Six Movies That Made Me Pee in My Pants Laughing

Scene from Animal House

Animal House images courtesy Universal Pictures/Oregon Film Factory

Six Movies That Made Me Pee in My Pants Laughing
| published August 13, 2015 |

By Keith H. RobertsThursday Review contributor

OK I admit that this list is subjective, but after Lori Garrett’s list of the five most “re-watchable” movies in her Pantheon, I decided subjective lists are good even if they are intended to get the conversation flowing. And it may seem strange, but the first thing that popped into my skull was a list of those movies that made me double over with laughter and chortle so hard I thought I would experience complete loss of control of my bladder—and I use as my touchstone the time I once peed on myself at summer camp when I was 10 upon witnessing an older counselor instruct us on how to make a disgusting veggie shake in a blender upon which he forgot to attach the lid.

The horrid shake was made of tomato, celery, carrots, blackberries (which he had forced us to pick from the woods) and soy milk. Served him right that he ended up looking like a victim of attacks by both zombies and vampires, and then quickly reconstructed by The Borg.

In that vein, here is my short list of movies—in no particular order—that may require one to wear highly absorbent undergarments for 90 minutes or more:

Scene from Dumb and DumberDumb & Dumber; 1994. Aside from the fact that the movie’s title says it all, this film is so funny that it will never grow old. A combination of slapstick, lowball sight and sound gags, and absurd culture-shock situations, the entire plot revolves around a plan by recently-fired limo driver Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) to return a woman’s briefcase left at the airport. Lloyd and his pal Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels), each unemployed, both clueless, and each stuck down-in-the-dumps, decide to drive from Providence, Rhode Island to Aspen, Colorado to deliver the briefcase and collect—what they believe—will be a juicy reward and their ticket to the good life.

That voyage of discovery is a chance to place our beloved imbeciles in a variety of hilarious predicaments. But the briefcase, as it turns out, is filled with millions in cash—a part of an elaborate kidnapping and ransom plot. Moronic, brainless fun ensues as Lloyd and Harry then “borrow” the money, and burn through the cash in an attempt to inject themselves into Aspen high society. Among the swag they buy up: over-the-top clothes, expensive skiing outfits, and a Lamborghini. Adding to the “complexity” of the plot—a shared love interest by both Lloyd and Harry in the briefcase’s owner, Mary Swanson (Lauren Holly)—a subplot which spurns endless bodily function humor as they compete for Mary’s affections. Some critics panned the film’s lowball comedy, but the movie was hugely successful, launching the trajectory of writers/producers/brothers Peter and Bobby Farrelly, and burnishing the comedic power of Carrey. The film cost only $17 million to produce, but raked in $247 million at theaters, and still rakes in millions each year from DVD, Netflix and cable royalties. Is there a moral lesson? If you’re pets’ heads are falling off, go west.

Scene from Animal House Animal House (aka National Lampoon’s Animal House); 1978. One of the biggest hits of 1978-79, this movie is widely considered the granddaddy of all slob humor/frat comedy flicks. The stellar cast includes John Belushi, Karen Allen, Tim Matheson, Peter Reigert, Stephen Furst, Donald Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, and Tom Hulce. Directed by John Landis from a screenplay by Harold Ramis, Chris Miller and Doug Kenny, it is so popular for its classic comedy lines that the U.S. Library of Congress deemed it significant enough to be included in the National Registry; the film almost always lands on the short lists of “greatest comedies ever made.” Animal House tells the story of a college town campus fraternity (Delta House) in 1962 whose members represent a variety of dysfunctions—culturally, socially, mentally—but a frat house determined to make its own way despite the constant threat that it will be kicked off campus for its endless partying, open firehose intake of alcohol, and its frequent deviations from normative behavior and grade point averages. Residing next door are the members of Omega House, a group of hyper-ambitious social climbers and comically materialistic bullies who serve as Delta’s arch-nemesis. Members of Delta are viewed with scorn and disdain by the uptight Dean, who uses the brown-nosing Omegas as his tool of war against the hoodlums and deviants he wants banned from his campus. There is party rock & roll aplenty; there are road trips, toga parties, beer binges, frat pranks, sex toys, a dead horse in the dean’s office, an epic cafeteria food fight, and a mint-condition black Lincoln Continental that is ultimately destroyed for the sake of mankind. The film ends with grand scale revenge—a quasi-apocalyptic segment of anarchy, slapstick and tear gas.

