'The Hangover' and male nudity: What's so funny about the penis?
With The Hangover Part II opening — presumably to record-setting box office numbers — this weekend, the best jokes in the movie will fuel watercooler chitchat for weeks. But a few of the biggest gags won’t be repeated in any workplace environment, at least without human resources getting involved: penis gags. We’re not talking about witty lines of dialogue about the male member, but rather scenes of full-frontal dude nudity (or dudity). The Hangover Part II is swimming with penises. Or is it penii?
What is it about the sight of a guy’s junk that’s so funny? Whether it’s Jason Segel’s flaccid funny bone in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, or Sacha Baron Cohen and his hefty Kazakh pal’s wedding tackle in Borat, or Ben Stiller’s snagged-in-a-zipper frank and beans in There’s Something About Mary, the sight of a penis has become a dangling punchline.
Of course, you could argue that it’s about time. For decades, the only area in Hollywood where women seemed to have an advantage over men was in how often they were called on to expose their private parts on camera in gratuitous shower scenes. I suppose it’s some sort of progress that now it’s the men’s turn to be exploited and bare all. But unlike the hundreds of leading ladies who have lathered up in slo-mo over the years, Tinseltown’s recent wangapalooza isn’t presented erotically or for titillation. It’s a source of cheap laughs — a shorthand (pardon the expression) cue for audiences to bust a gut.
Granted, not all dudity is played for laughs. There was nothing funny about Viggo Mortensen’s manhood-bearing bathhouse fight scene in Eastern Promises or Harvey Keitel revealing “Little Harvey” in Bad Lieutenant. But lately, an actor unveiling his twig and berries feels like the new knock-knock joke. Knock-knock. Who’s there? My johnson (zzziiiippp!).
Not so long ago, you didn’t have to actually show a guy’s penis for a penis joke. One of the best running gags in the Austin Powers flicks is Mike Myers’ shagadelic superspy obscuring his twig and berries behind cleverly placed bananas, balloons, and bouquets of flowers. Meanwhile, Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg made us laugh at “D— in a Box” without opening the box and making us peek inside.
But with movies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Borat, and now The Hangover Part II, the ante has been raised. Over time, we’ll become more and more immune to the shock value of dudity and these scenes will become less and less funny and more and more limp. They probably already have. But one thing’s for certain: When Memorial Day weekend is over and all of The Hangover Part II‘s receipts are tallied, every suit in Hollywood will be barking at their underlings for more full-monty gags. So brace yourself for a lot more penii coming soon to a theater near you. All we ask is that they keep them away from 3-D.