When I was a kid, my Mom found animated films silly (come to think of it, she still does). This meant that even if there were some deeper meaning hidden below the surface of the pictures, she wouldn’t allow herself to see it, since her mind balked at the cartoons (as she called them). Funnily enough, however, she loved The Muppet Show.
When I was in college, I had the great misfortune to have a first-year writing instructor who hated science fiction. This just happened to be the genre I enjoyed writing at that time, and she was extremely dismissive of my efforts. At least she told me why (“I hate science fiction”), but she made no effort to evaluate my writing beyond that. Her mind balked at the science + fiction.
Now, I enjoy silly and gross humor as much as anyone. Some films that I have seen in the past that employ disgusting and/or dumb humor include, in no particular order: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, all of Monty Python, Animal House, Caddyshack, Blazing Saddles, the Harold & Kumar films, and others that I can’t think of right now. I even enjoyed Wedding Crashers and The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
But my own balking moment occurs when a film seems to find its sole raison d’être in the ceaseless wallowing in vulgarity for its own sake, or in sexual or scatological humor for its own sake. I even find those moments, in otherwise pleasant films, where people stick their tongues out and lick each other’s faces (f***ing hilarious, no?) really dumb. And it kicks me out of the movie. There may be intelligence at work, but once I’m out, I’m out. Am I just like my Mom and my frehsman writing teacher?
I like there to be a reason for things to happen, even in my stupid guilty pleasures. Otherwise I may as well just watch SNL, as bad as that can get. Films that I have hated that have nevertheless been popular with the general public include, in no particular order: Meet the Parents (Ben Stiller! Ben Stiller! Ben Stiller!), Anchorman (Will Ferrell! Will Ferrell! Will Ferrell!), Superbad (Seth Rogen! Seth Rogen! Seth Rogen!), Knocked Up (Seth Rogen! Seth Rogen! Seth Rogen!), Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (John C. Reilly! John C. Reilly! John C. Reilly!),Bridesmaids (Kristen Wiig! Kristen Wiig! Kristen Wiig!), and others that I can’t think of right now.
There’s Something About Mary is a film that exists at the crossroads of my liking/loathing. While I am pretty sure that if I saw it today I would hate a lot of it (since I partly blame the Farrelly Brothers and Ben Stiller for paving the way for Judd Apatow’s worst tendencies), I remember enjoying it mightily at the time (the semen-drenched hair was set up well enough in the writing that I wasn’t kicked out of the movie – it made good sense).
Strangely, I loved Zack and Miri Make a Porno, which has two strikes against it: it stars Seth Rogen and was written and directed by Kevin Smith. Yet somehow, the fact that it had a script that justified the gross-out elements made it all work. And that’s the key: it all goes back to the script, with all actions flowing organically from a strong premise.
Back in the day, before he lost sight of how to be funny, Sacha Baron Cohen did some pretty amazing things, such as this interview with Noam Chomsky. The humor, for me, flows out of the incongruity of a distinguished intellectual like Chomsky trying his best to remain polite even though he is clearly talking to an idiot. Whatever you think of it, there is a logic to the madness.
Now, there are plenty of premises that I abhor, where the vulgarity nevertheless flows organically from them, so it’s not just about logic. Logic helps, though. But I think what bothers me the most in the comedies I can’t stand is the randomness of the vulgarity (and the face licking).
Let’s try an example that I just thought up:
FEMALE TEACHER: OK, class, time to settle down. Time to discuss some … Shakespeare!
MALE STUDENT 1: Shakespeare? Suck my d***, b****!
The class erupts in laughter.
MALE STUDENT 2: Score!
FEMALE STUDENT: Ha, ha!
MALE STUDENT 1 and FEMALE STUDENT touch tongues and lick each other’s faces.
Gotta love it.
I just finished watching 21 Jump Street, and it actually wasn’t terrible. But it, too, had some of these elements that drive me crazy. Why?
So, dear reader, I’ll ask you the following questions, to which I demand answers:
1. What is so funny about a random f-bomb dropped in the middle of a sentence?
2. Same question, but about the word b****.
3. Same question, but about all words pertaining to male and female genitalia.
4. Why is watching somebody visibly vomit, or vacate in some way, funny?
5. Why is watching people stick their tongues out, touch them to someone else’s tongue, and then lick the other person’s face all over, funny?
6. Is there something wrong with me?
Thank you, dear reader. Your task is done.
Now f*** off, b****!