Stir Crazy (1980) Selected by Simon Crook, columnist Gene Wilder’s character in prison-com Stir
Crazy is a total man-child, plonked in a lethal environment, his innocence a comedy weapon that never stops firing. In the film’s funniest scene, Skip Donahue (Wilder) and Harry Monroe (Richard Pryor) are having lunch in the refectory when Grossberger (Erland van Lidth) thunders in: a Kong-sized serial killer so terrifying half the hall empties. In Skip’s oblivious head, however, he’s just a gentle giant in need of a cuddle. Every cell in your body screams, “Don’t!”, but up he gets, slowly dances over, assumes a ridiculous kindergartenteacher stance and says, “Hell-ooo!” like he’s greeting a hamster. Grossberger’s Godzilla roar immediately sends him scurrying back to his seat.
You can see the gag coming a mile off, but that’s the point. As a screen comic, Wilder had Rolex timing and a comedy sixth sense. What he realised was that what really counted wasn’t the joke itself — it was the gaping space left between set-up and punchline. While this scene is a great example of his slow-bait technique, watch any of his comedies for proof he’s the Picasso of the comedy pause. In fact, head onto Youtube for an entire compilation dedicated to his knack for a well-timed silence, something that makes bad gags good and great gags unforgettable.
So yeah, Gene Wilder had us at hell-ooo. And while he might be gone, thanks to the movies we never have to say goodbye.