Abominable showman Tom Green returns with the supremely twisted "Freddy Got Fingered." How in the world did he get away with it?

By Noah Robischon
April 20, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
  • Movie

Tom Green has cojones.

Despite losing one testicle, rather publicly, to the ravages of cancer, the comedian recently completed directing his first feature, Freddy Got Fingered, which he also managed to cowrite and star in. Want more proof of his audacity? Green boasts that it’s ”the stupidest, most disgusting movie you’ve ever seen.”

And that’s coming from a professional prankster who built a career out of cracking open cow heads on Canadian television, eating live worms on MTV, and tonguing a live mouse in Road Trip. Isn’t there anything that sets off his gag reflex? ”Not a lot,” says Drew Barrymore, Green’s is-she-or-isn’t-she wife. ”I do try to test him, too. I pick his boogers.”

She’ll have plenty to dig for on this sunny early-spring day, because at the moment her honey is suffering from an awful cold. ”Is it inappropriate for me to blow my nose at the table, even though we’re at a nice hotel?” Green asks, surveying the other diners on the rooftop of the Beverly Hills Peninsula. When the Miss Manners moment passes, the lanky 29-year-old heaves into a tissue. ”It’s not as loud as I thought,” he says, looking at the crumpled wad. ”Now what do you do with this s—?”

Turn it into a movie?

This would seem a natural for gross-out whiz Green. But no matter how primed audiences are for more of his patented dead-moose humping, the ghastly gags in Freddy Got Fingered, opening April 20, will likely astonish them. To wit (or is that witless?), the movie features the star masturbating a live horse in graphic detail and prancing around inside the skin of what appears to be a gutted deer; costar Rip Torn being sprayed with (fake) elephant ejaculate; Green’s paraplegic love interest (Marisa Coughlan) getting off by getting caned. Even the sexual abuse of children is played for laughs.

Since it’s targeted to Green’s large Clearasil-drenched fan base, the comedy (produced by New Regency and distributed by Twentieth Century Fox) will be among the first R-rated releases to stress-test the new marketing guidelines suggested by the Motion Picture Association of America, prompted by last fall’s Federal Trade Commission report on violent product. It’s now considered verboten for studios to run trailers for violent R-rated films before G movies (some studios are even keeping them away from PG and PG-13 movies); to advertise restricted fare on TV shows whose viewers include a large percentage of kids under 17; and to test-screen the films to that demographic. Adherence to these rules is voluntary, but the penalty for violating them is the threat of legislation.

Fox execs refuse to comment on their marketing strategy for Freddy. No surprise. The R-rating issue is so thorny that studios all over Hollywood are loath to publicly touch on the subject at all. ”No one is positioning themselves,” says one studio exec who insisted on anonymity. ”It comes up in all meetings, and not in terms of how to get around something but how to properly address the situation.”

And so far it appears the studios haven’t figured out how to balance their responsibility to audiences with their own bottom lines. Just look at the fate of the two latest R-rated teen-oriented comedies. The Farrelly brothers-produced incest-themed Say It Isn’t So tanked at the box office ($5.3 million at press time), while Tomcats, which turns into something of an homage to Green when a diseased testicle lands in a doctor’s mouth, has grossed just $11 million.

But Tom Green’s through with diseased testicles; for his cinematic statement, he’s got bigger fish to flail. “It’s not a plastic c–k,” he brags about Freddy’s explicit horseplay. “It’s a real horse…and there’s a close-up of my hand.” But say the same gag was performed by a babe in a bikini; wouldn’t that be illegal, or at least triple X? MPAA president Jack Valenti, who says he hasn’t seen the film, claims gender neutrality when it comes to animal fondling. “It depends on the movie,” he says. “I don’t think we make any distinctions on that.”

Even Green and his cowriter, pal Derek Harvie, were surprised they got away with so much, after expecting to do battle with the ratings board over at least 10 extreme set pieces. “We were writing extra crazy scenes just to preserve the crazy scenes we wanted,” says Harvie, 29. And while Valenti claims “scenes were cut out of [the movie],” he won’t, citing MPAA policy, say which ones. But Green contends the MPAA gave him everything he wanted, including the R rating.

