After taking a break following the first 45 minutes or so of Anchorman 2, I had to convince myself to turn it back on. In the end, it was the fact that I had already spent five bucks on it that made me decide to finish what I had started. In finishing the movie, my feelings didn’t change much. The story felt disjointed and the comedic process felt exposed in an uncomfortable misunderstanding of meta-humour. It felt like every scene was a stand-alone improv skit whose final cut was constructed by splicing together a selection of favourite takes, as decided democratically by a cast and crew having too much fun to be able to make good objective decisions. It felt less about making the funniest, most coherent movie possible, and more about trying as many different things as possible in order to appeal to any possible form of comedy. The frustrating part is that, seeing it in this light and using this criteria, Anchorman 2 is more successful than I’m really comfortable admitting.
Initially, this article was just going to be me bitching about how unfunny Anchorman 2 is. The problem I’m having now is that, being a bit more distanced from the experience of watching it, my brain seems to be going through a filtration process where it is selectively repressing the most unnecessary or uncomfortable portions of the movie and leaving me, when I try to think of examples of unfunny scenes, realizing that, when taken out of context, parts of the movie are really unique and funny. In writing, I’m finding myself laughing more than I did while I was actually watching it.
I cannot think of any other time that I have enjoyed a movie more after the fact than during, so I’m going to take this opportunity to suggest that Anchorman 2 is actually part of a genre that I am calling the “spitball comedy.” The nature of the spitball comedy is to, as I mentioned earlier, take as many different ideas as possible and throw them against the wall. Considering how subjective comedy can be, this allows for as many people as possible to find something that they can latch on to. Not every spitball is going to adhere to every person but even if most bounce off or shrivel up and fall to the floor, chances are likely that a few jokes are going to stick.
The result of this brand of comedy is a different experience of watching movies. It seems to be a natural progression of the way that a younger generation of people interacts with comedy. From Wayne’s World through Austin Powers on to the original Anchorman and Borat, with The Simpsons running as a constant through-line, comedy is processed first through consumption, followed by regurgitation until the joke reaches a point of oversaturation and death. The classic jokes are the ones that can be enjoyed in recollection. This often takes the form of quotation and reference. All that Anchorman 2 does is take this existing formula and adds intent. Considering the swath of styles of jokes that the movie contains, it would be difficult, for anyone other than a professional curmudgeon, to watch it without find some joke or another that they can chuckle about into the future.
This also requires a shift in expectations of what a movie is. In order to allow for the widest possible spectrum of comedy, there have to be sacrifices. You cannot have a true spitball comedy that also follows a beautiful, flawless narrative. There’s no question that Anchorman 2 tells a story but being a bizarre fusion of sketch comedy and feature film requires a suspension of expectation in order to amalgamate two different structures. Without an overarching story it would just be Saturday Night Live chaos but, on the other hand, restraint is the enemy of creativity.
It’s for this reason that Ron Burgundy is both the best and worst character. As a tool for comedy, Burgundy is just Play-Doh. He’s not a real person, he’s a recognizable blob that does whatever the scene demands. That’s also what makes him such a terrible character. There’s no pathos for a person who isn’t a person. He’s a prop playing the linchpin in a movie that’s not about anything except trying to create comedic memories.
The last thing that I want anyone to take away is that Anchorman 2 is a great, or even especially funny, movie. What it does is represent a change in the experience of comedy and possibly even create a new genre that will open the door for others to iron out the kinks of spitball comedy, hopefully creating something more urgent, more memorable, and more cohesive – in other words, to create the first funny democratic comedy.