Apparently it is #NationalBeerLoversDay by virtue of some decree. Who am I to make waves? I thought I’d observe the day with a little survey of classic comedies of screens and small revolving around beer. Sad gaps hamper such a celebration. There was undoubtedly a great heyday of comedy about beer back in the days of saloon variety, when Irish comedians, and “Dutch” (or faux German) comics entertained audiences in a bawdy atmosphere. The Irish loved their alcohol humor as much as their alcohol; the Germans, of course popularized beer in the U.S. and brewed it. They were the two largest immigrant groups in the late 19th century. But that was before the age of film; there’s nothing to share. However, one comedy team dating from that time was still chugging along by the time of talkies. These guys.
Weber and Fields in Beer is Here (1933)
The exciting news that Prohibition was about to end prompted many cinematic responses from comedians. One of the most notable ones is the comedy short Beer is Here, the last starring film of the seminal comedy team of Weber and Fields. Stay tuned! In addition to my existing blog post about the important vaudeville comedy team, Archeophone Records is releasing a CD of their early comedy records later this year, to which I wrote the liner notes!
The famously bibulous W.C. Fields is not normally associated with anything so tame as beer: both he and his character were hard core alcoholics, more given to the hard stuff. But there are a couple of scenes in International House where he blows the foam off a refreshing mug and quaffs the beverage — while piloting a flying machine.
Buster Keaton’s last starring vehicle for MGM, and his third one with Jimmy Durante, cast the mismatched pair as a couple of gents who prematurely start a brewery in order to get the jump on the end of Prohibition. There are some memorable physical bits. In one Keaton finds himself trapped on a steep hill fleeing a bunch of rolling beer kegs that have fallen off a truck (a reworking of a bit he did with boulders in Seven Chances). Another one has the inevitable predicament of Buster floundering around in huge vats of foam.
Three Little Beers (1935)
This 1935 Three Stooges short is chiefly memorable for its theft of Buster Keaton rolling kegs bit from What, No Beer?
Beer Barrel Polecats (1946)
One of Curly’s last Three Stooges comedies, showing the noticeable effects of his recent stroke. The film centers around the inexplicable predicament of the Stooges going to jail for brewing beer, though Prohibition had ended a dozen years before.
Bob and Ray Piels ads (early 1960s)
This was arguably the great radio comedy team Bob and Ray’s highest profile gig: supplying the voices of Bert and Harry Piel for animated Piels beer television ads in the 1960s.
Laverne (Penny Marshall) and Shirley (Cindy Williams) worked on the assembly line of the fictional Schotz Brwery in Milwaukee during the early seasons of the classic sitcom.
This occurs to us because of Burt Reynolds’ recent passing. The comedy McGuffin (or reason for the plot) in Smokey and the Bandit was a load of Coors that Smokey needed to quickly transport to a barbecue in his big rig. That’s not what we tend to remember about the movie, but think about it — there needed to be some reason in the script for all of that illegal highway driving!
Animal House just turned 40 years old! I’ve just published a special blogpost on that influential (for better or worse) box office phenomenon. This is the film that immortalized the fraternity keg party (and great seas of empties that clink and clank and topple) for all time. It spawned a thousand imitators, but this is the only one we’ll mention in this post.
Take This Job and Shove It (1981)
Based on the hit Johnny Paycheck song, released that same year, the movie was nowhere a hit on the same scale. It’s chief claim to fame is that it is “the first major movie to feature monster trucks”. But the titular job is at a brewery. Robert Hayes (Airplane) plays a manager for a corporation that takes over a brewery in his hometown; he has to energize the workforce so the brewery won’t go out of business.
We need say little about this! The beverage of choice among the regulars, especially Norm (George Wendt), at Boston’s Cheers bar in the popular NBC sitcom is of course beer (of an unspecified brand. Like in a lot of TV shows, people just walk up to the bartender and order “Beer!” , which never happens in real life.)
Strange Brew (1983)
Strange Beer has my vote for the best beer comedy of all time. SCTV’s Bob and Doug Mckenzie (Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis) help save their favorite brewery from the clutches of the evil brewmaster Smith (Max Von Sydow). Awesome slapstick and Canadian dialect humor (and more beer humor than you may be able to stomach) enliven a plot that overtly plunders Shakespeare’s Hamlet. If you want to make the best beer comedy in the world, this will be the one to beat.
This forgotten satire features a post-M*A*S*H Loretta Swit as an ad exec who turns three goofs who accidentally foil a robbery at a bar (David Alan Grier, William Russ, and Saul Stein) into national spokesmen for her beer account.
A surprising number of well-known celebrities are in this comedy by sketch comedy group Broken Lizard, about a beer drinking contest at Oktoberfest in Munich.
Drinking Buddies (2013)
This is a gentle rom-com about four colleagues who work at a craft beer microbrewery, drink beer, and hook up. It stars Ron Livingston (whom I always just call “The Guy from ‘Office Space'”), Olivia Wilde, Jack Johnson and Anna Kendrick.
I’m open to hearing your suggestions for other beer comedies to add, but don’t cry in your beer if I reject them!
For a related post, see my piece on the Greatest Comic Drunks (and Drunk Comics) Of All Time.