Theoretically, that should keep a sizable portion of Green’s MTV crowd away—at least the portion that goes to bed early. The network’s plan to air a promotional Freddy Got Fingered Movie Special April 8 at 9 p.m. was scotched at the last minute (The Andy Dick Show appeared instead). The fallback slot: April 11 at 10:30. Special producer Jim Biederman blames the move on a scheduling mishap. New Regency’s take? “It’s an R-rated film,” says spokesman Michael Brown, stressing that the time slot was up to MTV. “I’m not going to market it for an audience that isn’t adults.”

So how are kids gonna get their Freddy? “They can sneak in,” says Harvie. “All you have to do if you’re under 17 is walk with a purpose. Maybe you should wear a suit or something—your dad’s suit.” Valenti bristles at that suggestion. “Trying to tell kids how to sneak into a movie,” he says, “is really kind of despicable.”

But then, snubbing authority is what Freddy is all about. Essentially a 93-minute rant against McJobs and McLives, the movie finds time to exploit Green’s fondness for food-play humor and non-sequitur slapstick. And there is a story line: Gord Brody (Green), a 28-year-old aspiring cartoonist, is forced to move back home, where he engages in increasingly destructive generational warfare with his disapproving father (Rip Torn). Gord isn’t the brightest skateboarder on the ramp, and his stupidity becomes the pretext for the movie’s most disturbing sequences. While visiting an injured friend in the hospital, instead of alerting a doctor when a woman goes into labor, Gord delivers the newborn himself. But he takes things a step further by biting the umbilical cord like a rabid fox and swinging the blood-soaked baby over his head as if it were a lasso. “Last night at the screening, right after that scene, seven girls got up, walked out of the movie,” says Green, sniffling over a plate of runny eggs Benedict. “It’s my favorite scene.”

And as long as his devotees are doubled over laughing, Green is happy to repel everyone else. “That, to me, is as exciting as getting a laugh,” he says. Green believes audiences should be treated to something they’ve never seen on the big screen before—no small feat when the feces-fixated skate punks of MTV‘s Jackass are upping the ante on the small screen every week. “I want to f— up people,” he says. “Whether positive or negative.”

Some will no doubt argue that when the Brodys decide to visit a family therapist, Green’s cynicism reaches its nadir. In that scene, Gord falsely accuses his father of molesting his 25-year-old brother, Freddy (Eddie Kaye Thomas), an allegation that sends Dad into a drunken rage and Freddy into protective custody at an institution for sexually abused children. To Beth Haseltine, executive director of Red Flag Green Flag Resources, an international organization devoted to sex-abuse prevention, this sounds like a dangerous turn for a comedy. “When you have someone…making fun of a very serious thing that happens to way too many children in this country, it minimizes the pain,” she says. It reinforces the myth that people who make such charges are only out for revenge, she argues, when the bigger problem is that two thirds of all sexual assaults go unreported. “Even the title of this [movie] makes me sick.”

Green wouldn’t have it any other way. He shrugs off any responsibility for the effect his work might have on society at large, saying “It’s obviously done in a way that’s absurd and stupid, and I think people know that.” He compares Freddy‘s unsavory humor to the scandals and gross-outs of eras past: Elvis’ swaying hips, Monty Python’s vomiting overeaters and involuntary organ donors. “Now they’re saying Eminem is this crazy thing,” says Green. “Back then they said it was Ozzy Osbourne biting the heads off of bats. It just keeps going full circle.”

Green’s popularity is, after all, fueled by pushing the limits of good taste. “Part of art’s function is to destroy and shock the conventions of the preceding generation,” says Road Trip producer Ivan Reitman. “My generation had National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live‘s group of characters that spoke for us…The ’90s are represented by guys like Howard Stern [and] Tom Green.”

Ever since Green first made a jump rope out of sheeps’ heads on Canadian TV, he’s been ratcheting up the intensity of his abattoir humor. At least Freddy‘s $15 million budget afforded him the opportunity to gut an imitation deer instead of his usual fresh roadkill. And because the movie bears the imprimatur of the American Humane Association, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is less concerned with Green’s antics than usual. But PETA director Dan Mathews says the activist group does hope Barrymore—a runner-up in last year’s Sexiest Vegetarian Alive contest—”will have some positive influence on him.”

