Fun With Dick, Shit, Piss & Fart: Lowbrow Humour Vs Critics…

I read a lot of movie reviews, not just so I can pinch other people’s ideas & dress them up as my own, but also because I just enjoy good movie criticism.

Recently I was doing some background for a review of “Happy Gilmore” and was struck by how often critics take a rather stuck up view on what they deem “lowbrow” comedy, particularly anything involving bodily functions.

I wondered why critics would dismiss a film such as “Happy Gilmore” as being lowbrow, especially as it clearly doesn’t aspire to anything else; it’s a bit like criticizing Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” for lacking the common touch.

Digging a little deeper, the scene that came up most as a highlight/lowlight of this sub-genre of comedy was Jeff Daniel’s laxative-fueled diarrhea in “Dumb & Dumber” (1994).

“Dumb & Dumber”, for me, is the “Citizen Kane” of dumb humor – others may cite “Airplane!” or “The Jerk”, but I think the Farrelly’s movie has a broader appeal these days, as most of the gags in “Airplane!” are one note and “The Jerk” relies heavily on how much you enjoy Steve Martin’s shtick.

I think what happens with critics when they see a scene like Jeff Daniels having violent squits is they make the mistake of thinking the act of going to the toilet is supposed to be funny.

Of course, there’s nothing funny about diarrhea – as anyone who’s been five minutes away from a toilet and about twenty seconds from shitting their pants can attest.

But that’s why the scene is funny – everyone’s had diarrhea, or at least a few dribbly shits at some point, everyone’s had a touch-and-go, scrabbling frantically at their trousers, will-I-make-it-in-time moment…so it’s funny because we’ve all been in that situation before. We’re not laughing at him, we’re definitely laughing with him.

Only slightly more funny than diarrhea when taken out of context is a fully formed turd, perhaps one floating in a body of water. If you look down into the water at the riverside and see a turd floating along, it’s not much funnier than seeing a piece of driftwood, a discarded Coke can, or perhaps a mutilated corpse.

However, if that turd is actually a chocolate bar, floating innocently in a swimming pool crowded with swimmers, as in the often derided scene in “Caddyshack”, it becomes something else altogether.

Again, the point is, we’re not supposed to be laughing at the idea of a turd in a pool. We’re supposed to be laughing at the exaggerated reaction of the swimmers to the faux-turd – utter pandemonium breaks loose in a parody of “Jaws”. We might not react in such a strong way, but we’d certainly want to be as far away from that log as possible…

I guess it’s a class thing – movie critics writing movie reviews on a regular paid basis tend to think themselves as firmly middle class; the three movies I’ve mentioned here, “Happy Gilmore”, “Dumb & Dumber” and “Caddyshack” are all class comedies as well as dumb comedies – what would happen if the people from downstairs encroached on respectable middle/upper class territory.

Perhaps that’s why there’s a discrepancy between ratings of these type of movies from the critics, and why they’re so popular when the public get to vote. And it’s certainly no coincidence that two of the three are set in the stuck up world of golf, the most class conscious and easily ridiculed of popular sports.

Anyone can try to be witty and raise a smile (Hi, Woody!), but it takes real brains to be dumb and funny. Of course, there’s a lot of dross out there, but when a movie such as “Happy Gilmore” can deliver dumb laughs with such gusto, what’s wrong with that?

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About leerobertadams

Lee is an English writer, blogger and film critic living in Brno, Czech Republic. When not watching and writing about movies, he loves football, reading, eating out, and enjoying his adopted home city with his girlfriend and baby daughter.

Posted on 30/10/2011, in Film, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. MisplacedBoy

    It’s true. There is a long rich history of “lowbrow” humor in the movies. Most of the stuff that we love about the old classic silent stars Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd was slapstick: Hanging off a clock, the side of a house falling down on Buster Keaton. They didn’t do poopie jokes, but they might have if they were making movies today.

    There is room for both “broccoli movies” and “popcorn movies,” (not my terms, they’re stolen) in our cinematic diet. Just like one day you eat a hamburger and the next day you might go to Ruth’s Chris Steaks. Is one experience richer than the other? Sure, but they’re both enjoyable and fulfilling experiences.

    My thought is that laughter is good medicine wherever it comes from, remember that Shakespeare (whoever he was) wrote his tragedies and comedies for both the lofty people in the expensive seats and the “groundlings” who yucked it up at the sexual innuendo and potty jokes that he threw in.

  2. “dick,” “piss,” “shit,” and “Champagne.”

  1. Pingback: Harold and Maude (1971) – Stinks of Bad Death… | Video Krypt

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