Controversial comedy: Producer Joshua Church explains the film industry

Producer Joshua Church on set with stars Danny McBride and Will Ferrell during the shooting of Land of the Lost.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Church and by Ally Hill ‘15

Famed producer Joshua Church, best known for his work with Will Ferrell in films like Step Brothers and Talladega Nights, spoke as a part of the Lafayette Marquis Scholars “Smart Humor Series” on Tuesday. His topic of choice was, no surprise here, the power of comedy. Church believes the comedic and cinematic industries need to transform with regards to diversity and equality.

“Comedy exposes the truth. It allows the space to be uncomfortable but finds ways to put comfort in it,” Church said as he began the presentation.

Relating this thesis to several of Will Ferrell’s films, Church mentioned some of the disturbing issues.

“Anchorman is the story of sexism in television in the 1970s,” Church said. “And this larger-than-life character…we all laugh at the fact that he thinks women’s periods attract bears, but back then some people seriously thought that.”

Church argued that comedy helps people see the problems in the world around them, and reveals ridiculous things as truly ridiculous.

“Sadly, I did not work on Anchorman,” Church said, though it is his favorite film. He did speak a bit to the inspiration for Talladega Nights. He claimed that the film, which was written in 2004, was conceived as a mockery of where the country was at the time, and how far the nation had fallen from the message of strength and unity the nation felt after 9/11.

“It was a look at what went wrong,” Church said.

“Ricky Bobby was supposed to be kind of like George Bush,” he continued. He noted that Bobby’s quote “If you ain’t first, you’re last,” described his perception of America’s attitude following the tragedy.

The second half of Church’s talk addressed the future of comedic films. After a specific meeting Church had the Monday after the 2011 film Bridesmaids was released, the executives’ reactions were surprising.

“It was an actual shock to them, that a film with an all-female cast…could do well,” Church said. Church noted that the most important thing that could be done to diversify the industry was for moviegoers to vote with their dollars, saying that the guys on top are not prejudiced; they just want to make money.

“If a movie with an all-black cast makes sixty million dollars, the studios will hire more black actors,” Church said.

Church did admit that the industry isstill largely male-dominated, as Church pointed out that Saturday Night Live has had a total of four black women in their cast in the show’s history. The show claims that black women just don’t apply for the job and that they are “trying to find one.” Even Church’s favorite comedians, like Stephen Colbert, made a similar argument for why writers were mostly white males.

“They want to make money. White males are safe, they make money,” Church said. “You might not think you make a difference, but believe me, when money is involved, everyone pays attention.”

Joshua Church has just completed production of his latest film, We Are Young, which was released on Oct. 3. His other works include Semi-Pro, The Other Guys, and Land of the Lost.

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