Retro yuks bring in big bucks at Aero

Auds looking to laugh financial worries away

In these recessionary days, if you want to pack in auds at the revival houses, you apparently can’t go wrong with Depression-era comedy.

“Screwball comedies are doing really well right now, pretty much double in attendance to what they were doing last year,” says Grant Moninger, who manages the single-screen Aero Theater in Santa Monica, Calif., and co-programs it along with Gwen Deglise for the American Cinematheque.

On New Year’s Day, a double bill featuring the Marx Bros.’ “A Night at the Opera” (1935) and “Animal Crackers” (1930) drew a near-capacity crowd of 360.

A Dec. 27 double bill of Carole Lombard-William Powell Depression-era comedy “My Man Godfrey” (1936) and Howard Hawks’ screwball classic “His Girl Friday” (1940) drew 280.

Broader yuks hit the spot, too: While retros of Godard and Mamet pics drew roughly the Aero’s 2008 per-show average number of patrons, 167, the Jan. 3 count for “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and “Life of Brian” was nearly 70% higher.

It’s no secret that comedy is a communal experience, says Cinematheque exec director Barbara Smith.

“People like to laugh in the company of other people… this year more than in others,” she says.

And while Deglise says the Cinematheque won’t be chucking its vast array of billings in favor of retro laffers, it has discovered that comedy isn’t the only thing that can shake the economic blahs: Its 600-seat Egyptian Theater sold out a Jan. 3 showing of 1974’s “Earthquake” — in Sensurround.

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