He’s one of the biggest directors in Hollywood and a giant of the comedy world. So we take a look at 15 Adam McKay quotes in order to get an insight into his views on the writing process, comedy and tackling politics.
Adam McKay – King of Comedy
Adam McKay is known for comedy in a variety of forms. He was one of the founding members of the Upright Citizens Brigade, a sketch comedy group that emerged from Chicago’s improv scene in the early 1990s. From here, he was hired on Saturday Night Live in 1995 as a writer, after originally auditioning but failing to get on to show as a performer. This kick into writing would stick and he became SNL’s head writer, until 2001.
Founding an influential improv group and becoming SNL’s head writer at 27 are certainly auspicious beginnings for a comedy writer. But it would be his move into feature filmmaking that would cement his status as a bonafide titan of American comedy.
Partnering with SNL star Will Ferrell, he founded Gary Sanchez Productions. Under this banner, he would write and direct comedies that – in conjunction with Judd Apatow‘s films – would come to define this era of comedy. Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Step Brothers would take him and Will Ferrell to stratospheric levels in terms of popularity and success.
But whilst he continued to write and produce mega-hit comedies, in 2015 he would take somewhat of a left-turn into political satire with his direct swipe at the banking industry, The Big Short. Granted this turn was still laced with his trademark humor. But it would mark a new direction for McKay as a director.
His versatility, authority and imagination make him an idiosyncratic writer-director within Hollywood. And for this reason, we’re looking at 15 Adam McKay quotes. What does this great writer and director have to say on writing, culture and filmmaking?
Adam McKay Quotes on…Comedy
1. “The easiest time to be funny is during a fairly serious situation. That way, you can break the ice. It’s crazy, but even at funerals, people will get huge laughs.”
2. “First and foremost when you’re doing comedy, you gotta be relevant and applicable to the times that you’re living in. When you try and just do comedy about who is dating who and lifestyle jokes, it gets tiring after a while. It’s hard to be funny in that realm.”
3. “Basically, we used to have a rule at Saturday Night Live that you’re not allowed to bring up The Simpsons at the rewrite table, because The Simpsons has done every joke there is. Every week there would be guys going, ‘The Simpsons did that’. I go, ‘C’mon. And South Park, too.'”
4. “Sometimes I know a joke I’m going to yell out ahead of time, but most of the time it’s stream of conscious. You never really know it until you’ve got everyone dressed up, the set is built, all the extras are here.”
5. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that the comedies of the late ’90s and the 2000s were of a moment. It’s no mistake that a lot of those — and especially the ones that Will and I did — were about mediocre oafish white men who are entitled: news anchors who were giving us puff, race car drivers who acted as if they were king of the world before getting their butts kicked, giant man-children consumers. It all can be summed up by George W. Bush. But comedy needs to have real teeth to work now. Comedy about relationships, careerism, your own self-image — it just doesn’t work. Comedy is in a weird spot. There’s no question about it.”
Adam McKay Quotes on…Social Satire Material
6. “The truth is, there’s an information blockade in America, and it must be broken. In order to find crucial facts, numbers and outside perspectives, a person must spend an hour searching and cross-searching on the computer.”
7. “You have a guy like Bernie Madoff literally steal $80 billion, you know, AIG steal hundreds of billions, Goldman Sachs. Crime has changed so much, and to really do a movie with, like, drug dealers or drug smugglers is kind of almost quaint at this point.”
8. “The idea of 24-hour news, if you really step back, is pretty insane. Just even saying ’24-hour news’ almost has satire laced in it.”
9. “The stuff that’s going on is just so over-the-top, with the banking crisis and destroying the Gulf of Mexico, and the outrage hasn’t quite caught up with the people yet. But when it does, I think you’re going to see really virulent anti-authoritarian kind of comedy coming out.”
Adam McKay Quotes on…Creative Process
10. “I always say the classier cousin of Anchorman is Mad Men, because when you really look at it, why do people really love Don Draper in Mad Men? He’s just a terrible guy. But we know why he’s terrible, and I think that’s really key to why you can be sympathetic to a character.”
11. “All you can really do as director is sort of set a tone.”
12. “We’re always looking for the backbone, the central idea, and once you have that you know everything can circle around it.”
13. “I think that the job of art and culture is to jump on that time and realize that it’s there and to push it just a little bit faster.”
14. “I don’t think there’s any question that something that’s just beautiful in its own right has a power that may be more powerful than directly addressing issues.”
15. “When you screen it the first couple times, you’re just trying to get the movie to work, trying to get the story to flow, trying to find out where your areas are where you have enough breath to laugh a little bit. So you’re doing that the first two or three screenings, and then finally, you dial the movie in and it’s working, and at that point, it’s 50/50 as far as what’s funny and what’s working. Sometimes you’ll put something in and it will just die so hard that it’ll almost kill the movie.”
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