Nearly every actor that has worked with Adam McKay is quick to acknowledge the fact that he’s brilliant. This isn’t just meant in the comedic sense, but also in the sense that he’s book-smart and has a deep knowledge of complex subjects like international banking, which is why it’s so striking that the characters in his films are all so incredibly stupid. In a new video essay, Patrick Willems examines the smart dumb comedy of Adam McKay and Will Ferrell’s films, in which impressively idiotic characters subvert the audiences’ expectations and embrace lunacy.
What makes McKay’s films, and the characters that inhabit them, so distinct from other comedies of the past 15 years is the absurd world in which they firmly plant themselves. No one bats an eye in Anchorman when a street brawl breaks out between rival news crews. Ricky Bobby, a grown man, allows his arm to be broken rather than say he loves “really thin pancakes.” The triumphantly ridiculous performance at the end of Step Brothers brings everyone to tears at the Catalina Wine Mixer. These events are treated as commonplace in the world McKay creates, which allows his characters to be incredibly dumb while still respecting the internal logic of the film. Also, this approach provides ample opportunity for what McKay calls “that weird kind of satire where you’re making fun of it but you’re also doing it.”