The latest episode of The B-Movies Podcast on CraveOnline was number 69, which we spent the requisite amount of time giggling about. We also made the (in)appropriate reference to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. William “Bibbs” Bibbiani told a brief tale about how, when said film was released, he didn’t get the 69 joke. My experience was identical to his. Neither of us, at our respective tender young ages in 1989, knew anything about the 69 sexual position, and just assumed that the two stalwart friends were just on the same uncanny wavelength.
In any discussion about the MPAA’s infamous rating system, there’s a lot of talk about what movie content in appropriate for children. I suppose the ultimate arbiter of what is appropriate should, perhaps, be relegated to each respective parent, but the MPAA provides, however dubiously, a shorthand for parents. Moms and dads can’t, necessarily, become intimately familiar with, or personally screen, each film for their youngster. A responsible parents will try to watch films with their kids and will, with patience and openness, have a conversation with their kids about any iffy content they may encounter. That way the parent can gauge how their kid is reacting to rough language, violent images, and sexuality they may not be prepared to process.
Most kids (or at least my film-watching peers) are able, however vigilant their parents, to see films that are beyond their rating grade. Thanks to cable and some skillfully-chosen VHS tapes at the local video store, I was able to see many R-rated films out from the watchful eye of any parental guardianship, long before the age of 17. The point is becoming increasingly moot, as the internet has allowed hardcore pornography into the pockets of any enterprising teen with a smart phone. (Since it’s probably teenagers, I’m guessing mid-pubescence, around the age of 15, who are the ones actively seeking out pornography, and not 8-year-olds who are probably more interested in superheroes, ponies, robots, and dinosaurs, the “sex talk” will likely be covered in that regard.) I can’t attest for the effect hardcore porn is having on kids, but I can lay parents’ minds to rest on the PG-13 and R-rated content. I can say for sure that the sex jokes and naughty talk is probably sailing right over some kids’ heads.
I had a vague idea of what oral sex was when I was 10, but I didn’t really understand what it was for or why people did it. In my mind, it was another sex mechanic that older people did, and that I would perhaps understand someday. All sexual matters are, to the prepubescent mind, something hazy and remote. Something you don’t understand, so you talk about a lot, sussing out what sex is to you now, and what it means to you, and postulating what it should mean. Such inter-peer talks are, at least with boys, tempered by an imitated machismo and outright fearful mockery. I’ve heard many kids use the word “homo” as an insult, but not borne of any actual homophobia, and more borne of a childlike fear of unfathomable sexual matters.
So many sex jokes flew over my head in my childhood years, that when I look back at certain films and TV shows enjoyed in my youth, I’m shocked at how rough they were. I watched the raunchy (but still PG-rated) Airplane! many times back in the day, and I giggled at the absurdity, even if I didn’t really grasp the cultural jokes of black guys speaking “Jive,” or when the old lady talked about supple breasts. They were all just part of the film’s cartoon texture. I loved Spaceballs when it came out, but I understood perhaps 5% of the Jewish jokes from a film rife with them (“Funny. She doesn’t look Druish,” to cite one).
Here, then, as a celebration of my own childhood innocence, and as a way to placate parents, here are some notable “adult” jokes from movies that I didn’t understand for many, many years. I get them now, but they had to lay dormant. I feel I am a more understanding adult today.
Much of History of the World, Part I
When I was about 10 or 11, I went through an intense Mel Brooks phase, which likely baffled my parents, as, as I indicated above, most of his humorous stock in trade was quaint Jewish humor. I’m not Jewish, so the Yiddish jokes and Woody Allen-like humor via New York Jew neurosis was not something I could directly relate to. Even though I was young, I was permitted to rent Brooks’ entire output, including some of the naughtier ones, including his 1981 yukfest History of the World, part I. The film made many references to Roman orgies, Vestal virgins, and other depravities the Romans were known for. I knew nothing of the history of Roman vice, and my knowledge of ancient Rome, at the time, didn’t extend too far past togas, Julius Caesar, and chariot races. And orgy was a sex thing, I guessed, but the details were hazy.
