Where Has the Conceptual Comedy Trailer Gone?

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It has long been a known fact of the universe that movie trailers are their own breed and not necessarily indicative of the quality or Funniness Quotient (one popular made-up measurement which is determined using the formula [{Witticisms*Wordplay} + Situational Zaniness + Character Reality] - [Nut Shots + Animal Characters] = FQ) of the movie itself.

That doesn’t mean they can’t be appreciated as their own form. Take the Pineapple Express trailer, a notorious case of the trailer being way better than the movie.

It’s a good example of what most comedy trailers look like nowadays: lots of short clips from the movie arranged to give an outline of the plot to the background of a killer song. The advantage of this very prevalent form is that audiences get a preview of actual content from the movie, which in theory gives us a pretty good idea of what we’re in for. (Of course, it’s absolutely possible to manipulate footage from the movie to paint a drastically different picture). While dramatic trailers have the option of “In a world” voiceovers or mood- and image-based trailers, comedies tend to just stick with showing us the plot and squeezing in the most broadly funny jokes from the movie, ripped apart from their context.

But not all comedies! Take the trailer for Sleeper:

Its humor comes not from jokes in the movie, but from the juxtaposition of the narration and image, making the trailer like its own little short film. Looking at a list of the best movie trailers reveals several other comedy trailers featuring original footage: South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, A Night at the Opera, Seinfeld’s Comedian (a particularly great one while we’re on the subject of trailers), and Albert Brooks’ Real Life (below). So where did all the conceptual trailers go?

It makes sense that because actors and filmmakers are so much more constantly available to us nowadays, there’s less need for them to give their own editorial spin as there’s been in trailers past (or in animated trailers, since Cartman and Stan don’t really do interviews). Rather, that can happen in increasingly creative promos. Which leaves the trailer as more a work of editing than of writing or directing.

Oddly enough, there’ve been a couple of actor-introduced trailers released recently, like Jonah Hill’s for The Sitter and the (admittedly less-comedic) Robert Downey Jr.’s for Sherlock Holmes 2 Could this represent the next new breed of comedy trailers? The ultimate linking between the form of the trailer and the personal connection audiences have with stars? We’ll have to stay tuned and see.