'Meet the Parents': In-Laws & Disorder

As it were.
ROACH: Ha! It became a dynamic-range issue. I wasn't sure it was funny enough to earn its way in. But audiences went crazy.

Of course, one of the pleasures of a broad comedy is seeing the punchline coming. You know as soon as that truck pulls into the muddy yard what's going to happen.
ROACH: Once you know that's the way the joke's going to work, it's my favorite thing to just stretch it out as long as I possibly can. It's like the banana-peel-on-the-ground gag. You always have to cut to the close-up of the banana peel way before the guy walks over and slips on it if you want a real laugh.
STILLER: Jay knows all the comedy rules and laws. Seriously. He has all these technical terms for these really specific setups.
ROACH: Most of which I inherited from Mike Myers, who I think inherited it from [Second City pooh-bah] Del Close and Lorne Michaels. Mike is amazing at categorizing and theorizing. I always argue with Mike, ''Oh, come on, there's no rule about what's funny.'' And here I come to this movie and I'm reciting rules. Usually just to win an argument.

Do you have comedy idols?
DE NIRO: When I was a kid, I used to love Abbott and Costello, and the Frankenstein movies, the originals, in black and white. And I remember thinking ''You know it'd be great if Abbott and Costello could meet Frankenstein.'' And one day there it was! I thought it was a new movie. And that was made way before I was born, probably, right?

It was made in 1948.
DE NIRO: '48, was it? Well, maybe it was just out when I was a kid. I used to go to a place called the Laugh Movie on 42nd Street. On the outside of the theater, they had these giant heads of Laurel and Hardy and Chaplin, and the heads would go back and forth. [He imitates the movements with his hands in front of his face.] I might have been 5 or 6. We were very young when we went to this theater, and we went by ourselves. Took the subway. Not like today, where your parents take you.
STILLER: I grew up watching Abbott and Costello on Sunday mornings on channel 11. I was into all of their films. I was getting them the second time around, but to me that was a big, influential thing.
ROACH: Any modern guys?
DE NIRO: Bill Murray, Robin Williams, Chris Rock, Greg Kinnear. The original Saturday Night Live bunch, especially Belushi, were great. Are great.
STILLER: Bill Murray. I was a teenager when Caddyshack came out.
ROACH: Have you worked with him?
STILLER: No, never. But I remember memorizing Murray's entire part. All his monologues.

So, Bob and Ben, since you've both done both, what's harder — comedy or drama?
DE NIRO: Comedy and drama are just different, not necessarily easier or harder. I couldn't do certain things that many other comics can do or that dramatic actors can do. I believe that subtlety of humor, I've got. Irony, that's what I know. I do behavior and stuff — that's what I do best.
STILLER: [To De Niro] I look at your dramatic movies, especially your early ones, and there's always humor.
DE NIRO: Taxi Driver, there's a lot of funny stuff in it. Really.

Originally posted Oct 13, 2000 Published in issue #563 Oct 13, 2000 Order article reprints
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