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Cinema’s funniest scenes – as picked by its coolest filmmakers

Which scenes make the directors of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Dune’ cackle?

Phil de Semlyen
Edited by
Phil de Semlyen
Andy Kryza

Discovering that your favourite ‘serious’ filmmaker enjoys a good chuckle – even a lowbrow one – can be a shock: It’s like catching your wine-loving cousin shotgunning a Budweiser. Not only is finding out that Christopher Nolan is a huge MacGruber fan and Terrence Malick quotes Zoolander for fun, it makes us realise that maybe our guilty-pleasure comedy flicks aren’t so guilty after all. 

With that in mind, we prodded our picks for the coolest filmmakers on the planet for their favourite comedic moments across cinema history. Among them were comedically inclined auteurs like Ruben Östlund, Cathy Yan and Edgar Wright, sure, but also more serious-minded artists like Barry Jenkins, Julia Ducournau, Denis Villeneuve, Paul Thomas Anderson and Lynne Ramsay. They shot back with a decades- and genre-spanning array of laugh-out-loud moments. We also discovered that Michael ‘Amour’ Haneke really, really loves hearing Steve Martin do a silly accent. Comedy, truly, is the great uniter. 

Read on: The 50 coolest filmmakers in the world right now

The voice coaching scene in The Pink Panther (2006) – picked by Ruben Östlund

I had dinner with Michael Haneke in Vienna once and it all ended up with me showing him this scene on my mobile phone. It didn’t really pay off and everything became quite embarrassing. I guess it says something about how much I like this scene.’ 

‘Taxi!’ in Tootsie - picked by Céline Sciamma

‘There’s a line in Tootsie when Tootsie is trying to call a cab and she’s trying to do it with a feminine voice and then at some point to get a cab she goes [puts on a deep voice]: “Taxi!” That scene always made me laugh as a kid.  I grew up with “Airplane!” too. I like absurdity.’

‘Put the candle back’ in Young Frankenstein - picked by Sean Baker

‘It’s in Young Frankenstein when Gene Wilder screams: “Put the candle back” at Teri Garr. That line will always get me.’

‘That rabbit’s dynamite!’ in Monty Python and the Holy Grail - picked by Andrea Arnold

‘The Killer Rabbit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It’s just so stupid, and I love stupid. I wish there was more stupid in film.’’

All of Some Like It Hot – picked by Lynne Ramsay

‘I’ve always loved Some Like It Hot because my mum and dad were really into it and it’s a hoot – slapstick in a good way. I love to laugh at the lion in The Wizard of Oz. And Goodfellas. I know it’s dark, but it always makes me laugh just because the dialogue’s so great.’ 

The swordsman scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark – picked by Denis Villeneuve

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a movie I always have the same fun with. Harrison Ford cracks me up every time I see this movie. The shooting of the swordsman is pure genius.’ 

‘Stop! It’s a Miata!’ in Go – picked by Nia DaCosta

‘The line “Stop, stop! It’s a Miata!” in Doug Liman’s Go sends me to another dimension.’  

Nanni Moretti in Sweet Dreams – picked by Mia Hansen-Løve

‘The character [director] Nanni Moretti plays in his own films, especially in his early films, makes me laugh. Like the scene in Sweet Dreams where he tries to kill his mother.’ 

All of Curb Your Enthusiasm – picked by Robert Eggers

‘I’ve probably had my most painful laughing fits watching television. More than likely a scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm.’  

‘The mists of Avalon’ in Step Brothers – picked by Jennifer Kent

‘The line ‘‘I would follow you through the mists of Avalon’’ in Step Brothers always makes me laugh. John C Reilly and Will Ferrell are two idiots in that film, and I just love that they went there. That’s a film that I can always watch. Would I make a comedy? I’ve toyed with the idea of making a really black romantic comedy, but I’ve never quite got there.’ 

The wolf monologue in The Lobster – picked by Cathy Yan

‘I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as loudly or as long as the first time I watched Ben Whishaw’s wolf monologue in The Lobster. It’s weird and understated and dark. My type of humour.’

