In Wild and Crazy Guys, the film journalist Nick de Semlyen smartly charts the pinballing career paths of the stars of this new comic wave, showing how, like evil Ghostbusters spirits, they improbably possessed mainstream cinema for the next decade... In his punchy, nonstop narrative, he argues that post-Vietnam, Americans were ready for authority-challenging recklessness after years of Woody Allen neurosis or films featuring “Clint Eastwood and/or an orang-utan”. They needed ghostbusters, frat-house farces and fish-out-of-water screwball — a new golden age of film comedy. That the book barely mentions Gilda Radner or Jane Curtin, members of SNL’s founding cast, or Goldie Hawn, whose 1980 film Private Benjamin is arguably worthy of more consideration than the camping caper Meatballs (1979), means that the bigger picture feels fuzzy at the edges. Yet it’s in keeping with the bullish times that De Semlyen focuses on this fraternity of comedy manspreaders, each one desperate to mark their territory... Yet this book underlines just how extreme the endless quest for success could be. The pages are littered with toxic flops, ideas inexplicably pushed into production like a sofa into a skip. Imagine Beverly Hills Cop (1984) made with Sylvester Stallone — a real near-miss — and shiver... Wild and Crazy Guys ultimately tells a less sentimental story, though, one where art and commerce smash hard against each other, sometimes causing destruction, but sometimes making sparks fly.
In Wild and Crazy Guys, Nick de Semlyen’s highly readable account of the comics who went on to dominate big-screen comedy in the 1980s, it becomes clear that lack of impulse control is what made these men great comedians... Did they change the world? They certainly kept the world amused for a while. De Semlyen racks up the good anecdotes and behind-the-scenes titbits, focusing on narrative rather than analysis. Yet for all that, this bunch of blokes come off a bit, well, blokey... The author’s day job is as the features editor of Empire, and he knows how to keep his story pithy and propulsive. It’s skewed towards the American market, full of references to box-office numbers and American critical response. Yet while the original interviews are outnumbered by De Semlyen’s recycled magazine interviews and judicious use of cuttings, no casual fan of these men will ever need anything more.