My Favorite Eleven Moments in Comedy - Hollywood: My Good Friend Who Is Also a Little Embarrassing - Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) - Mindy Kaling

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) - Mindy Kaling (2011)

Hollywood: My Good Friend Who Is Also a Little Embarrassing

My Favorite Eleven Moments in Comedy

WHEN I WAS a kid, I was obsessed with listing my favorite things. I kept an index card with all my favorite foods folded in my wallet, just in case anyone asked me what they were. Then when people walked away, I imagined they’d say: “Whoa, Mindy Kaling is so cool and self-actualized. McDonald’s pancakes are her favorite food, and she was able to tell me right away.” I was prepared for all kinds of potential fun situations when I was kid. I kept a bathing suit in my backpack in case I went anywhere where there was a swimming pool. I grew up on the East Coast where pools are a really big deal, but still, I planned excessively.

When I started getting into comedy, my listing became even more important, because I thought having my favorite comedy moments on file said so much about me. I thought it’d be fun to share my favorites.

A disclaimer about these: they are all pretty recent, from the last ten or fifteen years. My boss Greg Daniels was appalled I had never heard of Jack Benny or Ernie Kovacs before I started working at The Office. I am sorry I’m not obsessed with The Honeymooners or The Great Dictator, or even Caddyshack or other classic comedy from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. This list is also pretty mainstream, so other comedy nerds will be mad I didn’t include alternative comedy stuff. This list also doesn’t include stand-up, because that would be its own can of excellent worms starring the likes of Louie C.K., Wanda Sykes, Mo’nique, Jerry Seinfeld, etc. I know there are probably glaring omissions. Come on guys. I’m not a professional list maker. Just be cool.

1. Will Ferrell Shouting from the Phone Booth in Anchorman

Anchorman is a strange little miracle of a movie, with some historic comedy film significance, too. It put together an all-star team of comedy actors that includes Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, and David Koechner. No other pairings of these guys would ever be as funny as this. I’m sure I’ll go see, and really love, Uncle Retreat or whatever movie comes next, but it won’t make my mouth drop like Anchorman did.

When Ron Burgundy—amazing names in this movie, by the way—believes his dog has been killed by an angry motorist (Jack Black, used perfectly), he is so overcome with grief, he can’t do the news that night. He calls from a phone booth, in one of the funniest, most theatrical displays of grief I’ve ever seen. It’s like grief with a capital G.

There’s a heightened style of acting that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay employ in their movies that is incredibly difficult to pull off. If done poorly, heightened comedy acting can seem like you’re watching an inadvertently campy kids’ production of 12 Angry Men. But it is Will Ferrell’s sweet spot. He has made a career of making unlikely things not only totally work but also be the funniest things I’ve ever seen. (I’m of course referring to the movie Elf, whose premise reads like the ramblings of an insane little kid drunk off Christmas egg nog.)

2. Liz Lemon Crying Out of Her Mouth on 30 Rock

Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy convinced Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon to get eye surgery so she’ll be more TV-friendly for her new talk show. Unfortunately (and fortunately) the surgery makes her cry out of her mouth. I believe this joke is a perfect joke. Funny in theory and thinking, and even funnier in Tina’s execution. Plus it is hilariously visual. I’m jealous of whoever wrote this.

3. Chris Farley as Matt Foley

The best parts of the great book Live from New York, by Tom Shales, are when performers like Chris Rock, David Spade, and Adam Sandler talk about Chris Farley. They speak of their friend in the most reverential ways. Chris Rock says that when anyone ever asked him who was the funniest of the group there, it was always, always Chris Farley. I totally get it.

Matt Foley, the motivational speaker, is probably my favorite recurring Saturday Night Live character, ever. The level of commitment from Chris Farley is astounding, almost disturbing. The famous one, when he picks up David Spade like King Kong, and then later falls and smashes a coffee table, is one of the most deliriously funny things I’ve ever seen in my life.

4. Amy Poehler as Kaitlin

In just the past ten years or so, Amy Poehler has produced a lifetime’s worth of awe-inspiring performances. Her hyperactive eleven-year-old Kaitlin is my favorite. There’s an innocence to the performance that is such a surprise. Kaitlin’s adventures with her subdued, kind, put-upon stepdad, Rick—played with the perfect amount of listlessness by Horatio Sanz—make me laugh but also make me want to take care of Kaitlin. One of my greatest pet peeves is women who infantilize themselves in real life, but I have a special place in my heart for women who can play little girls convincingly. Amy, all woman, all awesome, kicks ass as a little girl.

