The Comedies That Defined How I Grew Up

by shewastheyoungamerican

Movies have always helped explain why I am the way I am. My dad is what you might call a “movie buff” and by might I mean, of course he is…have you met my father? He can’t remember what I got my degree in, but he could tell you who directed every John Wayne film and what movie theatre he saw it in. My sister is a talented editor for and spent many years writing for Entertainment Weekly. Needless to say, movies are a part of being a Semigran. This also means I watched a lot of movies as a kid – many of which were probably inappropriate for my age (I saw Blazing Saddles before I got my first period). Movies have also come to help me gauge people. I realize the amount of Simpsons references my sister and I make in a day are unnatural, but hey if you get it, we probably love you. The same goes for movies. They say food is a way to a person’s heart (which is absolutely true), for me…it’s also Mel Brooks and Bill Murray. My mom and dad can’t blame me for my sense of humor, they raised me this way.

The Holy Triumverate

These three, these precious three, are the films that my sister and I speak in conversation at the dinner table to our own amusement and our parent’s bewilderment. We seamlessly shift back and forth between them quoting our favorite moments, snorting with laughter, tears streaming down our face as our parents stare with awe and confusion. I give you our holy triumverate:

Wayne’s World

Now, when I was at the tender age of seven when this movie came out I definitely didn’t understand half of the jokes. However, to this day, things like “camera one, camera two” still astound me. I can’t hear the song “Foxy Lady” without thinking of Garth seducing the dream vixen of Stan Makita’s Donuts and then wondering why is it that if a man kills another man in battle, it’s called heroic, yet if he kills a man in the heat of passion, it’s called murder? I thought about this. I also thought Wayne’s World was the greatest thing ever because it was from Saturday Night Live – when I was little I used to sleep over at my Aunt Colleen’s house and she’d let me stay up late and watch it with her. A few years later it was Strangers With Candy. So for that, Wayne’s World is oddly sentimental. Now that I’m 25, it’s still funny, I get all of the jokes, and even a bit of nostalgia to boot. Now if you don’t mind I’m going to cut to my Scooby Doo ending. Garth, that was a haiku. AND THE WORST PART ABOUT IT IS…I NEVER LEARNED HOW TO READ (fact: I made that reference once and someone was like, “wait, seriously?” A similar reaction came when passing a gun store, I commented “I don’t even own ah gun let alone many guns that would necessitate an entire rack” They simply asked, “why did you say ‘ah’ instead of ‘a’.”A loser movie snob was born).

Dumb and Dumber

I’d like to thank Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels for introducing me to the world of physical comedy and having no shame in looking and acting like an idiot for the sake of a laugh. No really, I mean that. Comedy has always given me the courage to not give a crap about appearances, embrace the grotesque, and just commit 100% to a character. Jeff Daniels. JEFF DANIELS. He was never really known to be a “funny” guy – but damn did he play Harry with honesty. And it worked. I like to think of his toilet scene as a great homage to the campfire scene of Blazing Saddles, a tip of the hat, if you will. Also, do you know anyone who doesn’t think this movie isn’t funny?  (I’m sure someone does). Dumb and Dumber is a belly laugh for the sake of belly laughs. It’s subversive to say the least – YOU SOLD OUR DEAD PARROT TO A BLIND KID!? Bowl cuts, gap teeth, neon and pastel tuxedos, fluffy snow boots – the things it did for fashion, amiright!?

Tommy Boy

Hey…Prehistoric Forest! I think this was the first movie I remember where there was a fat hero. I was a chubby kid growing up, so seeing Chris Farley cart wheel around, throw his body in miraculous ways, be achingly funny, and yet still wholly relate-able and human meant more than I ever realized at the time. Also, I think I just really loved “buddy” comedies because I always had guy pals growing up. My next door neighbor Eric practically lived at our house and vice verse. I spoke the language of “dude.” And once again, it was the faces of Saturday Night Live that I loved to see.

The Films I Definitely Saw at Too-Young of an Age: The Mel Brooks Edition

Blazing Saddles

If you want your daughter to grow up making jokes or references to only the most of irreverent 11-year-old-boys, show her this film! More so, if you want boys to treat her like she is a boy, and never like she’s actually a girl, with girl feelings, and girl parts…show her this film. She’s officially one-of-the-boys for the rest of her life. Even if she doesn’t like football. This movie will begin a long career of not prescribing to gender roles or expectations. It is a simultaneously frustrating and liberating trait. You’ll equip her with the sort of dry, sardonic humor to understand the nuance of satire while also never being above slapstick and fart jokes. You are prepping her for reasons to love Bill Murray and still kind of hate/love Wes Anderson. Because the clip above, is actually, totally meta.