Ruprecht in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – picked by Annemarie Jacir

‘“Now Diana, as you were saying... you don’t think the poor should be allowed in museums?” – and in the same scene, “Not mother?” Basically all of the Ruprecht scenes in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.’ 

‘In the Air Tonight’ in The Hangover – picked by Pablo Larraín

‘I have millions – I love funny movies – but in The Hangover when they get into Mike Tyson's house and he does the drums of the Phil Collins song, I think it’s genius. Just the fact that those three crazy guys get into that house and it’s Mike Tyson doing “In the Air Tonight”. Every time I see that it makes me laugh badly.’

Groucho’s cigar in Duck Soup – picked by Rian Johnson

‘I always go back to Duck Soup whenever I’m feeling low. There’s the classic scenes, like the mirror scene, but for me, it’s the incidental stuff that Groucho Marx does at the beginning: when he first slides down the fire pole and gets in line with the other soldiers and holds his cigar up like a sword. It’s an avalanche of joy and it completely destroys me by the end.’ 

Toshiro Mifune in Seven Samurai – picked by Mamoru Hosoda

‘This is such a hard question! I laugh a lot in films. I tend to laugh more at humanity than actual jokes. I’m going to say Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, because Toshiro Mifune’s character, Kikuchiyo, is very fun. That always makes me happy.’ 

‘His Dudeness’ in The Big Lebowski – picked by Tomm Moore

‘In The Big Lebowski when Jeff Bridges explains that his name is “The Dude” or “His Dudeness” or “El Duderino – if you’re not into the whole brevity thing”. There was a period when my animation supervisor and I used to send each other messages in Lebowski-ese. I’d ask: “How's the animator doing?” and he’d write: “Strong men also cry.”’

The suicide attempts in Harold and Maude – picked by Wanuri Kahiu

It’s super-cheesy but the suicide scenes in Harold and Maude when they’re introducing the character and he has this obsession with death: his mother is trying to introduce him to a nanny and he fakes his own death. Harold's obsession with death is morbidly hilarious to me.’

Stonehenge in This is Spinal Tap – picked by Edgar Wright

The line in Spinal Tap makes me howl comes when the band is having a blow out over its replica of Stonehenge being 18 inches instead of 18 feet. At the end of it, Derek Smalls very timidly offers: ‘Can I raise a practical question at this point? Are we going to do “Stonehenge” tomorrow?’ And off camera David St Hubbins goes: “No, we’re not going to fucking do Stonehenge!” The fact that it’s partly off camera makes it even funnier.’

Anything starring Brahmanandam – picked by SS Rajamouli 

‘I laugh most at films in my own language, Telugu, and the comic actor Brahmanandam is my favourite. I regularly play his sequences and have a hearty laugh.’

All of This is Spinal Tap – picked by Paul Thomas Anderson

 Spinal Tap is what makes me laugh. Anything in Spinal Tap.’

The cockroach in Victor/Victoria – picked by Luca Guadagnino

‘Blake Edwards makes me laugh a lot. Fantastic. I watched Victor/Victoria for the hundredth time recently, and the scene where Julie Andrews is in the restaurant and she wants to steal the food by putting the cockroach in the salad is so incredible: the tempo, the timing, the acting, everything. Wonderful.’ 

Chris Tucker’s improv in Friday – picked by Barry Jenkins

‘We watched Friday a lot in college. There was a line, which I learned recently was improvised, where Chris Tucker says: “You got knocked the fuck out, man!” and it was the funniest thing in the world – and kind of dope that it wasn’t in the script.’ 

Mr Creosote in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life – picked by Julia Ducournau

‘It’s the scene in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life with the guy who eats and eats and eats and pukes and pukes and pukes. That makes me laugh. It’s so gross and it lasts like seven minutes. It’s so stupid.’

Interviews by Kaleem Aftab, Anna Smith, Ashanti Omkar, David Hughes, Sophie Monks Kaufman, Michael Juliano, Dave Calhoun,  and Phil de Semlyen

Ready for more yuks? Here’s the 100 best comedy movies of all time.

The 50 coolest filmmakers in the world

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