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Tribeca Film Fest: The Big Biz of Funny Business

Tribeca Film Festival in Lower Manhattan kicked off Wednesday night with the premiere of Universal Pictures "Baby Mama," starring "Saturday Night Live" comediennes Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. (Universal, like CNBC, is part of GE unit NBC Universal.)

Fitting to kick off with a big laugher, considering that this seems to be a year for the comedy. This year the movie studios have 62 comedies scheduled for wide release, up from 52 wide-release comedies last year.

The economy may be suffering, but Hollywood is bullish on comedies and for good reason. The more depressing people's real lives (and investment portfolios), the more they want to laugh.

Dare I say we may be experiencing a bit of a comedy renaissance right now? "Saturday Night Live" returned from the writers strike with sky-high ratings, and SNL veterans are populating the airwaves with funny stuff -- have you seen Tina Fey's "30 Rock" lately? The Judd Apatow comedy engine doesn't seem to be slowing down, either.

(Apatow produced "Knocked Up," which brought in some $150 million at the domestic box office last summer, on a budget of just $30 million. Last weekend Apatow's "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" had a nearly $18 million opening weekend at the U.S. box office).

Hollywood loves the fact that comedies can be much more profitable than big-budget action movies. Comedies just can't be as expensive as superhero films or anything involving special effects. It's much harder to get them right -- comedy is, after all, an art-- but when comedies do hit the right note, the margins can be huge.

The one downside for comedies? Funny doesn't usually translate overseas.

So unlike an action movie that can have huge international appeal, for comedies, there's much more pressure on domestic box office performance.

Which is precisely why the studios like making comedies around proven entities -- like Tina Fey or Judd Apatow.

I caught Lorne Michaels, executive producer of "Saturday Night Live" as well as "Baby Mama," on the red carpet last night, and he said he has high hopes for this weekend's opening.

Let's see how the movie does this weekend, but I'd dare say we're seeing yet another comedy renaissance driven by SNL talent. (Remember, Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Dan Ackroyd all started on SNL).

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.