It all started with that timeless classic: the cup of water balanced on the top of a door (which ended up dousing the 5-year-old Green’s dad). As a teen skateboarder in Ottawa, Green entertained his posse by tricking strangers into believing he was truly stupid, not just acting that way: He’d do something like go to McDonald’s and take 30 minutes to order a burger and fries. This brand of confrontational comedy, inspired by David Letterman, Monty Python, and SCTV, was dubbed “razzing” by Green and his buddies.

Razzing turned into ratings during The Tom Green Show‘s two-year run on Canada’s Comedy Network. The show migrated to MTV in an altered format in 1999. And with parents Richard, a retired armed forces captain, and Mary Jane, a homemaker, as the butts of his finest jokes, Green was an instant sensation: His show was second only to The Real World in popularity. “He redefined the talk show,” says Brian Graden, MTV‘s head of programming. “He goes out and almost dares people…to say out loud that they’re annoyed.”

But fame literally became an obstacle for Green during the MTV show’s second and final season. Capturing a genuine response from the people he accosted—often with a poop-covered microphone—was nearly impossible. Things got so desperate, he says, his crew would drive around in vans with tinted windows “until we saw a lady who looked like she didn’t have cable, and jump out and make fun of her.” And while he plans on shooting a couple of specials each year, North America won’t be his stomping ground. “We’ll probably do some crazy road documentary,” says Green. “Go to China and f— with people over there.”

Or perhaps just stick to making movies. After a small part in the SNL-skit-writ-large Superstar, Green appeared in a series of in-your-face commercials for Pepsi One and BigWords.com. He followed those with a memorable supporting role as a geeky campus guide in last summer’s $69 million-grossing Road Trip and a bit part in Charlie’s Angels. It was on the latter film that he met Barrymore, his 26-year-old bride—or at least that’s the story they’re telling this week. Green has been toying with the media since announcing their engagement last July. While hosting SNL in November, he promised an on-air wedding but staged a jilting at the altar instead. And in an interview for Playboy conducted months ago, Green joked that the couple had exchanged vows in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Both Barrymore and her publicist say the ceremony did indeed take place—in March. “Whatever she told you is true,” says Green. “She doesn’t lie as much as I do.” One thing’s certain: The matrimonial high jinks, and the fire that destroyed the couple’s Beverly Hills home in February, have kept Green in the headlines.

Even before he achieved such renown, the Freddy script was being written for Disney. But when studio chief Joe Roth left to form Revolution Studios (now coproducing a comedy starring Green and Jason Lee), Freddy got stalled. By then, Idiot Culture had moved into our collective basement, and when Green shopped the project around, New Regency saw its “cool point of view,” says production president Sanford Panitch. “The War of the Roses idea really appealed to me.” Green wasn’t, however, the first choice for director. But the initial pick, music-video vet Russell Bates, didn’t quite share Green’s vision. It wasn’t the outrageous content, Bates says: “My problems lay more in the structure of the story and the use of the characters.” But Green wanted to stay faithful to the script as written, so Bates bailed two months into preproduction.

Green pitched himself as a replacement. And the next day the studio decided that “maybe it made sense,” says Panitch, since Green had overseen his own TV show for years. “He’s one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with,” says Rip Torn, who’s been cued by the award-winning likes of Curtis Hanson and Michael Mann. “And certainly one of the most fun guys to be around.” Which must have been especially important on the days when the Emmy-winning actor had to expose his bum or get coated in tapioca-flavored elephant semen.

After blowing what seemed like every brain cell out of his nose over breakfast, Tom Green says he’s spending the afternoon in bed. But he’s not feeling too bad—his movie came out exactly the way he’d hoped. In fact, the day Freddy Got Fingered landed its R rating (for “crude, sexual and bizarre humor and strong language”), Panitch called the filmmaker to tell him the news: “[Tom] paused and said, ‘We just killed the gross-out genre.'” Now the only question is whether or not anyone will stick around to hump the carcass. (Additional reporting by Fred Schruers)

  • Movie
  • R
  • 93 minutes
  • Tom Green
Complete Coverage