In his myriad years as a comedy writer, Dan Mazer has worked under as many mediums as his writing partner Sacha Baron Cohen has worked with stick-on hair. After the pair’s numerous milestones together including being nominated for an Academy Award, Sacha Baron Cohen is currently hanging up his luminous mankini to give his lungs some extra air for his rise in Hollywood musicals, giving Dan the time to invest his energy into writing I Give it a Year, a film that when it was released earlier in the Spring, was cited as the ultimate “Anti-rom-com.”
In the light of a post-Richard Curtis dystopia, us Brits were a tad taken aback at a movie where Hugh Grant wasn’t running the country, or getting off with Martine McCutcheon, in favour of a new brand of styling in the genre called “realism”. We spoke to Dan about his own influences, and films in the past that laughed in the face of snogging in the rain.
“I think When Harry Met Sally (WHMS) is not only the best comedy ever made, but to me is my favourite film of all time 100%, and to be mentioned in the same breadth, bracket as WHMS is incredible. What I love about WHMS, is not only that it’s relentlessly hilarious, its also totally authentic and real, and has something interesting to say about relationships and romance, and those were all my aims for this.”
But with US and UK comedy always being at locker-heads in terms of how they are presented, Dan admits that the US certainly do have their advantages, what with all those big shiny dollar bills, the UK working more in the currency of sarcasm.
“If you go to LA, they will tell you that British comedy is by far the best, and their comedy should be much more like that. But American comedies have the advantage of budget, big movie stars, and glossiness. For some reason you feel more inclined to go and see them, and their value for money. But I think what you lose there is a sort of degree of edge, cynicism, darkness, because what they’re interested in doing is making a mainstream comedy that everyone will go and see, so you lose some of the integrity from that. I think that’s the main difference between US and UK comedy.”
When it comes to romantic moments in film, Audrey Hepburn ploughing the mouth of George Peppard at the end of Breakfast at Tiffany’s constantly triumphs on Top 10 lists, but always lurking behind it is the more honest side of things, such as Shirley McClaine’s response to Jack Lemmon’s “I love you” with a curt “Shut up and deal.” With a romance dealing in comedy overtones, Dan agrees that the balance between sentimentality and cynicism is hard to strike.
“It’s nobody’s desire to make people leave a movie and feel depressed and miserable and like that they’ve watched somebody’s misery. Because this is a movie about people not neccessarily right for each other, the challenge was not to make them feel unbelievably demoralising. I Give it a Year is quite a cynical film, but hopefully there’s enough to give it that lift.. The challenge to do that was to not go to cliché. I wanted to work backwards on an ending that was alternative and different, but also positive.”
Having worked on such saccharine moments of cinema before such as Bruno and his lover being attached by a bondage mechanism, we ask Dan if perhaps he’s turning into a bit of a softy in his tone of writing from his gross-out days with Sacha.
“I have the freedom hopefully to do both of those [in terms of in t. I’m sure I’ll work with Sacha again and hopefully that’ll be soon, real privelege to do that. But also, it’s lovely to have that opportunity to do more personal things myself.”
Indeed, with I Give it a Year, Dan found himself free to work with fresher comedians and to introduce them to US audiences.
“The beauty of being able to direct a movie is the fact you can assemble people who are amazing and you’ve loved and watched and admired for ages.”
In particular, the rising prowess of Charlie Brooker’s poet laureate Tim Key.
“Tim Key’s a mate. He’s brilliant. What’s funny is obviously people around the world don’t know who Tim Key is, and it’s a great joy for people who’ve never been exposed to Tim Key before to react with,“Wow. Who’s that guy?I love that!”
But having worked with such stellar names in comedy, Dan did admit that there were a few US names that were missing in his bucket list.
“Two people who I really love are the most gifted performers at the moment are Kristen Wiig, who can read the phone book and make it hilarious, charming, hilarious, different, edgy and extraordinary, and someone who I’ve loved for the past 15 years is Will Ferrell. I’d love to do something with him.”
In terms of fulfilling his own comedy dreams, we asked Dan if it was odd watching his comedy partner descend into a life of musicals, with Sacha now working on big-scale productions from Sweeney Todd, to Les Miserables, to the title role of an upcoming Freddie Mercury biopic. But Dan assured us that this was no new hobby.
“I didn’t find it weird, I’ve known Sacha since I was 11, and he always loved musicals. At school he loved Fiddler on the Roof, and at uni he did a production and I think it’s the happiest he’s ever been. I think he’ll be a brilliant Freddie Mercury, Borat looked exactly like him anyway!”
So with both sides of the partnership gravitating down different avenues, what’s next for Dan after I Give it a Year?
“I’m writing two scripts at the moment – and trying to work out which one I like the most – I’m just about to direct a pilot in LA for a TV show with Ron Howard which should be fun.”
I Give it a Year is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now.