Although 2016 may have been a terrible year all round, the output of major film studios with regards to comedies was pretty much close to garbage across the board.

Let's look at the figures real quick. Keeping Up With The Joneses, an action-comedy vehicle with Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot, Isla Fisher and Zach Galifinakis. Production budget of around $40 million. Total US domestic take? $29.1 million. Average rating according to Metacritic? 34%. Ride Along 2, another action-comedy and a sequel starring Ice Cube and Kevin Hart. This fared better commercially, making $124 million against another $40 million production budget. Average rating according to Metacritic? 32%.

This isn't just a blip or two in the readings, either. The vast majority of comedies released this year by major film studios were duds - either critically or commercially, and in some cases both. Dirty Grandpa featured Oscar-winning actor Robert DeNiro defiling himself with dribbling dialogue and jokes as funny as elderly incontinence. Office Christmas Party, meanwhile, was as funny as your actual Office Christmas Party. Going further, the sequels churned out in 2016 for comedy classics, such as Zoolander, Bad Santa and (gulp) Ghostbusters all failed both with audiences and critics.

The rot has set in when it comes to broad comedies made by the big players, but it wasn't always like this. Somewhere along the way, mediocrity became the defining factor for studio comedies. Improvisation became the defining factor in a lot of comedies because, after all, spontaneity is the key. Right? You don't need a story to actually make sense or to have some kind of focus to it, you just need to put relatively funny people in a room with cameras and let them at it. Ad-libbing isn't anything new in comedy and neither is improvisation, but there seems to be a rule now that directors just let actors roam free in a scene and the best ones are chosen in the edit.

Judd Apatow and Paul Feig embraced this kind of editing-room comedy. It worked in the early days with the likes of The 40-Year Old Virgin because, at its core, there was still a story there that mattered populated with characters you cared about and understood. The same could be said for Bridesmaids, which had an incredibly sharp script by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo. In both instances, improvisation and ad-libbing was used sparingly and only when it worked. You only need to look at the end credits for most comedies nowadays to understand just how much more improv and ad-libbing is being used in lieu of a story with funny characters and situations.

When you consider the heritage of studio comedies as well, the recent drought of quality is even more concerning. Stripes, Ghostbusters, Ruthless People, even Caddyshack all came with identifiable characters and even a rudimentary understanding that ad-libbing couldn't form 90% of the script. Ghostbusters, sure, was mostly done this way - but you had Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Rick Moranis working on the set who could churn out some of the best one-liners in film history. Even when you consider more wider appealing comedies like Three Men And A Baby or Honey, I Shrunk The Kids!, there was still a lot more comedy on the page than there was on the screen. It was almost as if comedy scripts were written for actors, not a general outline of a scene to be filled in on the day of shooting.

Where did it all start to go wrong, then? Well, Jim Carrey has a lot to answer for. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective was the starting point. Carrey was a fountain of ideas on any set he was a part of. In his first role as a rock musician in the Dirty Harry sequel The Dead Pool, Carrey flattened Eastwood with a barrage of ideas on how to make his character more weirder and funnier. Eastwood nodded sagely and then put Carrey in one, small scene and let him away. Cut to a few years later and Carrey's given free range over Ace Ventura and it becomes a commercial and critical smash - all thanks to Carrey's unfettered, unhindered approach. All director Tom Shadyac really had to do was aim the camera, set the scene and let Carrey away and it worked.

The question now is where do we look for good comedies? Television and on-demand services like Netflix? Yes, and also more independent comedies. Taika Waititi's The Hunt For The Wilderpeople - which is now on Netflix UK & Ireland - was one of the funniest comedies released in years and has received near-universal acclaim. Other People, with Breaking Bad's Jesse Plemons, veteran comedic talent Molly Shannon and The West Wing's Bradley Whitford, flew completely under the radar and was just a fantastic piece of comedy acting. On TV, the likes of The Last Man On Earth with Will Forte or Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are leading the way with smart and most importantly funny comedies.

If studio comedies want to revive the genre and make them great again, it needs to hire writers instead of on-set improvisers.