Making a good comedy movie isn’t easy, especially when the MCU is your big-budget competition. From 2008’s Iron Man onward, big-hearted goofballs like Hulk and Thor have been vying with Doctor Strange’s wisecracks and Tony Stark’s snark to create hilarious screen tension that gives fans more than just CGI action and save-the-world heroics.
In short, the MCU is good at being funny — and that, says funny dude Seth Rogen, just makes other comedic movie makers’ jobs harder.
Speaking with Total Film to promote his new time-traveling, fish-out-of-water comedy An American Pickle, Rogen pointed out a widely known, but often neglected MCU fact: Most of its biggest stars and stories serve up huge laughs, even as they tackle high-stakes, world-threatening menaces summoned from the farthest realms.
“[S]omething that me and [producing partner] Evan [Goldberg] talk about a lot is how Marvel movies are comedies,” Rogen said. “Thor: Ragnarok is a comedy. Ant-Man is a comedy at its core…There are $200 million comedies out there, and so that's something, as a comedic filmmaker, to be aware of. That is the benchmark that people expect! If you're going to make a big huge comedy, just know that your competition is, like, Marvel.”
If that feels like criticism that the biggest box office fish have a way of edging out the little guys for laughs, it’s not. Rogen sounds like a huge admirer of the MCU’s ability to find comedy gold by casting naturally hilarious A-list stars for roles that have them swinging between epic action and delightfully welcome moments of pure silliness, like Thor in Surtur’s lair. “They are legitimately funny [movies] and star comedy stars,” Rogen said.
What can an aspiring film comedian do in the face of Marvel’s infinity gauntlet of funny firepower? Let the big-budget movies worry about mixing in humor with their special effects and grand universal ideas, and instead just focus on the things that money can’t buy — like endearing characters and a story that lets them find the humor in smaller moments.
“Audiences still love comedy, and they want that – Deadpool – but the scope of them is huge,” he said. “So when you're not offering them that scope, you have to think, 'What am I offering them?' … What we're offering is pure comedy and emotion and relatability and nostalgia. That's the trade-off. You don't get to see the God of Thunder being hilarious, but you get to see something that maybe represents your actual life, and that's very gratifying in another way.”
Plus, when it comes to crazy costumes, time travel, and saving the whole universe in general, Rogen already has plenty of experience putting his own comedic touch on science fiction. He and Goldberg executive produced Hulu’s Future Man (with Rogen himself playing an idiotic media executive of the future), and An American Pickle finds his early-1900s immigrant character waking from a 100-year nap to bumble into one funny mistake after another in modern-day America.
Produced by Rogen, Goldberg, and The Boys co-EP James Weaver, An American Pickle is streaming now on HBO Max.