Guts Before Six Packs: Why Flab Is Funny

Guts Before Six Packs: Why Flab Is Funny (photo)

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Two movies I saw in the last couple weeks threw something into relief for me: comic leading men are in danger of getting too buff to be funny. Let me explain why. The movies in question were last year’s “Going the Distance” and the just-released “Cedar Rapids.” Both try to wring laughs from uncomfortable situations involving heroes in the nude. One works, and one doesn’t.

In “Going the Distance,” Justin Long plays Garrett, a music executive with a long distance girlfriend named Erin (Drew Barrymore). In preparation for their first date in months, he decides to get a spray tan for the first time in his life. A disinterested attendant shoves Garrett into a private tanning room, but her vague instructions aren’t enough. When the spray machine begins to start on its own, Garrett freaks out. He’s not quite ready for his tan — is he supposed to wear his underwear during the spray or not? — which gives us the scene’s punchline: Long, in his birthday suit, covering his junk and his butt with his hands, screaming for help and freaking out about how terrible the tanning spew tastes.

“Cedar Rapids” stars Ed Helms as Tim Lippe, a sheltered insurance agent from Wisconsin who’s sent by his boss to represent his company at an insurance conference. The man he particularly needs to schmooze is conference president Orin Helgesson (Kurtwood Smith), who determines the winner the prestigious “2 Diamonds Award.” After a workout in his hotel’s fitness center, Tim bumps into Helgesson coming out of the locker room shower. Helgesson loses his towel so Lippe does likewise. Hence our punchline: an entire conversation between these two totally naked men about everything in the world except the fact that they’re naked.

Like I said: similar scenes. But the one in “Cedar Rapids” is funny and the one in “Going the Distance” is not. There are a couple of differences between these two sequences, but none greater than the fact than Helms and Smith are schlubby and unshapely while Long is buff.

There are some genres in which big muscles and proper physical grooming are important: action films, probably; porn, definitely. Not comedy. There isn’t anything funny about muscles unless you use them to make fun of the humorlessness of people with muscles (see: Ben Stiller as jacked movie star Tugg Speedman in “Tropic Thunder”). Long’s muscles aren’t there for meta commentary; they’re there, I suspect, because he had a couple of nude scenes in the film and he wanted to look good in them. That’s both totally understandable and totally antithetical to physical comedy, the art of being funny while looking stupid.

Long committed a cardinal comedy sin: putting vanity ahead of stupidity. Even if we ignore the fact that a record executive who never goes to the gym shouldn’t look like a Chippendales dancer, the scene should be funny because Garrett is so uncomfortable in this alien environment. But without his clothes, Long looks like exactly the sort of body-conscious meathead who knows his way around a tanning salon. And he’s already pretty bronze before he hits spray.

A comedian’s body should be his weapon, not his shield. Will Ferrell runs marathons, but not when he’s doing body humor in one of his films because when he streaks down the road, it’s a lot funnier if he doesn’t look like a marathon runner. That’s why the comparable scene in “Cedar Rapids” gets so many more laughs. Even though we actually do see Tim Lippe working out, his body still looks like that of a regular guy: saggy and undefined. Helms’ physique is an endearing sight. It fits the character, and it enhances the delightful awkwardness of his nude confrontation with Kurtwood Smith, whose body is even more saggy, even more undefinned, even more covered in scraggly, unsightly hair. As a general rule of comedy, any aspect of the human body that can be described as “unsightly” is funny.

I’m not blaming Justin Long here; he’s good in the rest of “Going the Distance.” I’m merely using him as an example of an ongoing change among comic leading men. Sure we’ve always had handsome comedians — Cary Grant was good looking and funny. And I’m well aware that a big part of the pleasure of movies is the pleasure of looking at pretty things. That’s why we have movie stars. But the pleasure of pretty is not always compatible with the pleasure of funny. And as more and more fitness-obsessed leading men rush to get into incredible physical shape, the kind that’s unattainable for anyone who doesn’t have a trainer, a nutritionist, and four assistants, they get further away from the core values that make them funny. Visualize the Justin Long tanning scene with a young, scrawny, pasty Woody Allen and you see what I’m talking about.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.