- Laughing Matter: Comedy’s New Legends
In these tough times, America is lucky to have the community of comic talent featured here: men and women who will band together for the perfect setup, charm laughs from their audience, and seize on just about any icon—a Founding Father, a famous artist, even a V.F. cover—as ripe for gentle subversion. From Russell Brand’s Chaplin to Seth Rogen’s Frida Kahlo to an all-star update of The Honeymooners, V.F.’s photographers capture a new generation’s take on its favorite legends, and Jim Windolf figures out why their particular brand of funny fits the national mood. Plus: Behind-the-scenes video.
- JONAH HILL, PAUL RUDD, SETH ROGEN, and JASON SEGEL, The Pretty Young Things
After appearing in Knocked Up and/or The 40-Year-Old Virgin, this quartet can now be considered summa cum laude graduates of the Judd Apatow school of comedy. Unlike so many comedy stars of the last two decades, they—and the other funny people depicted on the following pages—seem at their best when they work not as soloists but as part of a tightly knit ensemble. Say good-bye to the laughter of alienation and hello to a brand of comedy that fosters a feeling of community. Rather than dominate a crowd, they conspire with the people in the audience. Their strength lies in their charm. Even Rogen. Photographed by Annie Leibovitz on Stage 28 at Paramount Pictures Studio Lot, Los Angeles.
DANNY McBRIDE, The Breakthrough
Actor, writer, producer.
He-e-e-e-e-re’s … Danny! In the last couple of years he’s burst through the door like no one since Jack Nicholson in The Shining. In Pineapple Express, he was sick funny as Red, a freakish low-life dealer who never starts a fight he can’t lose in an extremely painful manner. (In real life, McBride’s head was split open by a bong during filming.) And in a cast of brilliant comic actors, he still managed to steal a corner of Tropic Thunder for himself as the lunatic pyrotechnician. McBride has a special talent for taking your average everyday dumb-ass and making him into someone you hate to love. That’s what he’s been doing as the star of the new HBO comedy series East Bound and Down, in which he plays an ex-major-leaguer working as a gym teacher. The show’s co–executive producer is Will Ferrell, who appears on it from time to time. McBride will in turn be lending Ferrell comic support in the likely summertime comedy blockbuster Land of the Lost. Photographed by Mark Seliger in Los Angeles.
RUSSELL BRAND, The Comic
Actor, writer, naughty boy.
The flamboyant, handsome, and very hairy Russell Brand may not attain the worldwide fame and influence of Charlie Chaplin, but he’s a huge talent with an adroit physicality and large ambitions. Americans got a taste of this British provocateur in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Brand’s character, the vain pop star Aldous Snow, made for an unusually multifaceted comedy villain: he’s shallow, obnoxious, and pompous, but also shows himself to be insecure, self-aware, good-hearted, and given to bouts of melancholy. Aldous will return as the hero of Get Him to the Greek, a rock ‘n’ roll comedy from the Judd Apatow factory scheduled for 2010. Before then, Brand will try to kindle a love affair with American audiences via his first Comedy Central special (his stand-up is influenced by Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks); a turn as the jester Trinculo in Julie Taymor’s film of The Tempest; and the U.S. release of his memoir, My Bookie Wook, a U.K. best-seller, which chronicles an odd upbringing, heroin and crack use, sex addiction, rehab, and his dismissal from British MTV after he arrived dressed as Osama bin Laden on September 12, 2001. Photographed by Mark Seliger in Los Angeles.
BILL HADER, ANNA FARIS, JASON BATEMAN, and LESLIE MANN, The Honeymooners
Do they option photographs? Because this might work—The Honeymooners updated for 2010. Jason Bateman may not be big enough or loud enough to pull off a Jackie Gleason–style Ralph Kramden, but, as he proved in Arrested Development and Hancock, he has on-screen charm to spare. Leslie Mann, who will anchor the most-anticipated comedy of the year, Funny People (written and directed by her husband, Judd Apatow), looks ready to go as the too-good-for-this-world Alice. Saturday Night Live stalwart Bill Hader, the heir to the Dan Aykroyd cunning-doofus crown, who has lent his distinctive touch to Pineapple Express (the opening minutes) and Forgetting Sarah Marshall (those idiotic/amusing video chats), provides a more muscular Norton. And Anna Faris, so lovely and Goldie Hawn–ishly hilarious in The House Bunny, almost out-Trixies Trixie. Action, already. Photographed by Norman Jean Roy in Los Angeles.
