Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Is the only good comedy a raunchy one?

Leonard Maltin hopes not:
...I’m not a fan of toilet humor—which in this case actually involves gags about people using the toilet and/or talking about their bodily functions. That’s just the tip of the iceberg: [The Change-Up] seems positively eager to break down supposed barriers and wallow in foul-mouthed, crude behavior and dialogue... Because the film is enjoyable at times, I have to wonder how much (if anything) would have been lost if it had been toned down a bit. Would audiences have complained that it wasn’t edgy enough? Might it have suffered in comparison to other recent hit comedies?
 But maybe some movies need to be raunchy:
...This may sound juvenile, and yes, I'm well aware that comedy can be derived from any number of sources more innocuous than gratuitous sexual content, explicit language, drug use, and violence, but certain comedies don't feel genuine without the risk factor. Crude comedies and black comedies, the kinds that pull their subjects from the dark pits of human suffering and certain deadly sins, should push at their confines without worrying about catering to someone's definition of what's appropriate. Sometimes this may lead to failure (I'm looking at you, Hangover II), but when 'going there' pays off, it pays off big.
I'm a Kevin Smith fan, so you better believe I appreciate dick and fart jokes as much as the next guy. R-rated comedy definitely has its place at the multiplex. So why hasn't it done anything for me lately? I dunno. I suppose if I were to see The Hangover, I'd laugh. Perhaps not as much as other people, but I'm sure I would. Still, I never felt the desire to rush right out and see it or any other comedy like it from the past several years. I've never seen a Judd Apatow movie, I gave up on Adam Sandler long ago, and I've never seen a Ryan Reynolds movie since he became a star (apparently he was in the first Harold and Kumar movie).

I can't explain it. A trailer for a comedy either appeals to me or it doesn't. If Clerks were to come out this week, would I go see it? Depends. A big part of what has defined Smith as a filmmaker is his independent, DIY aesthetic. That has shaped my perception of him. If Clerks were a studio film and Smith was being touted as the new Judd Apatow, that'd be a huge difference in how I saw him, so perhaps he's not the best example. My original point still stands, though.

But are raunchy comedies the only ones that hit big? I looked up the top 20 money-makers from the years 2006-10, as ranked by Box Office Mojo. 19 out of those 100 movies were comedies in the broadest sense of the word, including musicals like Mamma Mia and action comedies like Get Smart. 17 of those 19 comedies were either PG-13 or R. The PG-13 movies include stuff like Little Fockers, Grown-Ups and Rush Hour 3, not exactly highbrow material. Here's the key stat, though: of the four R movies, look at the upward trend in terms of (domestic) money made:  

  • Borat (2006), $128 million
  • Knocked Up (2007), $148 million
  • Sex and the City (2008), $152 million
  • The Hangover (2009), $277 million

And of course this year, both The Hangover Part 2 and Bridesmaids have surpassed $150 million.

The Maltin quote at the top was from his review of The Change-Up, which he did find funny in places, despite his misgivings on the level of vulgarity. He followed that up a couple of days later with another piece further expanding his feelings on raunchy comedy, and his feelings on the matter echo my own:
...I don’t believe that everybody embraces The New Vulgarity, but no one wants to be the naysayer—or prude—who voices objections when friends find something funny. The box-office success of movies like The Hangover changed the playing field for what is widely considered “the norm,” and that’s what worries me. We’re expected to accept a much higher level of raunchiness than moviegoers did just a few years ago…and I don’t think there’s any turning back.
I like to think certain comedy classics like Some Like It Hot would be successful today, but our standards have changed from fifty years ago. I accept that. But dick and fart jokes only amuse me for so long.

Agree? Disagree? I'd really like to know.


  1. do you equate large box office with being good though? because i feel certain you had sex and the city on that box office hitlist.

    recently i have enjoyed repeat viewings of easy a, does that count as raunchy? i thought it was quite intelligent. but then i would like to think that despite my leaning towards kevin smith i have an intelligent sense of humour (actually smith has made some very smart movies masquerading as stoner flicks in my opinion)

  2. In this instance, I equate large box office with acceptance by general audiences of a certain type of comedy, in this case, the kind represented by movies like 'The Hangover.' (The title of this post is intentionally hyperbolic.) 'Sex and the City' may not be quite in the same class as 'The Hangover,' but I included it because it's an R-rated comedy, and that was what I was measuring.

  3. Heh, my browser ate my first comment.

    Anyway, right off the bat, my answer to your question is NO. I actually prefer comedies that are not raunchy/insulting/overly sarcastic, and just because some of these R-rated comedies made money doesn't mean they're always good quality.

    I for one don't have any interest in seeing any of the movies you mentioned, and I don't feel like I'm missing out at all.

  4. I have always been more of a situational comedy guy rather than the crude, raunchy type but sometimes it hits the spot (Horrible Bosses) and let's face it, jokes about poop and penises are the most basic and universal out there so these type of comedies will be privileged by studios who are looking to make money outside the US box office.

  5. And that right there is a big factor - the international market and how raunchy humor plays overseas. This is one of the things we'll address in the LAMB roundtable discussion on Friday afternoon.

  6. The amount of obvious scatalogical humor in The Change-Up seemed inherent in the trailer alone. I felt vindicated, and saddened to hear from reviews to discover that it's even worse than the trailers suggest.

    The Change-Up could've been hilarious, there hasn't been a body switch film like it done in years and never in this style.

    I truly don't think these films need to get to the level of "edge" they have in recent years.

    Ryan Reynolds' first major feature that put him on the map "Van Wilder" has dick and fart jokes, but most of them are in context to the story and never seem too over the top. Well, other than the dog thing, but even in context that worked.

    I have a feeling though screenwriters are throwing in dick, fart, piss, cum, shit jokes that don't progress the story in anyway, they're just there.

    I could list films where it's worked, but I think we're heading towards a future where a parody movie will be called "Fart Movie" and it'll make 28298283938398393839745 million.

  7. I think we already saw such a movie in Mike Judge's 'Idiocracy.'


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