5. The Racial Draft on Chappelle’s Show

If you watch this sketch, you can’t believe it actually aired on television. The sketch portrayed all the races as professional teams, picking celebrities from a draft pool of all races to form the strongest race. Chappelle’s Show did consistently edgy sketches that pushed the envelope with political and racial comedy but was so funny that it never got in trouble. So much can be excused if you’re just funny enough. Sarah Silverman also has this rare gift. If I even inch toward making a race joke, it’s so artlessly done someone immediately wants me removed from set.

6. Paul Rudd in Wet Hot American Summer

Paul Rudd plays the funniest dick boyfriend of all time in this movie. The scene in which he refuses to pick up a tray is the moment when Paul Rudd transformed in my eyes from handsome straight guy in a comedy movie to weirdo generator of awesome comedy in a handsome guy’s body. His past performances as nice guy in Clueless and Romeo + Juliet make this turn especially unexpected and fun.

7. Ricky Gervais as David Brent

Only people who have seen the British Office will remember the moment when David Brent says, “I think there’s been a rape up there” in a sensitivity training seminar he is holding. As my friend B. J. Novak described it, it was such a profoundly funny moment on television that there was a paradigm shift in comedy after he said it. With the character of David Brent, Ricky Gervais guaranteed that he would live in the pantheon forever, even if he did years of terrible, mediocre stuff. (I’m not saying he will, but he could if he wanted.) He’s like Woody Allen, and the original The Office is his Annie Hall.

8. Christopher Moltisanti’s Drug Intervention on The Sopranos

The Sopranos was one of the funniest shows ever, with a level of observational comedy that most comedies would kill for. This is the only drug intervention I have ever seen that ends in the person being “helped” getting beaten up by his loved ones.

9a. Frank the Tank Getting Shot in the Neck with a Tranquilizer in Old School

Sorry, so much Will Ferrell. I just love this guy so much. This series of moments is a masterpiece of editing and excellent blocking choices by Todd Phillips. Here’s the sequence: Frank the Tank gets hit in the neck with an animal tranquilizer meant for a petting zoo animal. Groggy and heavily drugged, he meanders around a yard, knocking over a child’s elaborate birthday cake. He then immediately falls into the pool—and while he’s underwater, the movie is scored to the somber and dulcet Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence,” in homage to The Graduate. It’s just a dense brownie of sweet comedy.

9b. Tied with Will Ferrell stabbing his own thigh with a knife to prove he’s paralyzed in Talladega Nights

Just amazing.

10. Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids

Sometimes you watch something so funny you realize after the moment is over that you’ve stopped breathing. You’re actually breathless. That’s how I felt the first time I saw Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids, in the scene where she first meets Kristen Wiig’s character and tells her she hasn’t been doing so well because she “fell off a cruise ship,” and then “hit every rail down,” and finally “has several metal pins in her leg” from the experience. You don’t often hear the words captivating and gross used to describe the same character in a movie, but Melissa McCarthy managed to evoke both in the very best ways. I could not keep my eyes off of her.

11. Michael Scott Hitting Meredith with His Car on The Office

In the history of the The Office, I believe the single funniest moment is when Michael Scott hits Meredith Palmer with his car, just as he’s talking about how much he loves his employees. Our show may have a great writing staff and has written some fantastic jokes, and I have seen some amazingly funny acting on the show, but when Michael screams as Meredith’s lifeless body hits his windshield, I just don’t think anything else we’ve done is as purely funny as that. I think tribesmen in a remote jungle in the Congo would find this moment funny.

Some others:

Borat on the treadmill in Da Ali G Show: a star is born.

Michael Palin’s massive stutter attack in A Fish Called Wanda: a tour de force. Everyone doing exactly what they do best at the same time.

Dwight Schrute capturing a bat in a trash bag around Meredith’s head on The Office: a moment of tiny, hilarious violence.

Kristen Wiig’s Bjork impression on Saturday Night Live: so recognizable and instantly funny while being completely over the top. Makes me wish Bjork were in the news more, just so I could see more of this impression.