One joke in particular struck me like a bolt years after the fact. There’s a silly scene wherein an elderly blind black man was wandering through the streets of Rome hitting his head on various pieces of architecture. Funny enough. He belted out, at regular intervals, “Give to Oedipus! Give to Oedipus!” When the film’s hero (Gregory Hines) wandered past, Oedipus put out his hand for a high five. Hines capitulated with a very colloquial, “Hey there, mother*cker.” At the time, I assumed this was just a slangy greeting. I was not yet familiar with Sophocles’ immortal tragedy Oedipus the King, nor the consequences of the title character. When I finally had chance to becomes familiar with the famed Greek play, that 14-letter word took on a whole new meaning. I laughed and laughed, and it only took me about six years to get it.
Much of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask
How on Earth was I allowed to see this raunchy 1972 Woody Allen film at such an early age? This is a film that has open talk about vibrators, bestiality, bodily fluids, and disembodied sex organs. Again, as a kid I was wrapped up in the cartoonishness of the film, rather than any sexual gags it might have possessed. Woody Allen’s earlier films are typically wry satires of old-timey slapstick, whose wryness would likely be lost on anyone under the age of 16 anyway. I didn’t get the wryness or the self-awareness of Everything. I just saw a lot of funny sight gags (yes, there was a giant disembodied breast that ran rampant, killing men who were mollified by the sight of a giant boob baring down on them), punctuated by frequent adult material that was alien to me.
I even recall a scene wherein an Italian husband (Woody Allen) was unable to please his frigid wife (Louise Lasser). First off, the notion of frigidness was not something I had even begun to consider. In one of the husband’s attempts to please his wife, he extracted an electrical device that was unmistakable to an adult, but I could only identify as a “massager.” I recall that my mom expressed concern that I should be seeing this. Then, as the gag, the “massager” in question shorted out, spraying the lovers with sparks. I got the gag, I guess, even though the exact function of the appliance remained opaque. The idea of a shorted-out vibrator is a bit giggle-worthy to me today. I think I appreciated the joke more when I was a child.
The Podium Gag from Police Academy
The first Police Academy film (1984), I should perhaps mention, is something of a bulwark to kids of a certain generation. It was, like Revenge of the Nerds, an R-rated comedy loaded with nudity that somehow made its way into most children’s wheelhouses. Police Academy could have been, if I think about it, the first time I ever saw breasts on camera. The first film is, despite the series’ reputation for being low-brow Hollywood schlock, a somewhat edgy and well put-together film, if not a necessarily timeless or hilarious one. I recall a halcyon afternoon from my youth where I watched the film twice in a row, totally unsupervised, eating Fritos and dancing on my parents’ bed. This was the kind of mischief I thought to get into. Thank goodness drugs or drink never even occurred to me.
There was one joke in Police Academy wherein the film’s rascally hero Mahoney (Steve Guttenberg) tried to orchestrate his own expulsion from the titular school. He figured if he hired a prostitute friend to service his superior, that would do it. Due to clownish circumstances, both Mahoney and the prostitute ended up hiding inside a podium while the oblivious superior officer, Lassard (George Gaynes), gave a speech to a crowd of visiting cops. Lassard spent the scene giving his speech and pointing out slides while moaning in comically suppressed orgasmic ecstasy. I was too young to know what was going on, only that it involved Lassard’s genitals in some abstract fashion. Later, when Lassard went to investigate the podium, the female prostitute had fled, and Mahoney was discovered. Fellatio joke, orgasm joke, gay joke. All lost on me.
The Blue Oyster, also from Police Academy
And while we’re on the subject of Police Academy, I should perhaps relate the running gag that appeared in several of the films. Throughout the series, many of the police characters would find themselves, either without realizing where they were, or accidentally stripped of clothes (don’t ask), inside a bar called The Blue Oyster. I knew that the cops didn’t want to be in The Blue Oyster, as they reacted with panic and hostility to the clientele. It wasn’t until years later, when I learned about gay bars, that I realized The Blue Oyster was full of ultra-manly rough trade types.
