BEVERLY HILLS, California — Throughout Hollywood history, nearly every generation has had a comedic duo to keep them laughing.
In movie after movie, people like Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello and Chris Farley and David Spade displayed comedic timing perfected by real-life friendships, commonalities in style and a willingness to laugh at themselves. Such groups have traditionally had one other thing in common as well.
“You need one guy who weighs a little bit more than the other guy,” laughed Justin Long recently. “I think that’s the common thread.”
“I wouldn’t say we’re the next Farley and Spade,” cautioned Jonah Hill, his real-life roommate, best friend and frequent co-star. “I would say we’re the next Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna.”
Whatever they are, this much is certain: they’re in it together. The gangly, sarcasm-slinging Long, and rotund, wide-eyed Hill have been working together steadily for two years now, and the dividends begin paying off this week with the fake-college comedy “Accepted.” After that, they have two more flicks already in the can — and Adam Sandler chasing them for a fourth (see “Justin Long, Jonah Hill Hope To Be ’Accepted’ Into Adam Sandler Film” ).
“[Working with Justin] makes it more fun, and more fun to watch and it makes it funnier because you’re having fun doing it,” explained Hill, a 22-year-old improv-heavy jokester who has stolen scenes in “Click” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”
“Jonah’s one of my best friends, and I feel like we just have this natural rapport,” returned Long, 28, the more visible of the duo thus far thanks to “Dodgeball,” “The Break-Up” and yes, those inescapable Mac vs. PC commercials. “People can see what good friends we are and how easy it is for us to relate to each other. … Some people you meet and you just click with them, and you’re able to take each others’ jokes to another level; you have a friend and you just riff for the longest time.”
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Such friends include Sandler, Vince Vaughn and Steve Carell — comedy titans who’ve consistently hired Hill and Long in the belief that they’re the future of comedy. Since Farley’s untimely passing nearly a decade ago, Hollywood has had a vacancy in the comedy-duo department — and if audiences accept “Accepted,” that position may finally be filled.
“The greatest comedy teams, there’s an ease that they have, like they’ve been friends for a long time,” observed Long, a well-versed fan of classic comedy who said he’d be thrilled to take hold of the torch. “Even if they’re arguing with each other, you still feel like they love each other, and I think that comes out in a very subtle way.”
Comparing that dynamic to himself and Hill — his real-life roommate of nearly a year — Long said that it’s no different from any other smart-ass guy finding a buddy who finally seems to be on the same page: “It’s effortless to be funny with him.”
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That was obvious on the set of “Accepted,” a “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”-meets-“Animal House” comedy about a slacker who invents a fake college (Long) and his stressed-out buddy along for the ride (Hill). Between takes, it was virtually impossible to get a straight interview out of them: Long would spontaneously break out into Rich Little-like impersonations of everyone from Vince Vaughn to Matt Dillon to Cole Hauser, while Hill preferred to place the microphone between his legs and encourage a giggling Long to put the “eww!” in “interview.”
Nothing is off-limits for the free-associating friends — from exposing their nipples during interviews to busting in on each other mid-sentence — and during a recent San Diego promotional appearance at an “Accepted” keg party, they made each other laugh so hard, they nearly fell off a hotel balcony.
“They’re gonna become this dynamo,” insisted Lewis Black, the “Daily Show” star and veteran comedian who plays their hard-drinking fake dean in the flick. “Comedy is just passing the ball back and forth; it’s being able to pay attention to when the other person is giving you the ball, and being able to give the ball back. … It’s a lot easier for one person to establish a rhythm, but when you get two guys to establish that rhythm, or when you’ve got a guy and a woman like [George] Burns and [Gracie] Allen, it’s about finding that rhythm. They’ve already got it — when we do interviews, they’re hysterical.”
After “Accepted,” Justin and Jonah star alongside Steve Zahn (“Sahara”) in “Strange Wilderness,” a Sandler-produced comedy due in theaters next year. “I play Lynn Cooker,” Hill explained on set, once again trying to crack up his buddy. “His name was just Cooker, but I decided that his first name should be Lynn, because Lynn is a strong name, and I feel like only people named Lynn can accomplish their goals — no one else, with any other name.”
The flick casts Hill as an overly patriotic doofus and Long as his long-haired buddy, two members of a crew hoping to capture Bigfoot on camera and save their low-rated wilderness TV show. “I based [my character] on Hilary Swank’s in ’Million Dollar Baby,’ ” Hill deadpanned. “I watched that movie, like, 500 times when I got this part, and was like, ’If I could somehow take Swank and throw her into myself, and do a movie as that character, it could change the world.’ ”
Later in 2007, the duo will return in a darkly comic flick starring Danny DeVito — another well-established admirer of their chemistry — called “One Part Sugar.” “Justin plays this really redneck kind of guy, and I play the main character’s son,” Hill explained. The indie flick allowed the duo to go a bit darker with their still-developing style. “I’m a meth addict in the movie,” he added. “It’s pretty dark and serious, which was weird for me … it’s gonna hit the festivals.”
The duo then hope to return to more traditional comedy with “Scared Guys,” a flick about two timid shut-ins who must leave their apartment to stop a killer. “Adam’s producing it, and we’re talking about it,” Long revealed, adding that he and Hill both grew up watching Sandler’s flicks and are flattered that he wants them to copy their real-life friendship by playing roommates on the big screen.
“We are friends with benefits,” Long joked, acknowledging their living arrangement.
“It’s nice to work with your best friend, because you can have someone else to hang out with,” Hill added. “Or, if you wanna bitch about something, you can say, ’Dude, how much does that suck?’ and you don’t have to worry about them calling you a baby. They know you well enough to know you are being a baby, but they won’t call you out on it.”
If Justin and Jonah can capture such improv-heavy one-upmanship in these movies, they may represent a post-“Virgin” comedy duo that appeals to fans of spontaneous comedians like Carell and Will Ferrell. However, they might have to give up the dream of being another Farley and Spade — because a recent diet has seen Hill shed nearly 80 pounds.
“I’ve gotta go on a weight-gain diet,” joked Long, faking disappointment. “Yeah, [fat and skinny] has always been the trend, but we’re gonna try to break that trend and have the great comedic duo with the same weight.”
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