All modern movie comedies can be divided roughly into two categories: character-driven and joke-driven. The first category includes movies like “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Meet the Parents,” “Manhattan” and “The Hangover”; the second includes movies like “Austin Powers,” “Blazing Saddles,” “Bananas” and “Airplane!” The primary distinction lies in their respective relationship to reality. In character-driven comedies, funny people say funny things and fall into funny situations, but it’s all contained within the realm of plausible realism; nothing absurd or unbelievable occurs. Joke-driven comedies, by contrast, start with the absurd and unbelievable and go from there. Their jokes burst the boundaries of realism; in fact, they’re often about bursting the boundaries of realism. Character-driven comedy is Meg Ryan loudly faking an orgasm in a deli and an old woman saying, “I’ll have what she’s having”; joke-driven comedy is a woman in “Top Secret” being asked to translate a conversation and saying, “I know a little German,” then turning and waving at a midget in lederhosen.
via ‘The Hangover’ and the Age of the Jokeless Comedy – NYTimes.com.