Yes, The Blue Oyster was only a shabby line on which to hang some pretty offensive homophobic jokes, and plays today like either a quaintly ignorant time capsule, or an outwardly hateful throw-off, depending on your disposition. Since I didn’t know much of gay bars, the joke was funny to me. I thought the men in the Blue Oyster were merely thugs who liked dancing, and, if that were the case, the joke would be funny. Now it’s laced with gay panic, and, as an adult, I see it for what it is; It doesn’t necessarily come across as hateful (the Police Academy movies weren’t sophisticated enough to be hateful), but it does bank on gay stereotypes. As a child, it was a mere cartoon.
The Castle Anthrax from Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Every kid has seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Its pure absurdity appeals strongly to kids and playfully-minded adults alike. Even though it may strike some people as quite silly, I still, like a generation, hold the film to be a peerless cinema classic. The more you know about King Arthur and medieval codes of chivalry, the funnier the film will be, but you don’t need to know that stuff to belly-laugh heartily at a killer bunny rabbit or a catapulted cow. The film entire, when seen at the right age, can burrow its way into your pop consciousness and set up a permanent home.
At age 12, however, there were still plenty of gags I didn’t understand. The political talk of Dennis the filth farmer (“Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government”) flew entirely over my head, as I had yet to become involved in any sort of political ethos. But the one that took me years to get was the extended sequence in The Castle Anthrax. Sir Galahad, the Chaste (Michael Palin) wandered into a castle full of pretty women who talk about the solitary life they lead, free of men, wherein they spend their dull days undressing and making exciting underwear. I understood, in an easy fashion, that the women were tempting him sexually, I suppose, but when I first saw the film, and all its talk of spanking naughty teenage girls, I only dimly perceived the now-well-known pervasive sexual fantasies of the adult male. Spankings, in my mind, were not sex, but punishment. When the comely Dingo (Carol Cleveland) finally said “after the spankings, the oral sex!,” I got it. But not with the depth or complexity or experience that my adult self did.
From the Desk of William Bibbiani:
I’m already embarrassed. Not to talk about sexual matters (we’ve done that before), but because I’m about to confess my youthful ignorance. As we get older, it’s hard to imagine just how naïve we were about sex in your pre-teen years… and our teens, for some of us. At some point we all found ourselves on the playground waxing philosophical about sexual matters far beyond our years and experience, and I don’t think I’m only speaking for myself when I say that I was usually faking it. “Oh yeah, an ‘Around the World?’ I know all about that. That’s when you have sex with a woman from every country in just one night.” Then for a brief fraction of a second, a cold chill ran down my spine as I waited for somebody to call my bluff. Luckily and unbeknownst to me, none of my peers had any brighter ideas and just ran with it. Like, “of course” that’s what it means.
Nowadays, I dunno, kids probably check these sorts of things on their iPhones. Maybe preteens are more knowledgeable about sex in the Information Age than I was in the 1980s, or even am today. But at some point in their lives, kids really do have no idea what they’re talking about, and watching movies about unknown sexual subjects is kind of like an SAT question. You have to infer what’s being said, and if you can’t, then it’s like the playground. You just laugh at the joke because you don’t want to be ostracized for not knowing what it really means.
This kind of thing isn’t limited to sex jokes, although we’ll get to a few of the ones that flew over my head in a minute. When I was a kid, I watched movies like Citizen Kane and 2001: A Space Odyssey and simply got the gist of it. I knew they were great. They captured my imagination and brought genuine emotional depth into my world. But I didn’t truly understand their meanings. I had never experienced firsthand the alienation that comes from only understanding love on your own terms, or the existential crisis involved in question the very nature of human existence.
Another example: as the youngest of my family, I never had much contact with pregnant women, so the first time I saw Rosemary’s Baby I didn’t quite grasp what was supposed to be so scary about it. But now that I’m older, and I’ve had more real-life experience, I can see just how wrong Mia Farrow’s pregnancy truly is. She’s not putting on enough weight, and the color has drained from her cheeks and the love and support that she needs to get through these trying times is suspiciously absent from her friends and family. It’s terrifying stuff, but without a baseline of context it doesn’t entirely register. It’s like listening to “Nothing Compares 2 You” before you’ve had your first big breakup. You can hear the song, but Sinead O’Connor isn’t singing it to you… yet.
