Sigmund Freud suggests that “throughout the whole range of the psychology of the neuroses, what is sexual includes what is excremental, and is understood in the old, infantile, sense,” and further, that jokes which treat upon these primal sexual fascinations, being tendentious jokes, that is, jokes with larger intent, must be “either a hostile joke (serving the purpose of aggressiveness, satire, or defense) or an obscene joke (serving the purpose of exposure)” (116, 115). Given this framework for understanding puerile humor, I have chosen to examine the comedy of the film “Run Fat Boy, Run,” which is primarily physical and excremental. In the film, stunted man-boy Dennis, having run away from adulthood and commitment, literally fleeing his own wedding, takes on a quest for manhood by signing up to run the London River Run marathon with only a few weeks of preparation. Unfit, slovenly, and a frequent smoker, (clearly suffering from some setbacks during his oral phase of development) Dennis first takes on this challenge in a juvenile attempt to one-up his former fiancée’s new man, but through the course of the film the race, and Dennis’ preparation for it, becomes a very real catalyst for Dennis’ evolution from juvenile lay-about to responsible adult. Most germane to the purposes of this discussion is how obscene, exposing, and sexual humor is used throughout the film to evoke laughter.
This film is riddled with excremental and smutty humor, lousy with fart jokes, sexual innuendo, simulated ejaculation and masturbation, and emasculation by way of a speedy transvestite. In one of the early scenes, Dennis, a security guard for an upscale women’s lingerie boutique, is shown running down a shoplifting transvestite. As if being the guardian of fancy women’s under-things were not sufficiently emasculating, one of the audience’s first experiences of Dennis is watching him being outrun by a giggling, taunting transvestite, who gleefully cavorts and flaunts her frilly stolen knickers in Dennis’ face, just out of reach. Leaving aside any questions of the figuratively castrating effect of being unmanned by a transvestite, the obvious sexual overtones of the scene elevate it to a greater level of arguably both hostile and obscene tendentious humor. In this case, Dennis is the object of the joke, despite Freud’s assertions that a woman is generally the primary object, and the transvestite is exposing both Dennis’ shortcomings as a man and guardian of women’s unmentionables, as well as quite literally exposing a pair of pretty panties (arguably this exposure does frame women as a secondary object of the joke). This exposure makes Dennis both pitiable and laughable, allowing the audience to acquire a kind of release of primal aggressive urges through the safe, culturally sanctioned mockery of Dennis. As Freud writes “the repressive activity of civilization brings it about that primary possibilities of enjoyment, which have now, however, been repudiated by the censorship in us, are lost to us . . . so we find that tendentious jokes provide a means of undoing the renunciation and retrieving what was lost” (120-21). Essentially, hostile, puerile humor allows people to vent the frustrations and inexpressible baser urges which must be suppressed in order to cultivate civilization. Therefore, by causing the audience to laugh at Dennis’ emasculation, his many pratfalls, and the physical suffering and abuse he takes throughout the film, the comedy of “Run Fat Boy, Run” allows people a minor kind of relief from the repression of socially unacceptable urges.
Another excellent, though rather disgusting, example of the base humor of “Run Fat Boy, Run” can be observed in the well-known blister popping scene. The scene is disgusting and childish, as well as cringe inducing. As Freud says, “the technique of such jokes is often quite wretched, but they have immense success in provoking laughter” (Freud 121). This joke employs a handful of smutty themes to create a disgusting, and therefore both hilarious and horrifying, joke. The gag is hostile, in that a large part of the humor comes from Dennis’ pain and his friend’s reaction to that pain, as well as sexual: after the blister has been popped, pus is discharged into the friend’s face, which leads to a premature ejaculation joke, as well as an allusion to seminal fluid in the eye. Further, this sexual joke has a hostile element, because the scene involves two men, and therefore lends the joke a homosexual overtone. Because of this multi-layered gag, this joke allows the audience to laugh not only at Dennis’ real physical pain from the blister and preparation for the race, but also at the implied sexual inadequacy, which satisfies both the infantile fascination with the sexual as well as the suppressed human drive for aggression against one another. The joke exposes Dennis, in several senses. Further, the scene employs a kind of slapstick humor, which is pervasive throughout the film, and echoes the physical humor present in old school Chaplin or Stooges routines, only the pie or seltzer water in the face has been replaced by… well, pus.
(seriously, this scene is gross. Consider yourself warned.)
The primary source of humor in “Run Fat Boy, Run” is the juvenile fascination with sex and pain. Throughout the film, Dennis, the protagonist, is continually exposed and emasculated, an exposure which allows the audience to vent their own suppressed hostility and puerile fascinations. Fortunately, the distinction between humor of this type in film, directed and inspired by the suffering and shortcomings of a fictional character, and the same humor derived in real life from the suffering of real people, is that the hostile, exposing need can be relieved without a living target, and therefore is a kind of victimless “crime”, offering all of the vindictive enjoyment, without any real harm or insult.
Freud, Sigmund. Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. New York: Norton, 1989. Print.