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Paul Feig directs comedy movie 'Spy'
© Rob Greig

Paul Feig: seven things I know about comedy

The director of summer's biggest comedy ‘Spy’ talks about Jason Statham's silly streak and why he finds women funnier than men

By Cath Clarke
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Paul Feig is the funniest man you’ve probably never heard of. He created the cult TV comedy ‘Freaks and Geeks’ (watch on YouTube immediately if you’ve never seen it). He’s directed episodes of some of America’s most essential TV shows (‘Arrested Development’, ‘30 Rock’, ‘Mad Men’, ‘Parks and Recreation’ and ‘The Office’). More recently he’s become fairy godfather to Hollywood’s funniest women as director of ‘Bridesmaids’, ‘The Heat’ and the upcoming all-female ‘Ghostbusters’ reboot.

His new comedy is ‘Spy’, starring Melissa McCarthy as a frumpy CIA desk agent who gets her big break undercover posing as a cat-loving housewife from Iowa. A hilariously meat-headed Jason Statham tags along. Here, Paul Feig – who would win the Oscar for best-dressed director – tells us what he’s learned along the way.

1. When in doubt, conga
‘There was one key moment when I decided I wanted to do comedy. I was six or seven and there was a choir. We were singing in front of the whole school, and they gave me maracas. So I started doing this little conga dance. The place just went crazy with laughter. The more I danced, the more they laughed. It was like a religious experience. I never got over that.’

2. Comedy has become too male-dominated
‘Women have had so many bad roles over the last 35 years in men’s comedies. I would see all these funny women I know in movies not being funny – just being these caricatures of what men think women are. And it bothered me. I don’t have a take on men’s comedy as much. I love working with funny women. They make me laugh more. Melissa is a powerhouse. It’s ridiculous that “women being funny” was even an issue. It’s racism, practically.’

3. Make it your way
‘I’m a fan of spy movies, but I realised nobody was going to let the guy who directed “Bridesmaids” do James Bond. So I came up with “Spy”.’

4. Jason Statham is very funny
‘Jason has a sense of humour about himself. In “Spy” I asked him to play it dead serious. Most of my direction for people who aren’t comics is “take it down”or “do less”. When actors come in like: “I’m going to be funny,” it’s what we call in the business “sweaty”. You go: “that joke is so sweaty.” What it means is that they’re working too hard.’

5. Hollywood was wrong about female comedy
‘Before I did “Bridesmaids”, everyone told me it wouldn’t work. And they sounded compelling. I’m thinking: These people are in showbiz, they must know something I don’t know. Then I started to go against it a little. There were all these romantic comedies that were so overwritten. “Bridesmaids” worked because it was honest.’

6. Go for a more radical reboot of ‘Ghostbusters’
‘I got the call while shooting “Spy”. It felt weird. Harold Ramis is gone, Bill Murray doesn’t want to do it. They kept on at me. So I thought: How would I do it? Then I had an idea: what if I could cast all the funny women I know? The backlash? A lot of people are angry that we’re touching the franchise. I get that. It’s legitimate. But when it’s “How dare you put women in!”, that’s just misogyny.’

7. An Oscar for comedy would be great
‘I’ve met with the head of the Academy about it. But as corny as it sounds, hearing an audience laugh for two hours is greater than any award. You know, comedy is very hard to do. It has to look effortless.’

Spy’ opens in UK cinemas on Fri Jun 5

Read our review of ‘Spy’

Spy

3 out of 5 stars
Film Comedy

A femme-friendly and frequently hilarious riff on the fusty gender roles of the James Bond movies. Chatting intel into earpieces from a bat-infested basement at CIA HQ is Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy), a 40-year-old woman who’s been on the job for ten years without spending a single day in the field. But when a colleague is unexpectedly shot in the face, Susan is inspired to take action.

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