Choosing the right location to set a comedy in can be one of the most important decisions that filmmakers will make during the pre-production process. In a way, it’s almost like casting one of the main characters in the movie. The locations will not only serve as a significant visual enhancement to the picture itself, but will also inform the viewers of the tone, mood and environment of each scene, acting as an implicit character that interacts with the protagonists and even shapes their choices.
With comedy being mined mainly from circumstances and situations, where the action is taking place will also inform us of many socio-cultural aspects that will be affecting our characters throughout the film and it will be their response to these circumstances that will inform the decisions that they make. Their motivations, no matter how silly the might be, will often be a reflection of their immediate environment, which will then in turn become the playground in which they will act out their kooky misadventures. That being said, let’s take a look at some of the most iconic cities that have been immortalized time and time again on the silver screen after being cast by some of the greatest comedies of all time.
Is there a better place on earth than Las Vegas to tell rambunctious tales of excess and hedonism? Las Vegas is real life a mirage of glitter, glimmer and lights in the middle of a desert, where millions of people go every year to indulge in benders filled with gambling, alcohol, drugs and all you can eat steaks. Famous for its legendary larger than life casinos packed with shiny slot games of every variety , amazing night clubs, magic shows, instant wedding chapels and psychedelic circuses, Las Vegas is truly a playground for mankind’s most primal desires. This excess of vice and debauchery however often leads to big trouble for our characters, who find themselves at odds with a town that often brings out the worst in them. Hollywood has certainly taken note of the comedic storytelling possibilities that such a surreal town can bring to the screen. From the extremely successful “what the hell happened last night” bachelor party antics of the Hangover Series, to the family vacation gone awry of Chevy Chase’s classic Vegas Vacation, to the psychedelic American dream gone awry of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, to the glitzy, slick heists of Ocean’s Eleven, Sin City has certainly shaped films to its incomparable image to create hilarious comedies of excess and consequences. When it comes to movies, thank god that what happens in Vegas, is brought to our screen by Hollywood.
Ah the Windy City! With its breathtaking skyline, iconic locations and rich character and diversity of its neighborhoods, there are few places on earth that can bring such a personality to a movie as Chi-town. Boasting iconic locations such as Wrigley Field, the majestic Willis Tower, the legendary Drake Hotel, the opulent Chicago Theatre and Union Station, and the emblematic Wicker, Grant and Millennium Parks, Chicago is filled with personality and visually impressive locations throughout. However, while it’s easy to showcase Chicago only as the beautiful, shimmering city that is Downtown, there are many more sides to it that tell different stories as well, from its Northside affluent suburbs to the Westside and Southside hoods. The incredible ethnic diversity you will find can lend itself to all sorts of comedic exchanges and situations. Chicago has been the setting of many iconic comedies: From the classic 80s John Hughes flicks – Sixteen Candles, Home Alone, The Breakfast Club, Uncle Buck, and of course Ferris Bueller, his ode to the city of Chicago-, to the emblematic Blues Brothers, to 90s classics like High Fidelity and Wayne’s World, as well as the African American-led Barbershop.
Britain’s largest metropolis is one of the oldest of the great cities of the world with a history that spans for close to two millennia. Spawning from 3 different centers – The walled Roman settlement of City of London, the south bank suburbs of Southwark, and the home of the central apparatus of the British state, City of Westminster – London is rich with culture and art. With its expansive history, London is full of amazing locations that draw millions of tourists each year to visit attractions such as Buckingham Palace, the British Museum, the National Gallery, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, the world famous South Kensington museums and the Tate galleries, amongst so many others. But one of main attractions of filming a comedy in London is taking advantage of its multiculturalism, and how it plays off with the British’s famous sense of humor – comprised mainly of a fantastic combination of dry wit, self-deprecation, under the radar sarcasm and deadpan delivery. Amongst the great comedies that take place in London you will find Guy Ritchie’s hilarious gangster films – Long, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and Rock N Rolla, Edgar Wright’s pop culture savvy Cornetto Trilogy – Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, and of course the stammering off kilt romantic comedies Bridget Jones’ Diary, Love Actually and About a Boy.
The mythical Big Apple has been the setting of thousands of stories on the silver screen since the beginning of the American film industry. As the most cosmopolitan city on earth, New York boasts some of the most culturally diverse and distinctive boroughs ever portrayed in comedy, as well as some of comedy’s finest talents. From the hipsters and yuppies in Brooklyn, to apathetic, snooty Manhattanites, to street wise tough guys from the Bronx, to Guidos and working stiffs in Queens and Staten Island, there is plenty to of humor to mine from placing all of these characters in the same melting pot interacting with each other, as well as the myriad of multicultural characters you’ll find all throughout the city. Woody Allen is best known for his films set in and about The City that Never Sleeps, including of course the revered Annie Hall – his most critically acclaimed film and winner of an Academy Award for Best Picture. Other honorable mentions include his masterpiece Manhattan, truly his ode to the The Capital of the World, Hannah and Her Sisters, Bullets Over Broadway and Crimes and Misdemeanors.
But Woody Allen is not alone in channeling his love of New York to create fantastic comedies, with other stand out films including Home Alone 2, Eddie Murphy’s absolute classic Coming to America, When Harry Met Sally and, of course, the most iconic New York comedy of all time: Ghostbusters.
This list would be considered desperately incomplete without mentioning the City of Angels. With thousands of naïve, fame obsessed wannabe stars moving there each year intent on making it big on the silver screen, only to end up working as waiters or baristas (or in adult films, as the Paul Thomas Anderson classic Boogie Nights best exposed), the entertainment capital of the world is a place ripe for satire and dark comedy.
Unsurprisingly, some of the best comedies set in La La Land are cynical, self-aware nods to the movie industry, poking fun at the very hand that feeds them by exposing how ridiculous the whole idea of Hollywood fame really is. TV comedies like Bojack Horseman, You’re the Worst and Party Down are prime examples of this, as are movies like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nice Guys, Bowfinger, and the 1996 cult classic Swingers. Other comedic movies focus on mining the humor that comes from the wide array of superficial weirdos and misfits that you will encounter in LA, such as The Big Lebowski, Beverly Hills Cop, Clueless, and the allegoric cartoon meets real life classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Each of these movies shows us a different aspect of the city, while still remaining undeniably L.A.