Bradley Cooper on ‘The Hangover’ and evolving comedy
Bradley Cooper has fittingly described his new film The Hangover as “Bachelor Party meets Memento” because the comedy takes the familiar storyline of inebriated pre-matrimony adventures and flips it around with the complexity of Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed mystery. Instead of showing the drunken debauchery, the story focuses on the three main characters waking up to a trashed hotel suite and trying to remember what happened the night before. Straight-laced Stu (Ed Helms) discovers that he’s missing a tooth and bubble-off-center Alan (Zach Galifianakis) soon finds a tiger in the bathroom. Neither of them can seem to locate their best friend and groom-to-be Doug (Justin Bartha) so Phil (Cooper) gets them organized to retrace their steps in hopes of piecing together the puzzle.
Similar to successful recent comedies like Superbad, this film gives audiences humor that rises beyond the generic gross-out gag. Cooper explained in an interview with Trashwire that modern comedy has changed because “the audience has evolved and become more verbally-minded. Comedy is all about pushing the envelope and doing something people haven’t seen before, except for certain standards like physical comedy. But the ‘set up, set up, punchilne’ rhythm mathematics of comedy start to run dry a little bit. You don’t want the audience to know where you’re going before you get there.” Some of the best laughs come from less obvious jokes. As Cooper phrased it, “ Jokes started to come from within the spaces in the scenes. I think it’s messing around with the comedic rhythm of the scenes and just being verbally minded. Even if you look at rap today, and how much more sophisticated it is than something like Run DMC, everything’s getting more sophisticated and more complicated and the same thing’s happened with comedy.”
On their investigation, the characters make a journey to Mike Tyson’s house in a scene that will surely stick with audiences. Cooper praised Tyson’s comedic skills saying, “It’s hard to come on to a movie set for three days in a comedy and work your way in and he did it seamlessly and improvised.”
Tyson aside, the film contains many appearances from familiar faces in the comedy landscape. Jeffrey Tambor, who earns hall-of-fame-level respect for being George Bluth in Arrested Development, makes an appearance as the bride’s father, Rachel Harris knocks it out of the park as Stu’s epically emasculating girlfriend, The Daily Show’s Rob Riggle has a hilarious turn as a cop and Heather Graham is fantastic as a free-spirited stripper/escort. Even director Todd Phillips makes an appearance.
Phillips may be known for his film Old School but Cooper insists the month and a half the cast spent living at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas wasn’t just one long party. “It kinda felt like we did a war movie,” he said. “We were doing 16 hour days six days a week, so it was a tough shoot. Plus, it’s a very physically minded shoot. It’s not like we just sit around a room and tell jokes. A lot of the humor comes from the outrageous situations that you put archetypal characters in.” But Cooper insisted that despite the hard work, shooting the film was definitely fun. “Of course we laughed a lot. Todd has this thing where he laughs during a take. I don’t know how the sound managed to deal with him. He laughs constantly during the scenes and that became the barometer by which we would see if we were achieving something. So as we did a scene we’d be thinking, ‘I hope I hear his little giggle throughout the whole scene.’”
Certainly one of the driving forces behind the best comedies of today has to be improvisation. Often the DVD outtakes and extended takes can be just as funny as the scenes themselves. According to Cooper, Ken Jeong was the king of improv jokes on the set of The Hangover. “The DVD will probably have a separate disc just for Ken’s takes! He would go on these 15-minute rants and you’d hear Todd going, ‘Alright, alright, alright!’ But then he would keep going for 20 minutes.” Anyone who has seen Jeong’s outtakes from Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up would be chomping at the bit for this potential bonus footage.
With so many comedy cliques in the entertainment industry these days, it’s not always easy to be the new kid in school. Cooper has worked with members of The State, Upright Citizens Brigade, the Frat Pack and comedy superstars like Jim Carrey and even he admits that it can be intimidating for an outsider. “The most anxiety I’ve ever had was Wet Hot American Summer because I was still in school and everybody had known each other.” He confessed. “Amy Poehler was from Upright Citizens Brigade and I didn’t even know what any of these things meant. Upright Citizens Brigade? The State? It sounded like they were all military. I just had no idea at all, so the lunch tables were intimidating. But I soaked it in and loved it.” With his stellar turn in Wedding Crashers as well as his comedic chemistry with Comedians of Comedy legend Galifianakis and The Office‘s Helms, Cooper has proved that he can easily fit it with some of the best comedy groups making films today.
The camaraderie between the three leads is one of The Hangover’s biggest strengths. While vastly different, there is the sense that these guys really are best friends. Cooper explained that much of this was from the actors spending time together. “Zack and I drove to Vegas together before we shot the movie and it was a great experience. We’ve all become really close. Ed and I went to Zack’s farm for New Years. I love those guys. It makes it easier because this movie lives or dies by the chemistry between these three guys and I think that we just got lucky” That friendship makes it all the way to the screen and definitely elevates the film.
The Hangover opens tomorow and is definitely gets a thumbs up from Trashwire with the fantastic cast and original story structure. (Hint: be sure to stay to see the snapshots in the credits)