barbie, though, true LOLs were hard to come by at the cinema – and it wasn’t much better on the small screen. But just because something is hard to find doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeking out. On the contrary: in a down year for comedy, it just made us appreciate the stuff that did make us laugh that much more. That stuff included a dancing murder doll, a coked-up bear, a giant phallic monster – and of course, Ken. Hey, come to think of it, maybe comedy in 2023 wasn’t so bad after all.

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🔥 The best movies of 2023
📺 The best TV shows of 2023 you need to stream

Best new comedy movies

  • Film

When it came out that Greta Gerwig, of all people, would be directing a live-action Barbie movie – with a screenplay co-written with her husband Noah Baumbach, of all people – no one had any idea what the finished product would possibly end up looking like. And when the chipper, eye-burningly neon trailer finally dropped, launching a million memes without revealing much more than Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling’s garish ’90s rollerblading gear, the question then became, ‘Can this possibly live up to the hype?’ That it became the pop-culture event of the year is less surprising than just what kind of movie it turned out to be: a feminist fantasia following the titular plastic-fantastic heroine on a journey of self-discovery, taking the absolute piss out of both men’s rights activism and the Mattel overlords along the way. Was it sometimes a little try-hard, maybe preachy? Sure. But above everything, it was damn funny, especially Gosling as the Ken of All Kens, the anatomically incorrect himbo who tries to bring the patriarchy to Barbieland and ends up stealing the movie – just like a typical man. 

  • Film
  • Comedy

Am-dram exuberance cranks all the way up to 11 in a delightful mockumentary with powerful – in a good way – shades of Christopher Guest’s iconic spoofs. Here, the people behind a loveably sketchy theater camp in the Adirondacks aren’t ‘Waiting for Guffman’ for much as grieving for Joan, the camp’s comatose owner, when she’s struck down by a ‘Bye Bye Birdie-related injury’. Dear Evan Hansen’s Ben Platt and The Bear’s Molly Gordon step up to the plate to create an end-of-season musical about Joan’s life, with a cast of willing kids to bring their vision to life – right down to her cocaine-fuelled, Studio 54 period. Trust us, this one is a treat. 

 

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  • Film
  • Horror

This timely A.I.-centred horror-comedy plays like The Terminator on helium or a genius bar Bride of Chucky. Allison Williams is a toy-making robotics pioneer who creates a self-aware doll to keep her newly orphaned niece company. Which is all well and good, until the neighbour’s dog barks its last and further violent mayhem is unleashed. M3GAN invaded your social feed in January with creepy dolls dances and swiftly became a gay icon, too. This doll slays – in every sense.

  • Film
  • Comedy

R-rated comedies are rarer than hen’s teeth these days, so the sight of Jennifer Lawrence going all-in on a sweary, bawdy, badly-behaved romp like No Hard Feelings is worth cherishing. She plays a struggling Long Island Uber driver who needs a car to save her home. Enter well-heeled out-of-towners Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti proffering a set of wheels in exchange for ‘making a man’ of their son before he goes to college. Lawrence is great as the messy thirtysomething, pulling off some bananas scenarios (and at one point, all her clothes) in the name of big laughs. The beach fight is a jaw-dropper. 

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BlackBerry

For whatever reason, the origin stories of famous products are all the rage in Hollywood this year, from Air Jordans to Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. BlackBerry, about the creation and eventual obsolescence of the titular smartphone, is perhaps the sharpest of the bunch – like a screwball, caustically funny version of The Social Network. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Glenn Howerton turns in a megawatt performance as Jim Balsillie, the toxic co-CEO of the company that essentially invented 21st century communication, only to see it become a relic. He’s the darkly comic heart of this (mostly) true tale.

You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitvah

If you’re not an Adam Sandler fan, look away now: this super-peppy teen comedy stars literally his entire family, with daughter Sunny capably leading the charge as a suburban middle-schooler dreaming of the ultimate bat mitzvah – and, of course, sailing the choppy waters of early teendom. It’s fairly classic YA stuff, but elevated by a riotous, multigenerational supporting cast (including Sarah Sherman as a very unorthodox rabbi) and a tight script that delivers big laughs, cultural touchpoints and teen-angst poignancy. Light-footed, charming and a ton of fun: you’d be a schmuck to miss it.

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  • Film
  • Drama

To say that Ari Aster’s three-hour surrealist odyssey is polarising is like describing the American political landscape as ‘a bit testy’. Some saw it as a masterpiece of gonzo ambition; others called it an act of career suicide. Suffice to say, guffawing levels may vary. But if you’re attuned to Aster’s bizarro wavelength, then this story of a paranoid shut-in (Joaquin Phoenix, inarguably excellent) travelling for his mother’s funeral – confronting murderous hobos, psychotic war vets and giant penis monsters along the way – will scratch a major itch. 

  • Film
  • Action and adventure

Like Snakes on a Plane and Sharknado before it, the title of Cocaine Bear made it a meme before anyone even saw the movie, which usually doesn’t bode well for the actual film’s shelf life. Only, in this case, the flick got an extra bit of juice from its loose ‘true story’ bonafides: in 1985, a bear in Georgia really did consume a duffle bag of cocaine dropped from a smuggler’s plane. It didn’t go on a rampage – it just died. But director Elizabeth Banks embellishes the details in all the right places, creating an appropriately manic B-movie that manages to hold its madcap energy for its full 95 minutes. All you can ask for, really.

