Buddy Up
From buddy comedies to world peace?

By Paula Marantz Cohen

The film The Interview starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, is the latest expression of a genre which, given the nature of its conventions, was bound to spark an “incident” eventually. Another example of this genre, where the fallout has been more horrific, is the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.

What the film and the magazine have in common is that they conform — one directly, the other more obliquely — to the buddy comedy.

The buddy comedy requires that two (or sometimes more) men behave like unruly, rambunctious boys. If you look at the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo, you see a buddy comedy in operation, one that has lasted for almost fifty years. In America, comparable examples are MAD Magazine and the now defunct National Lampoon. All were created by adolescent boys who continued cracking their jokes and drawing their cartoons as they became men and, indeed, old men — as the sad pictures of the victims of the massacre at the French magazine make clear.

Judd Apatow, the producer-director who helped launch the recent spate of buddy comedy films, has a repertory group of boy-men, much as Stephane Charbonnier, the murdered editor of Charlie Hebdo, had such a staff. Seth Rogen, who directed The Interview, began his career under Apatow’s tutelage.

Although buddy comedy has thrived in recent years, it is part of a long tradition. Shakespeare may be responsible for its birth when he created the scenes between Prince Hal and Falstaff in Henry IV, part I. Vaudeville, film, and television have since brought us such classic duos as Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Jackie Gleason and Art Carney, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, and Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. High culture has usurped it via Beckett whose Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot were inspired by Laurel and Hardy. But ultimately, buddy comedy belongs, irredeemably and unabashedly, to low culture.

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