Happiest feats

AS SHE ponders her favourite comic performances in movies, Magda Szubanski lists classic lines and scenes by renowned comedians from Charlie Chaplin to Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids.

It's clearly a challenging task for one of the country's great humorists, which is made more complex by driving around the block while she talks to us, having forgotten her phone charger while visiting her mum. Eventually, the actor much loved for playing hapless Sharon in Kath and Kim, Mrs Hoggett in Babe and Miss Viola in Happy Feet settles on her standouts.

Charlie Chaplin in The Kid (1921)

charlie chaplin

Charlie Chaplin is my all-time favourite because he has that ability to ''make 'em laugh, make 'em cry''. I find The Kid so incredibly moving. If, in spirit, Sharon resembles anyone, it's him, although I wish I had the level of skill he had. He's like an elite gymnast. I'm someone who came in very sideways to comedy. I always feel like I'm just winging it but I really love that old-fashioned, brilliant skill.

Cross-dressers Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot (1959) and Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie (1982)

I would have seen Some Like It Hot 50 times or more. What a genius filmmaker Billy Wilder was but Jack Lemmon is impeccable. That moment when Tony Curtis says to him, ''Why would a guy wanna marry a guy?'' and he goes ''Security!'' is so funny. And Marilyn Monroe is fantastic. I'm a bit of a lover of ensemble work. I love craftsmanship in anything. I'm probably part of the demise of that because I come from the punk era when not being slick at things was the intention. Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie is another one of my absolute favourites. It's also about a guy who has to cross-dress but it's an updated version. Those moments when he breaks out of the feminine, when he hits the guy as he's trying to get into the cab, are really funny.

Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

I once had a night on the town with Maggie Smith talking about Scottish accents. They are really hard to do well. And what she does in Miss Jean Brodie is not just an Edinburgh accent but a Morningside accent - a very haughty, posh accent. This was one of the first times growing up when comedy felt relatable and possible, not on a conscious level but something clicked in terms of women doing comedic performances. I suppose this film really resonated because [I'm] half-Scottish. When I wanted to be an actor in my teens, it was Maggie Smith.

This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

There's an energy you get from improvisation, where you can be so real in the characters, that I absolutely love. People always go on about ''It goes up to 11''. For me, that's not the funniest moment. I really love the details: that they live in Squatney and the names - Nigel Tufnel and David St Hubbins - are just perfect! I went on my own to a cinema to see it. When they were singing Big Bottom, I was screaming with laughter.

Madeline Kahn in Clue (1985)

clue

Clue is not a great film but Madeline Kahn is fabulous in anything. I was living in this house with a bunch of teenagers in the late '80s and they were rewinding the scene where she gives her explanation of why she committed the murder: ''I hated her, so much [she stammers] flames, flames on the side of my face!'' It's got to be improvised; you couldn't write that stuff. It's just hilariously funny.

Kim Jong-il - voiced by Trey Parker - in Team America: World Police (2004)

Kim Jong-il's song I'm So Ronery is one of the most hilarious things I've ever seen - comic genius. Team America really got stuck into the perceived sanctimoniousness of some Hollywood actors who are activists -

I thought a bit harshly - although all those actors had a really good sense of humour about it. The film took no prisoners, but it's really funny.

Edna Mode - voiced by director Brad Bird - in The Incredibles (2004)

I find Edna Mode absolutely hilarious. In fact, a little bit of me dies inside every time I watch her because I feel like it should have been me, which is a really bizarre thing to say about an animated character. I feel like somehow Brad Bird snuck into my brain and stole a part of me.

Bridesmaids (2011)

That scene in the bridal change room - I was screaming with laughter! Hopefully, Bridesmaids finally put to bed the old chestnut that women can't be funny and there's not money to be made from women being funny. It's incredible to me. I come from a family where the women are really funny. My mother is 88 and still hilarious. Bridesmaids is a beautiful ensemble where everyone is given a fantastic role and they all shine.

Kath & Kimderella opens on Thursday.

The story Happiest feats first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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