Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sex comedy week - Day 3: Bodily fluids aren't funny

Tuesday I invited everyone to comment on gross-out gags in sex comedies, and mentioned that two specific gags still gross me out to this day. I challenged the readers to guess which two gags they were. No one really took a stab at it, but they are:

1) Stifler drinking a semen-laced beer in American Pie


2) Austin Powers drinking Fat Bastard's shit in The Spy Who Shagged Me.

Humor is subjective, and I freely admit that there were probably viewers who found the whole thing hilarious. Both gags are based on similar premises - namely, that the victim's drink is laced with something disgusting that he's unaware of and the audience really hopes he doesn't drink. After several false starts, it seems like the character might not drink the disgusting concoction, only for them to gulp it down as the audience roars.

I will give the writers this, some thought went into the construction of the respective gags. It also seems that the writer's built up to these gags well enough that there was decent motivation for the payoff. It didn't feel like the writing session began with the mandate, "Let's have Austin drink shit!" However, I'd wager that 90% of the gross-out gags I read don't.

By the way, just assume I'm gagging as I type each paragraph. Like I said yesterday, just thinking about some of these gags makes me throw up in my mouth a little.

I wonder if bodily fluids gags are ever as funny as the writer thinks they are. Too often they feel just like that - gags. They serve no larger purpose in the script, they don't advance the characters and they don't have anything to do with the story thematically. The gag only flows from the writer saying "Hey, I figured out a great way to cover someone in semen!"

(And by the way, if I had ever made a list of "Things I never thought I'd type - especially in a forum I know my mother reads" the quoted portion of the sentence above would probably be near the top of it.)

A while back I read a script where some guys decide to have some fun with a sleeping friend. While he snores, they turn on a vacuum cleaner and set the tube so that it sucks his penis. That's only half the joke, as he suddenly starts to wake up. Panicking, his friends pull back the tube and try to shut off the the vacuum - but succeed only in going from suck to blow. Yep, that means that our poor guy who was just trying to take a nap ends up with a face full of semen.

Normally I'd feel bad about ruining such a seminal gag, but the fact is that even if such a joke were so unique that its mention here would force the writer to remove it, said removal would have absolutely NO impact on anything else in the story.

And why is semen the go-to fluid of choice lately? Is it just that American Pie seemingly broke that taboo and every urine joke has seemingly been told by now. I recall that one of the first slush pile scripts I ever read at my first internship dealt with a single woman who buys frozen sperm samples. Naturally, she kept these in the freezer and guess what happened when she threw a party and the guests realized they were running low on ice. Inspired isn't it? Then about two months later, I read virtually the exact same gag, except the set-up was that a guy was worried he'd be impotent after surgery so before he goes in, he freezes his semen in an ice cube tray.

Face it folks, you're not going to come up with an original way to deliver bodily fluids for laughs. I guess my point is that it isn't inherently funny to use semen or diarrhea in ways outside their normal context. Nor is just being gross justification enough in itself.

In the two produced examples I discussed above, the humor really comes from the close calls that the victim has with ingesting the fluid. That's where the comic tension lies. If Stifler immediately took a swig of his beer and gaged, it wouldn't be damn funny. Ideally, I'd ask you not to include such gags at all, but if you must I beg you to really ask yourself "Is this funny? Why is this funny?"

Words every comedy writer should hear - "Just because something makes you laugh doesn't mean it's funny."


  1. Didn't "Something About Mary" with its hair gel scene start the whole semen as a gag trend?

  2. "Something About Mary" broke the ice.

    I agree with you, BSR, in that gags are rarely pulled off with the success writer's are hoping for. Nor are extraneous scenes of ultra violence.

    And in the grander scheme of screenwriting, unneccessary scenes are still written to this day that have no function, purpose, motive, intention in moving the story forward. "Why was that in there?" The cliche of killing one's puppies will always apply.

    I'm sure the studios would argue otherwise. American Pie and Austin Powers are huge franchises. Anything goes, I suppose.

  3. I never really find those scenes funny. The Something About Mary scene I thought was funny because nobody got hurt, but ingesting that stuff is too gross for me to laugh at.

    Poop humor does not do anything for me.

  4. It's hard enough to write broad comedies. Gross out humor really narrows down the range of funny, I think. It's polarizing.

  5. I normally have to agree with your article, and I do regarding American Pie, but Southpark's season finale was hilarious.

    It's a da peeeeee!

  6. I'm sure you'll find plenty in the scripts elected to "bad." God speed.

  7. If memory serves, there was a bucket of sloshing piss scene in Cheech & Chong's "Nice Dreams". They were driving around in their van with a five-gallon bucket of urine (forgot how they acquired the said urine). Of course, they're in some kind of car chase and the bucket has no lid and then guess what happens...

    Yeah, quality stuff there.

  8. While I agree with you on the shit in Austin Powers, dicksauce doesn't really seem too beyond the pale. Yes, it's disgusting in American Pie because it belongs to a stranger -- hence the joke -- but I'm sure you hope that every girl you've ever been with (?) or will ever be with doesn't share your heteronormative view that the very idea of chugging spooge is as stomach-turning as the Holocaust.

    Humor is subjective, indeed.

  9. In THE SWEETEST THING, the Selma Blair character takes a semen-encrusted dress to the dry cleaners and the man behind the counter tests the stain by sniffing it then licking it -- ewwwwww.

    Plenty of gross sex and toilet jokes in that movie.