Silly, Slimy and Offensive: The Heart of Gross-Out Comedy

Flicking through the usual assortment of reality shows, cop shows, cartoons and current affairs programs that littered the airwaves last night, I fell upon a film that has always induced an inordinate amount of rage deep within my heart. This film is by all measures silly and at least mildly offensive, which is of course the primary reason that it has received a cult following of some sort or other. The movie is the excremental Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo (Mike Mitchell, 1999).

While I gazed in horror at this cinematic train-wreck, unable to look away despite myself, it occurred to me that there are a huge number of films that I’ve enjoyed because they are both silly and offensive. I started to list a range of movies that seemed to fit this rather loose criterion: Pink Flamingos (John Waters, 1972), Poultrygeist (Lloyd Kaufman, 2006), Straight to Hell (Alex Cox, 1987), Braindead (Peter Jackson, 1992) – the list went on and on. In fact, all the films in my list were far sillier and far more offensive than this poorly assembled mess of crass vignettes.

Pink Flamingos contained obese middle-aged babies caked in egg bits, moments of extreme public exposure and concluded with a dining experience that was nothing short of… shit! Poultrygeist broke the boundaries of decency with borderline pornographic music numbers, poorly conceived racial caricatures and shots that redefined the concept of an extreme close-up. Braindead showed us what happens when a hundred men and women go through the ass end of a high-powered lawn mower. And Straight to Hell…. I suspect the editing process involved a blind-folded and intoxicated Alex Cox frantically snipping at the air with a pair of rusty scissors. These are the kinds of films you only put on once you’ve drawn the curtains – so what right did I have to complain about Deuce Bigalow?

I started to think about what these films had that Rob Schneider’s tragic effort did not. What made me think of the final zombie massacre of Braindead (Dead Alive in the USA) with such affection? And then it occurred to me that the answer was (like in a million crappy paperback novels and junky telemovies) love!

The films that I liked were made by auteurs of some type with a true passion for the grotesquery they were creating. Pink Flamingos was the result of John Waters being passionately engaged in counter-cultural filmic terrorism. Lloyd Kaufman’s life-long passion for the fringes of society collided with his contempt for global conglomerates in Poultrygeist. Peter Jackson’s Braindead was itself an ode to the glories of comedic gore and Straight to Hell was Cox’s inebriated journey into the bowels of his most beloved of genres, the western. Meanwhile, Deuce Bigalow was a lazily conceived piece of formulaic comedy, put together by the Hollywood factory to capitalise on the entrance of the gross-out comedy into the mainstream following the success of There’s Something about Mary (The Farrelly Brothers, 1998).

I wasn’t offended by the fat jokes, the slights at the expense of the abnormally tall or any of the other misfortunate oddities that pervaded the film. I was offended at the grubby nihilistic nature apparent in every element of its production.  In the films I loved, the jagged messy editing that many of them shared seemed to enhance the exciting and frenetic freedom of excess – in Deuce, the messiness was the result of an incompetent craftsman in search of the standard generic form. In the films I cared about, the crassness seemed to be an expression of joy, whether in protest or mere celebration – and in Schneider’s vehicle it seemed that a marketing team had discovered inappropriate jokes at the expense of the less fortunate were currently popular with the teenage demographic. And in the movies I loved, the actors seemed to be as in love with the film as I did – not mailing it in to collect a cheque.

At the end of the day, all I ask of a film is that the people making it actually care about the film they are making – and this time around, they didn’t. Sorry, Mr Schneider, but for me it’s all about the love.

James Curnow is an obsessive cinephile and the owner and head editor of CURNBLOG. His work as a film journalist has been published in a range of print and digital publications, including The Guardian, Broadsheet and Screening the Past. James is currently working through a PhD in Film Studies, focused primarily on issues of historical representation in Contemporary Hollywood cinema.

11 thoughts on “Silly, Slimy and Offensive: The Heart of Gross-Out Comedy

    • I’m a little mixed in my opinions on this one… and as to what constitutes a gross-out comedy. The Schneider, Sandler, Farrelly Brothers stuff is certainly not my cup of tea.

      But I am fascinated by films that have embraced a cinema of excess to make an artistc, political or social point (usually employing a comic element. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ‘El Topo’ comes immediately to mind.

      Is this a gross-out comedy? I guess it’s debatable….

    • True… I think it’s the difference between having an auteur or a committee make a film. The auteur wants to complete a vision and the committee wants to complete a sale.

  1. I’ve always had a special love for the Kauffman/Troma studios films, Tromeo and Juliet, Toxic Avenger, and Cannibal the Musical especially.

Leave a Reply