Someone ought to outline how many laughs make a successful comedy. Obviously, the more you have the better, but what’s the cutoff for a comedy to be good enough? One gut-busting laugh every ten minutes? Every five?
Some restaurant patrons find it practical to keep a tip card in their wallet or purse so they know how generous a gratuity to leave, so a laugh chart might be helpful in this particularly middling era of big screen comedies. There are comedies that are more obviously great than others – Anchorman, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and There’s Something About Mary leap to mind – but what about the flicks you kind of want to like and don’t remind you of a dozen others you’ve seen but still leave you straddling the fence?
Consider the case of Baby Mama, which, on the surface, is a rather cynical pregnancy comedy written by and starring Tina Fey. Fey is, rightly or no, probably the most celebrated comedienne going right now. She displayed a real surgeon’s touch as the head writer and “Weekend Update” co-anchor on Saturday Night Live and parlayed that success into the clever screenplay for Mean Girls and her critically acclaimed 30 Rock, one of the many shows on NBC that nobody watches.
As someone who knows the ins and outs of sketch comedy and the pragmatism of establishing a story quickly and delivering consistent punch lines because of either six- or thirty-minute time constraints, Fey should also know that the best comedies rarely pace themselves. And Baby Mama runs out of top-notch jokes early and spreads the rest too thin to be truly effective, unless your comedy chart says that exploiting five memorable, surprising laughs in an hour-and-a-half is effective.