One of my all-time favorite films is There’s Something About Mary. The plot is about how a lot of guys seem to fall in love with a girl named Mary. Very simple plot, right? But it isn’t one of my favorite movies because of the story. No, There’s Something About Mary is one of my favorite films of all time because it’s one of the funniest movies of all time.
It’s also one of the smartest films ever. No, I’m not saying it’s literary genius and deserves to be in the Smithsonian but I say it’s smart because it’s clever and managed to surprise me and a lot of viewers. Yes, There’s Something About Mary is filled with toilet humor and low-brow comedy but there’s just something about it that makes it seem smarter than other comedies that have the same brand of humor.
Take the infamous Zipper scene from that movie…
Even after almost 20 years, this scene still cracks me up every time I see it! Yet, when you really think about it, the joke about a guy’s junk getting stuck in his zipper is an age-old joke. It’s the equivalent of watching YouTube videos of people getting kicked in the groin. But There’s Something About Mary manages to do something really different with it. That’s because the writers, The Farrelly Brothers, did something that the YouTube clips are unable to do… build up the joke.
Just watch the video again. Throughout the entire scene, various people will look at it with different expressions; some of them are horrified, some are disgusted and even the firefighter just found it hilarious! They also even go through the trouble of describing what it looks like, like how Ben Stiller’s character managed to get the zipper all the way to the top or how he managed to get “the bean above the frank.” But the clincher is actually seeing the darned thing! Nobody expected to actually see it but they did. It was shocking… and hella funny!
But that’s exactly why I think it takes a level of genius to create stupid humor. There’s a level of unpredictability involved. People love to be logical and behave “sane,” which is the typical and “normal” way to live. But whenever something catches us off-guard, it seems like our brains cannot just comprehend what just happened. People are normally raised to behave logically and follow a specific train of thought. A lot of our society actually requires this kind of behavior. Appointments have to be met. People have to fall in line. Without this order, the world would be chaos.
So whenever we see things that doesn’t conform to the norm, we react to it differently. The writers of Family Guy know of this and that’s why the show is filled with non-sequiter gags or jokes that don’t seem to make sense. But the people over at Family Guy also know another element of humor that a lot of “normal” people forget: commitment.
Even some of the simplest jokes in Family Guy work because of the amount of effort they put into it. An example would be the alternate intro Family Guy made spoofing the Super Friends show…
This intro covers the unpredictability portion of “stupid” humor. There is no reason at all for Family Guy to spoof the Super Friends intro! But they did it anyway because it would be funny. But did they really need to make a shot-by-shot copy? I think yes, they did. Imagine all of the effort to actually create this one-off gag! They copied the intro almost exactly except for a few millisecond timing issues and the absence of The Wonder Twins (which was worked into the gag as well). If they didn’t copy it almost perfectly, the joke wouldn’t be as funny.
And this is another reason why it takes a level of smarts to create stupid humor. We’ve also been trained to work on only “worthwhile” things and, unfortunately, humor doesn’t seem to be one of them. It also takes a huge amount of effort to be predictable and keep thinking of new things instead of just rehashing older jokes.
It’s a constant danger for comedians to just fall back on the things that worked before. I mean, it worked before. So why won’t the same thing work again? This is why the first Hangover film worked so well; it was different when it was first released. The trouble is its sequels just pretty much copy and pasted the jokes from the original film and just set it in a new location. Critics knew it and moviegoers knew it was the same thing and panned the second film.
So, the next time you see something “stupid but funny” online, you’re not looking at something dumb; you’re actually looking at brilliance.
What’s your favorite “stupid but funny” video? Let me know in the comments section below.