PAUL RUDD, The Role Model
It’s … alive! More than that, the career of Paul Rudd is thriving. He got a lot of attention for his banter with Seth Rogen in The 40-Year-Old Virgin (“Know how I know you’re gay?”), delivered with an easy manner that masks a depth of feeling. Rudd may well end up this generation’s Jack Lemmon. His steady work is made possible partly by his enviable range, which allows him to play oddballs (his touched-in-the-head surfing instructor in Forgetting Sarah Marshall), romantic leading man (alongside Michelle Pfeiffer in the seriously underrated Amy Heckerling film I Could Never Be Your Woman), and at least one alienated guy (in Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things). In Monsters vs. Aliens, he voices a yuppie weatherman whose fiancée turns into a giant. In last year’s Role Models, which he co-wrote, he starred as a charming misanthrope who learns, bit by bit, not to hate everyone else quite so much. With its hard-R jokes and child actors, Role Models was a strange little package, but it gave us probably the best on-screen representation of Rudd-ness we’ve had—at least until the upcoming bro-mantic comedy I Love You, Man, in which he plays a so-called “girlfriend guy” who needs to find a best man in time for his wedding day. Photographed by Art Streiber in Los Angeles.
JONAH HILL, The Chopper
Even when he plays characters who tend to freak out over little things—think of his germophobic tizzy in Knocked Up’s hospital scene or his anxiety attack outside the liquor store in Superbad—Jonah Hill exudes a feeling of calm. His steady gaze and deliberate, crystal-clear way with a line bring to mind Christopher Walken. And perhaps no other actor has managed to get away with talking so much filth while conveying a puppy-dog sweetness.(Were he to cut down the cherry tree of yore, he would probably say something like “I chopped it down and I’m really very fucking sorry about it.”) Hill was likable even when playing the waiter with creepy stalker tendencies in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Look for him to brighten up three movies in the coming months: Judd Apatow’s Funny People, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, and the much-anticipated alternative-reality comedy from Ricky Gervais, This Side of the Truth. Photographed by Sam Jones in Los Angeles.
AMY POEHLER and WILL ARNETT, The Accomplices
Some Saturday Night Live cast members just made you laugh (Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers, Will Ferrell). Others made you laugh and freaked you out at the same time (Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, Molly Shannon). And one made you laugh while scaring you (John Belushi). With Amy Poehler, there was something new. She certainly got her share of laughs in her eight-season tenure on the show, but she also inspired the kind of affection that’s hard to come by at that hour of the night. Last October, when it was announced on-air that she was absent because she was having a baby, there was something like an awwwww from the crowd, mixed with some seriously warm applause. Poehler will continue her cuddly relationship with NBC viewers soon, as the star of a new Thursday-night sitcom, Parks and Recreation. The Han Solo–esque stud on this page would be Will Arnett, Poehler’s husband. If you’ve seen Arnett as the entertainingly insufferable G. O. B. Bluth II on the late Fox sitcom Arrested Development, or in Blades of Glory or Semi-pro or, God help you, Let’s Go to Prison, you know there’s something not right about him. In a good way. He’s now doing his thing on 30 Rock, as Devon Banks, a corporate climber overwhelmed by his own gayness. Photographed by Patrick Demarchelier in New York.
JASON SEGEL, The Loner
Actor, writer, producer, songwriter, singer, puppeteer.
The great silent-film comedian Buster Keaton got his name (bestowed upon him by Harry Houdini, according to showbiz legend) because, as a kid on the vaudeville circuit, he was willing to take a lot of physical punishment for a laugh. Jason Segel, with his quick smile and basset-hound eyes, doesn’t do much traditional slapstick, but he has taken part in a few pretty devastating pratfalls—though his are of the emotional variety. Does anybody cry funnier than Segel does in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the wonderful rom-com farce he not only starred in but wrote? Has anybody done funnier full frontal nudity than he does in the movie’s infamous naked-breakup scene? This alumnus of Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks and Knocked Up will next appear as a slightly unhinged pal to Paul Rudd in the springtime buddy comedy I Love You, Man. Segel is also putting his scripting and puppeteering skills to use in the next Muppets movie for Disney. Photographed by Norman Jean Roy in Los Angeles.
SETH ROGEN, The Auteur
Actor, writer, producer.
With his booming voice and bearish appearance, Rogen has displayed a commanding screen presence in comedy hits such as Knocked Up and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, and he may go on to achieve something like Will Smith–level celebrity when he becomes known even to grade-schoolers as a voice in the upcoming animated Monsters vs. Aliens and as the star of 2010’s The Green Hornet. But the amazing thing about Rogen is that he (along with collaborator Evan Goldberg) is one of the finest screenwriters going, with Superbad and Pineapple Express to his credit. Both pictures borrow elements from the films of Quentin Tarantino and Rogen’s mentor, Judd Apatow, to freshen up the action-buddy genre for a generation raised on reality TV and YouTube. Rogen is set up for another memorable year, with a part in Apatow’s Funny People and a starring role as an unstable security guard in the mall comedy Observe and Report. Photographed by Norman Jean Roy in Los Angeles.