On that sad note, here are some jokes, scenes and movies with sexual humor that I had to pretend to understand back in my wee years. I won’t tell you how old I was when I finally got some of these, because that would be the most embarrassing thing of all.
“Patty Cake” from Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Robert Zemeckis’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a wonderful film for the whole family, but not in the usual Shrek way, where the film’s obviously intended for kids and just happens to throw in a couple of gags that only their parents will get. While the children are laughing at the boisterous Looney Tunes humor and the (still astounding) scene where Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse team up for the first time, adults are treated to a straight-up film noir that happens to replace the details and supporting cast with animated characters. Some of them are raunchy as hell, like Baby Herman’s sexist middle-aged baby character, and some of them engage in metaphoric activities that adults know is supposed stand-in for naked naughtiness. The plot kicks in when Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) is hired to spy on Jessica Rabbit (Kathleen Turner), who turns out to be playing “Patty Cake” with the owner of Toon Town. The cast always makes “Patty Cake” sound dirty, but the joke is that they’re actually just playing the nursery rhyme clapping game. The joke on top of that is, to Toons, playing the game is just as bad. I didn’t get it at all. I just figured “Patty Cake” was just a really kinky game, so I started playing it as often as I could.
The Gatekeeper/Keymaster in Ghostbusters
Ghostbusterswas another great family film for all ages; scary but goofy, lighthearted but taking the story seriously, and full of sexual humor that doesn’t register with the pre-teen crowd. I was a little hazy on the scene where a ghost unzipped Dan Aykroyd’s pants, but I got the gist of it. The joke I didn’t get until a tragically late age comes at the end, when the titular team has to keep Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver apart, because they’ve been possessed by the supernatural “Keymaster” and “Gatekeeper” respectively, and the world when end when they, er… “get together.” Get it? He’s a guy, so he has a “key.” She’s a woman, so she has a “gate.” To open the gate – to the afterlife, naturally – you have to put the “key” in the “gate.” I’d seen Ghostbusters dozens of times, but I didn’t think about the painfully obvious metaphor for years, probably because I’d seen it so often that questioning the film hardly seemed necessary. But when I finally picked up on the gag I slapped myself so hard you could hear it in Pacoima.
“Technical Virginity” from Monster Squad
Monster Squadwas one of the most important movies of my childhood. It brought all the Universal monsters together and made them fight a group of kids not unlike myself and my friends: geeks, who alone have the knowledge necessary to fight the forces of darkness that their parents don’t even think exists. It’s full of wonderful performances, genuinely scary moments and a ton of classic horror homages, like the old chestnut of needing a virgin to carry out a magic spell. In this case, it’s the spell that opens the gate to hell, forcing Dracula and his minions out of the human world. So it’s pretty important to find a virgin, and one of the squad enlists his hot older sister for the job. But when she says the words, nothing happens. It turns out that she’s only “technically” a virgin, and figured that her backseat fumblings – whatever they were – didn’t count. At the time I first saw Monster Squad, I had only just figured out what “virginity” really was. The notion that you could do something sexual that “didn’t count” was hard to grasp. I think I just assumed that God was really strict about making out. I was little off base, base-wise.
“If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me?”
This is basically a stand-in for any double-entendre that flew over my head as a kid. The “beautiful body” quote is one of the most famous pick-up lines in history, and I can’t honestly say where I heard it first. It’s often attributed to Groucho Marx, but it’s been repeated so many times that narrowing the origin down seems difficult. Suffice it to say… I didn’t get it. Why would the woman in that hypothetical situation hold the statement against him? It’s a blunt, superficial statement, but at least it’s complimentary. I’d certainly appreciate it if somebody called me attractive. But then cut to a shockingly old age, when I suddenly realized that “it” refers to the “beautiful body,” and not the compliment itself. Face palm
Fun fact: I also had intense trouble with “Call me whatever you want, just don’t call me late for dinner.” I’d heard a lot of silly names in my life, but “Late For Dinner” always seemed pretty implausible. Not too many “Late For Dinner Smiths” running around in the world, after all. And then, one day… Face palm so freaking hard…