Young Frankenstein

This movie is the reason for my “awakening” – or realization that “wait, hang on, every other kid didn’t watch this at home with their parents?” It happened in the second grade. It was Halloween time and we were talking about monsters, as you do in public school. The teacher asked if anyone knew the story of Frankenstein. I shot up my arm and replied, “Well Dr. Fronk-en-schtein wanted to bring a dead body to life and he sent his servant to get a brain. But the servant accidentally stole a brain from Abby Normal.” My teacher looked at me first in shock, then laughed, and corrected me that it was indeed “Young Frankenstein” instead of the regular “Frankenstein.” Though I’m fairly certain whatever followed in our discussion was a grossly inaccurate representation of Mary Shelley’s actual Frankenstein. A few years later in history class I would receive a similar jolt of surprise from a teacher, when, during a lesson about King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella I shouted, “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!” Internet, this is why I’m alone.

Jim Carrey’s Greatest Hits

I can thank Jim Carrey for the hours I spent as a child in front of the bathroom mirror discovering all of the hideous and hilarious ways I could contort my face. Now, of course, of course Dumb and Dumber makes it on to this list, but that already has a special place in the Holy Triumverate. The films I’m talking about here are: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, Liar Liar, The Truman Show, and Earth Girls are Easy. First of all – who else on this planet has actually seen Earth Girls are Easy? If you have, we’re probably best friends because you were also made uncomfortable at too young of an age by watching a furry Jeff Goldblum try to seduce Gina Davis. Still, a spaceship crashed in a pool and things got weird. Also, we used to rent it from Genuardi’s because I don’t even think Blockbuster would carry it. Moving on to the Ace Ventura Films – this was the point in my life when I developed a palate so refined that I could discuss, at length on car rides to the dentist with my father how it was the first series I’d ever seen where the sequel was as good, if not better, than the original. It’s a tough call. Pet Detective did give us Ace in a tutu and combat boots as well as establishing the franchise’s catch phrases “re-he-he-he-eeallly” and “allllllllllrighty then!” We also get to mock the Miami Dolphins, win. When Nature Calls, however, I think really takes the cake. Who doesn’t want to see a grown man squeeze out of a rhino’s anus? The opening also established for me the comedic rule of repetition. The slinky: it goes from funny, to ok not so funny anymore, to HILARIOUS.  I can also never look at a can of Bumblebee tuna without laughing. Now, Liar Liar and the Truman Show were the movies that showed me that comedy could really have a conscience. You could say something about family, love, the media, society, the world in which we live by making people laugh. The Truman Show opened up my imagination in a lot of ways. I wondered, what if life really was like that?But then, life never has a script, no matter how hard we try to write one. I think that’s why I love improv so much. We write the script as we go, make a lot of mistakes, make a mess, but we do it with people we trust and get to make people laugh. That’s the goal, really.


Looking back on this list I noticed something: where are all the women? Most of the women in comedy I admired growing up (and to this day)  were often in TV, mostly Saturday Night Live, the Tracey Ullman Show and the Carol Burnett Show. Comedy is very much indeed a boy’s game. Since it’s men who often write, act, and produce the films, what’s “funny” is usually then, determined by men. Though I do believe there are things that are universally funny, regardless of gender. However, watching so many male-dominant comedies got me “in.” I understood where the laughs were coming from – and as my interest and career in comedy has developed, I know it’s helped me to see how brilliant women subvert it. And sometimes when I watch these films, I do get bored of some of the throw-away or single-dimensional female roles in them. But then I also am excited by how much that’s changed. How many more women are saying “fuck that, let’s make our own.” and are changing the climate of what’s “funny.”  For every 25 dude-humor films (I’m speaking of the trend in the past 15 years of total frat boy-ism) we get each year…we still only get one Bridesmaids. I know it’ll be unlikely for there to be a real balance in what’s out there during my lifetime. I do however wait for the day films like Bridesmaids can be released without all the press surrounding it going on about how it’s “Finally! Comedy for women!” or “Look! This movie proves women are funny! WHO KNEW.” Just because it’s a comedy and it has women in it doesn’t mean it has to be “female comedy.” No really guys, it’s ok, you can laugh at us, we can take it.

<p><a href=”″>Bronx Beat with Betty & Jodi</a> from <a href=”″>Sarah Pasquale</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>