For, Friday, May 15, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: During the pandemic our TV has been on a bit more than usual and as we caught a portion of ‘Family Feud’ the other day, one of the questions seemed innocent enough, but the answer — which I won’t repeat here — was surprisingly sleazy. In fact, the answer as shown on the board was much more sleazy than the spoken answer given by the contestant. It was unnecessary and actually a bit shocking. And it reminded me of this column, which mentions ‘Family Feud’ toward the end, published in the Deseret News on July 17, 2015, under the headline, ‘Clean comedy has become an endangered species in modern movies.’

When the comedy “Spy” came out, my wife and I were tempted to go because the reviews were good and the cast was better than most comedies these days.

We had been tempted the same way a couple of years ago with another Melissa McCarthy comedy, “The Heat,” because it also received good reviews and especially because it co-starred Sandra Bullock.

But in both cases we looked up descriptions of the R-rated content and it was enough to persuade us to skip them.

Sadly, that is the case with most every comedy that hits theaters these days. Even if it’s rated PG-13 there’s enough off-color material to chase us away.

I started thinking about this again when the PBS documentary “Mel Brooks: Make a Noise” was rerun a couple of weeks ago and I happened to catch the portion devoted to “Blazing Saddles,” the first mainstream blockbuster that was a full-on R-rated raunchy comedy.

Among those interviewed was Brooks’ pal Carl Reiner, a comic actor/writer/director in his own right, who said, “ … And Mel, every once in awhile, is a little taken aback on how far things have gone. Once you’ve broken open Pandora’s Box, that’s what happens. … You (Brooks) started it, so don’t complain.”

In light of what passes for comedy today, I found that observation quite interesting. Especially in tandem with something else I had watched just days before — an interview with film critic/historian Leonard Maltin (available on YouTube as “An Evening With Leonard Maltin”).

Toward the end of this hourlong-plus onstage interview before an audience of college students, Maltin is asked what his favorite movie genre is: “When I was growing up it was comedy. … But then comedy changed, and now when you say ‘comedy’ it means … this brand of raunchy … comedy that I’ve had to sort of make my peace with.

“But again, there’s good raunchy comedies and bad raunchy comedies.” Then he went on to praise “The Hangover” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up.”

So I got to thinking about this and came to the conclusion that unlike Maltin, I have just never been able to make peace with it.

When raunchy comedies really began to take hold in the 1990s, with “Dumb & Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary,” among others, I tested the waters but just couldn’t get into them. A tasteless joke here and there is one thing, but a steady stream of sexual and scatological gags for 90-120 minutes is just too much.


Sexual innuendo and double-entendres have been around forever — in the 1930s and ’40s you had Bob Hope leering after his female co-stars, Harpo Marx chasing maids around hotel rooms, Mae West offering up double-meaning witticisms.

In the ’50s came “Pillow Talk” and “Some Like It Hot,” in the ’60s we had “The Pink Panther” and “The Graduate,” and in the ’70s there were “What’s Up, Doc?” and “The Heartbreak Kid.” All of these comedies are acknowledged classics that deal with sexual politics but manage to do so without crossing the line.

As the ’70s proceeded and movie ratings were in force, we also got the R-rated “Blazing Saddles,” after which a slew of raunchy R-rated comedies followed: “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” “10,” “Porky’s,” etc.

But even as those raunchier R-rated movies were making inroads, we also got “Tootsie” and “Ghostbusters,” and a lot of other PG comedies.

In 1982, during an interview for “Tootsie,” director Sydney Pollack told me that the first draft of the script that he saw was “(filled with) bathroom jokes. I hope I brought an element of taste that prevented it from getting tacky, which is what it was when I came to it. That's a pretty loaded situation. Put a guy in a dress and look at all the jokes you could make."

No kidding. I shudder to think what a “Tootsie” remake would look like today.

And how do you suppose next summer’s distaff remake of “Ghostbusters” will turn out, given that the director and some of its stars are “Bridesmaids” alumni?

Sadly, witty and clever and subtle jokes have been replaced by vulgar, in-your-face sleaze. Forty-plus years after “Blazing Saddles,” even flatulence is still being used as an easy way to provoke laughter. Only now it’s gone much further into gross-out territory. Think “Bridesmaids.”

Complaining about this has led some online commenters to suggest that I should stop writing about movies because I’m an old guy in his 60s evaluating an entertainment medium that is aimed squarely at the young. But this isn’t new territory for me. I was expressing similar reactions in the Deseret News when I was in my 30s.

But back then I aimed my concerns at the filmmakers. Today I’m more concerned about the audience. Yes, you young folks out there who are being systematically desensitized by vulgarity, along with the notion that romance and sex are the same thing. They aren’t.

But the romantic comedy has given way to the sex comedy and variations on overworked tropes dominate such films today.


Often a comedy’s excesses are excused as “adult” and “mature,” as in, “Oh, grow up, this is adult material for mature audiences, and if you don’t like it, don’t go.” Well, actually I don’t go to comedies much anymore.

But when did childish or rude or shocking behavior — puerile sex jokes, gross-out bodily functions and locker-room language — come to be considered “mature”?

Remember the scripture you learned as a youngster in church? “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)

That comes to mind with every new comedy about a man-child that refuses to grow up or a woman who demonstrates that she can be just as crass as any man. And why are the purveyors of smut redundantly described by the press as “brave” and “fearless”?

Of course it’s not just movies. TV comedies are also way too raunchy. The sitcom you can watch with the family is a rare commodity these days.

Even the game show “Family Feud” is infected. Have you watched that show recently? It may be shown early and it may be titled “Family Feud” but it’s no longer a family show.

There used to be room for all kinds of comedy at the local cinema but nowadays any attempt at class instead of crass is apparently nixed. And let’s face it, it’s easier — and lazier — to write cheap and cheesy sex jokes.

Just to be clear, I understand that raunchy comedy isn’t going away any time soon. I recognize that, as Reiner said, Pandora’s Box is open and there’s no closing it.

But isn’t there room enough for more than one kind of comedy? If I want something funny but also clean, does it have to be a cartoon?