Comedy is tragedy turned inside out. Tom Green takes that literally, gutting and wearing a road-killed buck like a psycho superman’s cape of carrion in Freddy Got Fingered. In a nutshell (or a carcass), gross-out comedies are plainclothes Keystone Kops on crack performing a full-body-cavity search on the nannies of good taste. They disembowel our culture, our minds and our bodies, slinging the entrails with slapstick pie-fight glee, splattering the screen with excrement, bodily fluids and other less tangible taboos for stomach-turning laughs.
Hitchcock brought the toilet to the big screen more than 40 years ago in Psycho; Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor) flushed it on the small screen better than a decade later in “All in the Family”; and Renton (Ewan McGregor) dove into “the worst toilet in Scotland” to recover his heroin stash in the black comedy Trainspotting (1996). The potty and its associated biological functions are never far from the eyes, ears and mouths of gross-out comedy.
The Farrelly brothers, the highest of the lowbrows, set two of the most notoriously memorable scenes of the genre’s only masterpiece, There’s Something About Mary (1998), in bathrooms. Ben Stiller’s Ted ruins his prom date and loses his dream girl, Mary (Cameron Diaz), in a traumatic bathroom accident that requires fire department intervention to extricate his “frank” and “beans” from his hastily fastened zipper. Tracked down by Ted years later, Mary freshens up in his bathroom and somehow mistakes a fresh dab of his semen for hair mousse to style the gross-out hairdo of the century (“a little dab’ll do ya”).
Gross-out is all about upping the ante. It must dive ever deeper down our cultural and psychological toilet to find fresh taboos or die. In 1973, the polymorphously perverse curses of The Exorcist shocked — especially when spewed from the mouth of 12-year-old Regan (Linda Blair). Fourteen years later, sodomy became shtick in Eddie Murphy Raw. Today, every preteen brat bound for some talk show’s boot camp tests the bleeper of network television’s censors with some of the same profanities. What once shocked played for laughs to a new generation last summer when The Exorcist was theatrically rereleased within weeks of the opening of Scary Movie.
If the Farrelly brothers are the Champale of gross-out, the Wayans brothers are the Mad Dog 20/20: cheaper, not as classy, more potent. Their Scary Movie upped the “frank” and “beans” ante distractingly, exposing the hairy scrotum of a “female” physical education instructor and substituting a dildo for the murder weapon in a parody of a scene from Scream 2. A little dab won’t do for the Wayans. One scene has the heroine (a spoof on Neve Campbell’s Scream series heroine, Sidney) plastered to her bedroom ceiling by a jet of her (previously) sexually frustrated boyfriend’s ejaculate.
Gross-out, like scatological stink, ignores the boundary of the bathroom door. In American Pie (summarized by a reviewer as like a cheap wine: “crude but amusing”), our hero James (Jason Biggs) short-circuits the politics of the American household by tying the pleasures of the kitchen (input) to those of the bathroom (output). James asks his bud, Chris “Oz” Ostreicher, what “third base” feels like. Chris rapturously replies, “Like warm apple pie.” In the movie’s notorious signature scene, James comes home to find Mom’s fresh-baked apple pie cooling on the kitchen counter and he can’t resist. His dad (Eugene Levy) comes home to find his son pumping his way toward “home plate” with the family’s dessert.
Classic comedy always has a parent, a parental figure or someone else in the hero or heroine’s way who must be removed (with extreme prejudice — and with hilarious results) so the latter can find fortune, marry and take their rightful place at the head of society. It’s the form — just like the verse-chorus-bridge structure of a pop song. And it’s Freudian psychology, the Oedipus complex: a repressed version of youth competing with their elders for breeding rights in order to renew the clan. In American Pie, one of James’ buds pines for a MILTF (Mom I’d Like To Fuck). The titular pie is actually his mother’s and, of course, a hormone-charged metaphor for what lies “downstairs,” between the thighs of every girl and woman.
Lately there’s Tom Green, a skateboard-punk de Sade who’s been demolishing the bourgeoisie, from his mom and dad’s household on out, with a series of adolescent pranks gonzo-documented as “The Tom Green Show.” In his Freddy Got Fingered, he guts out classical comedy with his gross-out wrecking ball, leaving only load-bearing structures such as the generational conflict between father and son, but juiced up to levels that one Hollywood insider compared to the insanely escalating husband-and-wife battles in The War of the Roses (1989). The comparison works.
Green cuts Mom out of the Oedipal complex, folding allusions of sex into the violence between father and son for a taboo knockout punch. Freddy Got Fingered ups the ante to the point where it may not be able to be raised further within the current R-rating. Green might have been right when he recently said, “We just killed the gross-out genre.”James Keith La Croix writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected]