Laughs in America: A Comedic Voyage Through the United States

Earlier this week, I reviewed Albert Brooks’ groundbreaking comedy, Lost in America, where he and Julie Hagerty embark on a lifelong trip around the United States of America. Of course, the most hilarious part of the film (and the hook) is that the duo never actually manage to get that far, spending most of the film in either Nevada or Arizona, proving that their attempt to explore the nation was far too ambitious. Naturally, this would serve to be something of a prelude to a project that I have been planning for quite some time, whereby I will accomplish what Brooks and Hagerty failed to do, going on a tour of the United State in the hopes of encountering new ideas and cultural conventions – albeit from the comfort of my own home, and with very strict (and particular) guidelines, which I’ll be outlining in this introductory article.

The United States is a particularly cinematic nation, not only because it is home to Hollywood, which is considered a holy sanctuary of the film industry, but because it is a nation filled with so many different locations and cultures, which have been captured beautifully in countless films, many of which are made to showcase particular conventions, which are often wildly different from neighbouring states. As a result, the idea of doing a cinematic road trip through the country seemed like a wonderful idea, especially in how we can encounter so many different ideas – dialects, cultural nuances, traditions and social structures are all part and parcel of any extended road trip, and cinema has a tendency to capture and preserve these qualities better than nearly any other artistic medium. Therefore, the next year will be spent meandering around the country, taking a look at all the different aspects that the nation has to offer, and hopefully learning a few lessons along the way, which is often quite a remarkable by-product of any good journey.

Of course, there needed to be a general theme to help maintain some order and give this project some structure, so following in the footsteps of Brooks and his film that finds people in hilarious situations, this road trip will be one conducted through the lens of comedy. Each week, we’ll be visiting one of these states by way of a comedy set in that particular part of America. The emphasis will preferably be on films also made in that particular state, but this is often quite ambigious, especially in more recent years, where technology has allowed filmmakers to take us to any part of the world in only a few steps. Humour is a vital part of art – as long as we have been cultural beings that have created works of art, there has been some element of comedy that has persisted, so it goes without saying that the works that make us laugh are just as important as those that record history – and in many cases, they are part and parcel of the exact same concept, with comedy often serving as a capsule in which artists can preserve certain ideas, mindsets and beliefs.

Without any further ado, here is the itinerary. We’ll be using the map below as a guideline, which was designed by Dr Randal Olson, who designed what he considered to be the most effective and thorough road trip of the United States, which would allow someone to visit all 48 of the mainland states of America, as well as Washington D.C., another fascinating location for several fantastic films. This is a small detail, but it will add some structure to the process, and make it seem like we ourselves are on a real road trip, traversing the country, one state at a time, all through the guise of exploring the different kinds of comedy.

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Other than following this map, there will be very few other restrictions – the kinds of comedies will not be limited, nor will the period in which they were made, or the people who made them (however, there will be some attempt to represent a wider range of films, granted they fall under the category of comedy in some way). By the end of the year, we would have hopefully have encountered a thorough set of different comedies set in each state, which should hopefully paint a vivid portrait of the nation through the elements that have made audiences laugh over the past century.

The table below contains the states in the order they will be visited by this project – as we go on the adventure, it will be updated. Week to week, I will select the films, rather than planning ahead (there’s something about the spontaneity of not having a particular destination that is so appealing about a road trip), so feel free to recommend your favourites in the comments below. They will be updated in this post, as well as the one bookmarked above – so visit regularly to see how the journey is going!

ArizonaMurphy’s Romance (dir. Martin Ritt, 1985)
UtahChilly Scenes of Winter (dir. Joan Micklin Silver, 1979)
IdahoNapoleon Dynamite (dir. Jared Hess, 2004)
WyomingThe Cheyenne Social Club (dir. Gene Kelly, 1970)
ColoradoSouth Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut! (dir. Trey Parker, 1999)
New MexicoThe Milagro Beanfield War (dir. Robert Redford, 1988)
TexasRed Rocket (dir. Sean Baker, 2021)
OklahomaUHF (dir. Jay Levey, 1989)
ArkansasRosalie Goes Shopping (dir. Percy Adlon, 1989)
TennesseeThe Thing Called Love (dir. Peter Bogdanovich, 1993)
MississippiO Brother, Where Art Thou? (dir. Joel and Ethan Coen, 2000)
LouisianaSteel Magnolias (Ross, 1989)
AlabamaMy Cousin Vinny (Lynn, 1992)
FloridaThe Palm Beach Story (Sturges, 1942)
GeorgiaThe Longest Yard (Aldrich, 1974)
South CarolinaThe Big Chill (Kasdan, 1983)
West VirginiaTucker and Dale vs. Evil (Craig, 2010)
North CarolinaJunebug (Morrison, 2005)
VirginiaBrother Rat (Keighley, 1938)
Washington, D.C.Broadcast News (Brooks, 1987)
MarylandHairspray (Waters, 1988)
DelawareEmpire Records (Moyle, 1995)
New JerseyWelcome to the Dollhouse (Solondz, 1995)
PennsylvaniaThe Watermelon Woman (Dunye, 1996)
New YorkRadio Days (Allen, 1987)
ConnecticutMr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (Potter, 1948)
Rhode IslandThere’s Something About Mary (Farrelly Brothers, 1998)
MassachusettsElvira: Mistress of the Dark (Signorelli, 1988)
MaineBlow the Man Down (Krudy and Cole, 2019)
New HampshireWhat About Bob? (Oz, 1990)
VermontState and Main (Mamet, 2000)
MichiganJerry and Marge Go Large (Frankel, 2022)
OhioEdge of Seventeen (Moreton, 1998)
KentuckyElizabethtown (Crowe, 2005)
IndianaIn & Out (Oz, 1997)
IllinoisChi-Raq (Lee, 2015)
MissouriKansas City Princess (Keighley, 1934)
KansasLeap of Faith (Pearce, 1992)
IowaThe Music Man (DaCosta, 1962)
WisconsinStroszek (Herzog, 1977)
MinnesotaJennifer’s Body (Kusama, 2009)
NebraskaAbout Schmidt (Payne, 2002)
South DakotaLittle Big Man (Penn, 1970)
North DakotaWooly Boys (Burzynski, 2001)
MontanaRancho Deluxe (Perry, 1975)
WashingtonRuggles of Red Gap (McCarey, 1935)
OregonZero Effect (Kasdan, 1998)
CaliforniaThe Big Picture (Guest, 1989)
NevadaFear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Gilliam, 1998)
HawaiiLilo and Stitch (Sanders and DeBlois, 2002)
AlaskaThe Gold Rush (Chaplin, 1925)

We’ll be starting our journey in Arizona, as this was the state where the characters in Lost in America ended their journey, so it only seems right to pick up where they left off.

50 weeks, 50 comedy films – what could go wrong? Like the characters on the left here, let’s undertake this voyage and see where it takes us!