A-List: Raunchy Comedies
By Kim Hollis
May 26, 2011

We got a bleeder!

With Bridesmaids still finding audiences and The Hangover II coming to theaters this weekend, it seems the perfect time to talk about other raunchy comedies. Over the years we've laughed (and cried…and snorted) at these ribald flicks. I first fell in love with the genre as a teenager, and when I think about the reasons why, I compare it to my delight at the time with the AC/DC song “Big Balls.” I enjoyed these things then because I was immature and silly. Why do I enjoy them now? Well…because I’m still immature and silly. That little piece of me is never going away.

And so, to celebrate the return of the A-List, which had been on a brief sabbatical, I’m going to highlight some of my favorite vulgar, offensively hilarious comedies from the past few decades. There’s a good chance I’ve omitted your particular favorite, and chances are I agonized over including it. Chances are, you've skipped over this introduction anyway to get straight to the list. I know how you people are.

Animal House

I've always had a tremendous soft spot for this film, not the least because it's one of my father's favorite movies. You could say that John Belushi owns the film as Bluto, but that wouldn't be entirely accurate as he's more of a peripheral character than you might think. He is responsible for some of the film's funniest moments, from "I'm a zit" to "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?" to "TOGA!" But the movie endures because we root for the lovable losers of Delta Tau Chi - Otter (Tim Matheson, in a great cocky turn), Boon (Peter Riegert), Pinto (future Academy Award nominee Thomas Hulce), Flounder (Stephen Furst), and D-Day (who I just all of a sudden realized is Bruce McGill).

Of course, these guys couldn't have been our heroes without perfect foils such as Dean Wormer (John Vernon) and the men of Omega House, most particularly Douglas C. Niedermeyer (Mark Metcalf). "Is that a pledge pin? On your uniform?" sounds like the most mundane of lines, but when Metcalf delivers it, spittle and all, the material is elevated to another level.

The interconnected, episodic story allows time to focus on all of the different personalities, and by the time the film arrives at the big homecoming parade with the rogue "Eat Me" float that is used to hijack the proceedings, we are fully in the Deltas' corner. We have toga'd, we have Shouted, we have road tripped, and we have learned their future fates - one will become President of the United States, one will marry, then divorce, then re-marry, then re-divorce, then re-marry and one will become editor of National Lampoon Magazine. If you don't want to go out and pledge Delta Tau Chi after seeing it…well, you're probably a Niedermeyer.

Bachelor Party

Before Tom Hanks was *that* Tom Hanks - you know, the two-time Academy Award winner and big-time producer - he was making a name for himself in the world of comedy. And although he starred in more family-friendly stuff such as Splash and Big (and Family Ties!) early on, I've always found myself most drawn to his smarmy, sarcastic party animal character Rick Gassko in Bachelor Party more than almost any other one he's ever played.

Yes, Bachelor Party is a great guilty pleasure of mine, and shows that wild, alcohol-fueled debauchery was just as crazy in the 1980s as it is for the boys of The Hangover today - and maybe more so. (I'm pretty sure that nowhere in The Hangover is there a situation where a prostitute might consider…relations with a cocaine-snorting donkey - though Kevin Smith certainly saw fit to bring it back for Clerks II.) Through it all, Rick maintains a level of sweetness - we know that his heart is really with his bride (Tawny Kitaen, before she lost her mind). I'm not 100% certain that all the gags hold up well today, but even so, there's a comfort that comes with knowing what's about to happen next - and watching Rick be completely adorable while he chases Debbie around with a kitchen utensil.

There's Something About Mary

It's pretty much impossible to talk raunchy comedy without including There's Something About Mary, the Farrelly Brothers' outrageously funny film that sent Ben Stiller's career into the stratosphere (and gave Cameron Diaz a nice little boost, too). During the summer of 1998, everyone was talking about the movie (well, it and Titanic, which was still going strong after several months in theaters) and I remember sitting in a very enthusiastic audience that guffawed at every gag (franks and beans!), making the experience communal and universal.

As with Bachelor Party, it helps to have a protagonist who's so easy to root for. Sure, Ted's initial motivations might be kind of creepy, but we quickly accept that Mary is just so special that it only makes sense that all kinds of suitors would do crazy things for the sake of catching her fancy. Diaz is at her most winning, and it's also a nice opportunity to see Brett Favre when Brett Favre was worthy of a lot more than disdain. Although the Farellys would come close to recapturing that same sort of sweetness combined with vulgarity in the Jack Black film Shallow Hall, they never quite attained the same heights they found with There's Something About Mary.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin
It's hard to imagine that there was a time when Steve Carell was just a Daily Show correspondent who had made the leap to supporting roles in films like Bruce Almighty and Anchorman. A time when Judd Apatow was just a dude who had produced and directed two failed (but spectacular) TV series in Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. A time when Seth Rogen was just that dumpy-but-funny kid from those same TV series. A time when Jane Lynch was a member of Christopher Guest's mockumentary troupe but little known outside those circles. A time when Jonah Hill was happy to have a role such as "eBay Store Customer."

How the world has changed in the six years since The 40-Year-Old Virgin broke out as a surprise comedy hit, earning $177 million worldwide. Now, Steve Carell is synonymous with Michael Scott, though he has played that role for perhaps the final time. Apatow has just produced Bridesmaids and continues to grow his comedy empire. Rogen is a dude who can open a marginal superhero flick like Green Hornet to the tune of $33.5 million on its opening weekend. Lynch is an Emmy-winning superstar who has turned Glee's Sue Sylvester into a cultural icon. And Jonah Hill is a guy who keeps showing up like a bad penny (I can find him annoying, but at the same time he can pleasantly surprise).

The 40-Year-Old Virgin is, obviously, vulgar and crudely funny, but like most of the films on this list, the easily identifiable characters are what make the film work. We really care about Andy's awkward problem - and it's kind of nice that there's not really anything "wrong" with him other than a slight social awkwardness and tendency to collect super nerdy things. The humor comes from the situations that it's easy to imagine he'd find himself in - from speed dating to blind dates to painful, painful hair waxing. Carell is a delight in the role of Andy, as I strongly prefer him in these semi-sweet roles rather than the boisterously annoying and uncomfortable Michael Scott. If you feel the same, I strongly recommend Little Miss Sunshine and Dan in Real Life as well.

American Pie

Here's a film that I had on the list, then took off the list, then put back on the list again. I think we all know why this one is here - think apple pie sex, MILF and band camp if you need a memory jogger. American Pie is sometimes rough around the edges due to the inexperience of its performers, but it's one of those teen flicks that manages to appeal to both dudes *and* chicks. The guys can laugh and knowingly nod at the experience of desperately trying to lose virginity (oh, and they can also ogle Shannon Elizabeth), while the ladies can smile at the youthful romances between Kevin/Vicky (Thomas Ian Nicholas/Tara Reid) and Oz/Heather (Chris Klein/Mena Suvari).

Of course, American Pie wouldn't be American Pie without Steve Stifler (Seann William Scott), the hyper-insensitive, rude jerk who is so annoying it's hard to believe the main characters would want to hang out with him. But everyone knew someone like that in high school, and Scott somehow manages to keep Stifler from being completely insufferable, which is critical when you realize that he's the breakout star of the film.

Above all, American Pie is packed lovable characters and is never mean-spirited the way so many films of the genre prove to be. It's far from perfect, but the ride (heh heh) is always a fun one. I'm sure Stifler's mom would agree.