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  • Film
  • Drama

Undemanding fun, this basketball comedy laughs with, and very much not at, a team of Down Syndrome adults. They shoot hoops and teach Woody Harrelson’s salty ex-pro coach a few life lessons, and needless to say, one of them has a hot sister – though she’s not there to take coach’s self-centred BS either. The upshoot is a likeable, affectionate comedy that knows what plays to make and mostly makes them pretty nicely. If the idea of a slightly homelier version of Hoosiers sounds like a good time, this one hits a three. 

  • Film
  • Action and adventure

Guardians has always been the most organically funny Marvel franchise, and the third (and presumably final) film in the series serves as a much-needed shot in the arm for an MCU finally showing signs of box-office fatigue. It’s the most expressly emotional entry in the trilogy, but still generates plenty of legit laughs via Chris Pratt’s heroic doofus and his crew of alien weirdos, as well as Marvel’s first foray into comedy of the more f-bomb-dropping kind.

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You Hurt My Feelings

Julia-Louis Dreyfus and The Crown’s Tobias Menzies play well-heeled professionals whose cosy marriage is upended when she catches him slagging off her new novel to a friend. Nicole Holofcener keeps filling the Woody Allen gap with urbane comedies like Enough Said and Please Give, and here she alchemises relationships, ego and insecurities into big laughs. Real-life marrieds David Cross and Amber Tamblyn all but steal the show as a bickering couple in therapy.

Smoking Causes Coughing

Filmmaker Quentin Dupieux specialises in absurd concepts delivered with a distinctly French flippancy, and his latest is a quick-hit horror-comedy whose anthology structure allows Dupieux to throw a bunch of weird ideas at the wall. Flush with both gore and giggles, it’s like a midnight movie on a sugar high, framed around a group of tobacco-powered superheroes on a teambuilding excursion that serves as a springboard for an impossible-to-summarise series of vignettes, digressions and one-off jokes. It’s an acquired taste, obviously, but the giddy WTF-ness is infectious. 

Best new comedy TV shows of 2023

Colin From Accounts, Fox

Take a bow(wow) Aussie husband-and-wife team Patrick Brammall and Harriet Dyer for unleashing eight episodes of sitcom serotonin with a canine twist. The pair play two Sydneysiders, Ashley and Gordon, who are thrown together by an accident involving a random pooch called Colin. The result manages to be comfortingly predictable (there’s romance) and ingeniously unexpected (...but not in an cosy way). A truly awkward late-run dinner with Ashley’s mum and her creepy partner is typical of a show that keeps finding new ways to mine LOLs.  

Platonic, Apple TV+

Bad Neighbors duo Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne reunite for an Apple TV+ comedy that puts their natural chemistry to excellent use as a pair of old pals who reconnect in their middle years. She’s now married with kids; he’s running a microbrewery and making ill-advised fashion choices. What follows is like it When Harry Met Sally got uproariously drunk, middle-aged and cynical, with loads of peppery ideas about growing up, regret and friendships poking through among all the slapstick and accidental ketamine binges.

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Barry season 4, HBO/Sky Atlantic

It was never a pure laugh riot, of course, but by the end of its third season, it was debatable whether Barry even qualified as a ‘black comedy’ anymore. Indeed, at the start of its fourth and final season, the situation is looking bleak for just about everyone: Bill Hader’s hitman-turned-thespian is in prison; his girlfriend (Sarah Goldberg) is out of work and adrift; and his acting coach (Henry Winkler) is paranoid that Barry can still figure out a way to get him. And then things get, well, worse. But when Barry wants to be funny, it’s really damn funny: there’s at least one bit per episode that hits like a tickle from the shadows – including a conclusion that delivers an ironic twist for the ages.   

I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson season 3, Netflix

Tim Robinson’s manic, much-memed sketch show is a quick watch: each episode blitzes by in 15 delirious minutes. Depending on how absurd your sense of humour leans, the show might leave you feeling concussed or like there’s a gas leak in your house. Its third season is no exception. Like an improv comic determined to sabotage his own troupe, Robinson excels at taking a seemingly mundane premise and flipping it inside-out three or four times in a matter of seconds. A dating show parody focuses on one contestant’s compulsive ziplining. An inter-office confrontation is disrupted by a frustrating computer game called ‘Feed Eggs’. A co-worker offers his services as a designated driver, then reveals himself to live a bizarre second life as ‘the Driving Crooner’. It’s not for everybody, but if it is for you, it’s for you in a way few other comedy shows have ever been.

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The Gallows Pole, BBC iPlayer

On paper, Shane Meadows’ latest telly offering should be more trippy historical drama than out-and-out comedy. After all, it charts a real-life Yorkshire community who tried to get rich by clipping gold from coins – the so-called Cragg Vale Coiners – and is backdropped by poverty, some scary-looking dudes with stag skulls and a lot of mist. But the British filmmaker’s richly imagined, lovable characters and his fine, often-improvising cast keep the pisstaking coming thick and fast as this gang of mates chews the fat, sinks pints and conspires to rip off the Crown. Killer soundtrack, too.

Platonic, Apple TV+

As two Bad Neighbors films prove, Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen have the kind of gonzo comic chemistry few on-screen double acts can match. It’s the not-so-secret sauce of a TV comedy about what happens when you hit middle age without a metaphorical seatbelt on. She’s a stay-at-home moment who reconnects with her old college friend (Rogen), now the owner of an LA microbrewery, to the chagrin of her straight-laced husband (Bros’s Luke Macfarlane). The When Harry Met Sally… comparisons are misleading, because it’s a quest for purpose rather than romance that drives the pair’s connection. The laughs come steadily, with one ketamine scene right up there with The Wolf of Wall Street’s quaalude overdose.

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