Cinema Chats: A Column

Emma Truchan, Editor-in-Chief

   One thing that seems to tightly unify people is a common sense of humor. Whole generations have bonded around comedy movies, rightfully claiming the film as a defining piece of that group’s shared characteristics. Gen X has Airplane! and The Blues Brothers, while Millennials stake their claim for Superbad and Napoleon Dynamite. Yet, while television shows such as The Office have seemed to strike a chord with the youngest generation, a comedy movie that Gen Z can call their own is yet to be found. 

   The comedy genre itself has faced some obstacles in recent years. Few purely comedy movies, besides the crass Sausage Party, made major headlines in the 2010s, and fewer still seem to have resonated with Gen Z. Due to the overall struggles the genre is facing, a handful of comedies have decided to branch out into more niche subgenres. Actor Andy Samberg’s most recent film feature, Palm Springs, fused a romantic comedy plot into a science fiction universe; the smart and often self-deprecating humor combined with a unique twist on the Groundhog Day premise made for an innovative and funny film. Yet, even with his popularity among Gen Z for his popular role in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, as well as praise from the media for the film, the movie received little talk from young adults.

   Perhaps the largest contender for a spot on Gen Z’s generational comedy list would be one of Comedian John Mulaney’s stand-up specials. His vibrant, outlandish storytelling and his (much like Samberg’s) self-deprecating jokes have won him a spot in the hearts of many Gen Z-ers. However, there is a great deal of fragmentation when looking for a single work that Gen Z can adopt. New in Town, The Comeback Kid, and Kid Gorgeous all have nearly equal success among young adults, but have also had great success with Millenials and (to a lesser, but still considerable extent) Baby Boomers. Perhaps Mulaney is emerging as more of a generational comedian rather than a creator of the latest generational comedy movie, acting much like Comedian / Actor Will Ferrell does for Gen X, or even as a popular comedian among his own generation, but his general support prevents his specials from being truly Gen Z generational comedies. Yet, his stand-up specials’ broad popularity may point to a great factor in the overall success of Gen Z’s potential generational comedy. His humor and style mostly rely on politically correct, though often still bizarre, premises and deliveries.

   Baby Boomers have long complained about the political correctness that Gen Z humor has prioritized, but this has changed the demands for comedy, possibly making the humor itch more difficult to scratch for this demographic. While there is certainly potential, there is yet to be a comedy film that satisfies this need for social sensitivity while still retaining fresh, genuinely funny humor. But this may speak to the broader culture war that America has faced for the last few decades. Increasing polarization has certainly divided Americans politically, but this gap may have widened into other aspects of our culture. The debate over political correctness has evidently grasped casual comics, but it may have affected the quality, quantity, and standards for the entire comedy genre.

   However important social sensitivity may be to Gen Z, it has proven to be not the defining factor of a comedy’s success among the generation. Although Palm Springs’ humor doesn’t play on the safe side, it still doesn’t hold anywhere near the amount of political incorrectness that movies like Airplane! have. Yet, it still received little opinion (good or bad) from young adults. This may point to another unknown standard for the emerging generation’s humor, creating a new obstacle to surmount in order to appeal to  the generation as a whole.

   The search for a comedy movie that resonates with an entire generation is a daunting task, especially with the new, stricter standards in humor. A number of worthy contenders have attempted such a feat, but have stuck out. Ultimately, with the ever-changing scene of entertainment, the comedy genre may be forced to adapt to an increasingly dynamic climate compared to other styles of movies.