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'Neighbors 2' director Nicholas Stoller on the fine art of comedy sequels

Do like ‘Toy Story,’ not like anything else

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Chuck Zlotnick

“There are so few good comedy sequels,” says Nicholas Stoller, director of the biggest comedy sequel of 2016. Next month’s Neighbors 2: Sorority Row pairs the stars of 2014’s smash-hit comedy against newer, younger, female-er Greek System maniacs. Movie history is littered with disappointing comedy follow-ups: Caddyshack 2Men in Black 2, untold American Pies. “The only one in recent memory that’s good is 22 Jump Street,” Stoller says. “It’s a hard genre.” The director and his collaborators came up with some do’s and don’ts for sequelizing the funny.

1. More isn’t better. 

“Early on we were like: ‘We don’t want it to be bigger.’ That’s a mistake people make. It needs to be the exact same size as the first movie. And we don’t want to do what other famous comedies have done, which is just repeat the story exactly the same.”

2. Take time to consider every possibility — and then throw most of them out.

“Every iteration of this script existed as some point. There was a version where another frat moved in. There was a version where the sorority was there and then got kicked out, and then a frat took over and it was even worse. We flirted with a version where it was an older couple, a swinger couple. Terrible ideas! They’re not in the movie for a reason. We had a version of the movie that we table-read with, that was basically [Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne] trying to prevent the first movie from happening, trying to placate the sorority. Which made it boring, because nothing’s happening, they’re never fighting.”

3. The story should be different, but the themes should be the same.

“It was important to me to tell a different emotional story… with the same thematics as we had in the first movie. It would make no sense if [Rogen and Byrne] are dealing with new parenting. It’s now about the next stage of parenting, and the thing they’re dealing with in this movie is: ‘Are we bad parents’? We literally had to study the first movie, and figure out what it was about.”

4. Cut out the fan service.

“We had a lot of references to the first movie, and people did not give a sh–. They didn’t laugh. They didn’t remember it. Of course they didn’t remember it! Most people haven’t been thinking of the first movie. We loved the references to the first movie, and we cut them all out, every single one of them.”

5. When in doubt, think Toy Story.

“The Toy Story movies are all about, ‘You’re kid’s getting too old for you!’ And the theme of this is being afraid of the next stage of life. If the first Neighbors is dumb, gross, R-rated Toy Story, this is dumb, gross, R-rated Toy Story 2.”

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