Whether it’s a volley of verbal repartee or a flurry of custard pies, the best comedy bits seem to require two people to pull them off: one person to give, and the other to give back just as good.
The history of film comedy has seen no shortage of memorable duos – Laurel and Hardy; Martin and Lewis; Harold and Kumar – usually of the all-male variety. But this summer, Hollywood has found room for a more progressive kind of pairing: twosomes where a man and a woman get to share in the funny business. In these comedies, the ladies aren’t relegated to doting love interests or damsels in distress while the guys have all the fun; the sexes get to be partners in crime, enjoying equal opportunity for outrageous (and sometimes raunchy) laughs.
This unofficial season has started with Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne playing a frazzled married couple facing off against the frat house next door in the new “Neighbors.” In the upcoming weeks, men and women enjoy mutual mayhem in the clubs and casinos of Las Vegas (“Think Like a Man Too”) and in an American frontier town (“A Million Ways to Die in the West”). There are collaborations that extend off-screen, too, as in “Tammy,” a ribald road-trip story written by the husband-and-wife team of Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy, starring McCarthy and directed by Falcone.
It is also a season of women like Byrne and McCarthy, stars of the 2011 smash “Bridesmaids,” who want to continue that film’s gender barrier-busting tradition, and men who hope to uphold the legacies of predecessors like Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, or Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly. Here, the male-female duos from four of the summer’s biggest studio comedies talk about how they learned to share the screen – and in some cases, much, much more. These are excerpts from the conversations.
Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen, “Neighbors”
When did you two first meet?
Rogen: We were both on the same talk show one time.
Byrne: And then you came to the set of “Bridesmaids.”
Rogen: I came when they were filming that scene in the dress shop where everyone pukes all over each other.
Byrne: My character didn’t eat the food. I didn’t throw up. Little did I know, we would later be in far more delicate situations.
How did the relationship change making “Neighbors?”
Byrne: Straight off we had a good, easy rapport and a matching temperament. That couple’s really got to come off as authentic and self-assured, and I feel like we had that. Right, Seth?
Rogen: I think we did a wonderful job of that, Rose. It was fun to be in a dynamic like that, and it was easy. There’s not a lot of conflict – you’re not always trying to figure out clever ways to insult the person. It was really like having a partner.
Byrne: From the start, they wanted to make my character very much a part of the story. From Day One, Nick [Stoller, the film’s director] and Seth were both like, “She’s as in on this as everybody else – and as irresponsible as everybody else.” That was really exciting.
Right away, the movie puts the two of you in a comedic sex scene while the couple’s baby is watching. Was that awkward to film?
Rogen: Doing a funny sex scene is not bad. Maybe once I’ve had to do a sex scene that’s actually supposed to come across as sexy. That’s like a thousand times more embarrassing to me than the most explicit funny sex scene.
Byrne: It’s true. An intimate, realistic sex scene? Ugh, forget it.
Seth MacFarlane and Charlize Theron, “A Million Ways to Die in the West” (May 30)
Were you surprised, Charlize, at how easily you fit into the world of this film that Seth directed, co-wrote and co-starred in?
Seth MacFarlane: I think that’s more due to Charlize’s versatility. For me, as a relatively inexperienced actor, I could not have had a better partner, who found the Goldilocks zone for both of us.
Theron: Don’t you ever call me Goldilocks again.
Seth, which of Charlize’s films suggested she was a great comic actress? “Monster”? “The Cider House Rules”?
Theron: He was looking at “Reindeer Games,” OK?
MacFarlane: All of my research came from “The Astronaut’s Wife.” It was the same process I used for “Ted”: It was important that this be somebody who was able to bring a sincerity to the character, and the jokes carry themselves if you have that.
Q: This is a period comedy set in the Wild West, and Charlize, you’re a female gunslinger?
Theron: She married into that world at a young age and got stuck in a life that really wasn’t her own. Through circumstances, she finds herself outside of that life for a split second and gets to really see the potential of something different and better, and tries to go after that.
Q: And Seth, your character is a coward who needs Charlize’s help?
MacFarlane: That wasn’t much of a stretch for me. I won’t even get on the freeway without my navigator. There was a parallel between my personal experience on the movie, for my virgin effort at being on camera, and the story itself. As we went along, Charlize was the one person I could quietly turn to, and say, “Hey, did that seem good to you, or was it too James Brolin?” I don’t know why I just said that. He’s never done anything to me. Sorry, James Brolin, I think you’re great.
Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel, “Sex Tape” (July 25)
This is the second comedy you’ve made together, after “Bad Teacher.” Are you more comfortable working with each other now?
Diaz: Oh, after this movie, we are real comfortable.
Segel: To do something like this has the potential to be very awkward. But we share a mentality that, when it comes to comedy, the bottom line is it being as funny as it can possibly be, and that involves being pride free. That could have been awkward with a different partnership. But we laughed so much more than we cringed.
On a movie like this, do you tackle the more intimate sequences right away, or save them until the end?
Segel: I have really exciting news for the audience. There is so much sex in the movie, there’s no way, schedule-wise, to load it up. We did really risqué stuff, throughout the shoot, in different locations.
Diaz: We had to share our nakedness with Jake [Kasdan, the film’s director] every day, too.
Segel: In the making of the sex tape – which I won’t go into too much – Jake operated the camera during those scenes. It was just the three of us in a room, which was really intimate, but it certainly made us feel much safer than if there were boom guys and lighting guys while she and I were doing some of the things that we did.
And then you do everything possible to prevent that footage from getting into the wrong hands?
Diaz: That was on lockdown.
Segel: Obviously, my biggest dream in life would be for that footage to get into the wrong hands.
Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy, “Tammy” (July 2)
Did meeting each other in a professional setting forever determine your relationship?
McCarthy: I don’t know if I can call [the comedy troupe] Groundlings professional. But it was awfully fun and we were all highly inappropriate.
Falcone: It’s hard to be professional when you’re wearing a giant $14 wig and a Christmas-themed sweater.
McCarthy: I figured if he actually liked me after he’d seen me in some of the get-ups I wore at Groundlings, that was it – I got him.
You’re also a husband and wife, and parents – do you ever get to turn off your work?
Falcone: Whenever we do get to sit down for dinner, which is not enough, it’s not like, “Oh, boy, now we have to talk about business.” For us, it means, “Oh, wouldn’t it be funny if so-and-so happens with this.”
McCarthy: It’s the same conversation we had 14 years ago. It’s like, “What if I came in on a ripcord? What if we were riding a rhino?” The shocking thing is, now people actually listen and go, “OK. Why don’t you do that?”
Is that where the idea for “Tammy” came from?
McCarthy: You had a dream, right, Ben? He was completely blurry-eyed and he said, “I had a weird dream, and I’m going to write something where you and your grandma take a road trip, and she’s an alcoholic and she may sleep around.” I was like, “Great. Do you want coffee?”
Falcone: A lot of times we come to each other and say, “I’ve got a stupid idea. Is this too crazy?” And sometimes the answer is yes. But sometimes the answer is no. And that’s when things get really fun.