With this kind of humor, timing is everything, and Landis and his crew crafted a masterpiece. Belushi, as “Bluto,” was at the top of his game, breaking the plane—as it were—repeatedly. In Gary Arnold’s review for the Washington Post, he wrote “Belushi controls a wicked array of conspiratorial expressions with the audience; he can seem irresistibly funny in repose or invest minor slapstick opportunities with a streak of genius.” Matheson and Reigert, as “Otter” and “Boone,” form a high-end pairing of semi-detached, irreverent jokesters whose closest modern comparison might be Hawkeye and McIntyre from the TV series MASH. The movie spawned what may arguably be the longest list of famous comedy quotes in film history. The first film ever attempted by the magazine National Lampoon, it remains its most successful to date, outstripping even the sales of other classics spawned by the satire periodical (National Lampoon’s Vacation is the closest runner-up). Shockingly, the movie cost only $3.1 million to shoot and produce, yet it raked in $141.6 at the U.S. box office alone; another $100 million in Beta, VHS, DVD and Blu-ray rights. Roger Ebert at the time said that the skill required to craft such well-executed comedy rises above the central surface value of a film which at time revels in its own tastelessness, what Time magazine called “abject silliness.” If for some reason you’ve avoided this for decades out of a snobbish adherence to decorum, shame on you for missing one of the funniest movies of all time.

Scene from The Front Page The Front Page; 1974. If there was ever a comedy pairing that went largely underrated in the Old School Days, it was the team of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, a duo whose impeccable sense of timing and range of facial expression seals the deal on this hilarious send-up of the hardscrabble bourbon-drinking days of the hard-charging newspaper reporter. Based on the Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur play of the same name (1928), and a 1931 screen version (which starred Adolphe Menjou and Pat O’Brien), The Front Page tells the story of a skilled reporter “Hildy” Johnson (Lemmon) and his overbearing editor Walter Burns (Matthau). Johnson is leaving his longtime position as a top reporter at the “Chicago Examiner” to marry his sweetheart Peggy (Susan Sarandon), but first he has to outmaneuver the plotting of his boss Burns, who does not want him to leave. On his last day on the job, and only hours before he is to leave by train with his fiancé to a new life, Hildy lands right in the middle of the story of the century—the dramatic escape of a street leftist named Earl Williams (played by Austin Pendleton) who was scheduled to be executed that day. When the desperate Williams turns up hiding in the press room at the downtown jail and courthouse, all manner of comedic mayhem ensues. The cast includes Carol Burnett, Charles Durning, David Wayne, Allen Garfield, and Vincent Gardenia. Great writing with lots of snappy prose (wait, I think that might be a line from the movie) is mixed on-the-mark acting and timing to produce a laugh-a-minute gem.

Scene from Raising Arizona Raising Arizona; 1987. This is one of the movies I never grow tired of, and indeed, every three or four months, I crack open the DVD case and pop this one in to view—complete with the same belly laughs I endured the first time I saw it in the theaters. Written and directed by the brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, some still regard this as their comic masterpiece; indeed, it ranks 31 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 funniest films ever produced. Wildly original, and quirky deadpan to a fault—a Coen Brothers trademark—while also infused with so much slapstick and hard physical comedy that it is impossible not to laugh, the movie is also strangely philosophical, even reverential.

Raising Arizona tells the yarn of H.I. (Hi) McDonough (played by Nicholas Cage), a recently released repeat felon, and his police officer newlywed wife Edwina, or “Ed” for short (played by Holly Hunter), whose decades of law enforcement they believe can overcome Hi’s penchant for convenience store robberies gone awry. Unable to have children, they instead kidnap one infant from a prominent family—furniture store franchise owner Nathan Arizona and his wife—who have given birth to Quintuplets, the so-called “Arizona Quints.” They bring the baby home to their Spartan desert mobile home, and rename “Nathan Junior” after Edwina, christening him “Ed Jr.” But days later, when former cellmates—and recent prison escapee brothers Gale and Evelle Snoats (played to hilarious, grungy perfection by John Goodman and William Forsythe)—show up at Hi’s front door, the idyllic and quiet middle class life of Hi and Ed begins to spiral into a comedic abyss. The movie has the distinction of having both the funniest grocery store robbery ever filmed and the funniest bank robbery ever to go wrong; this, alongside kidnappings, extortion, blackmail, and a gunpoint robbery of party balloons from a convenience store make this the funniest film ever to include multiple felonies, shotguns, pistols and grenades. Also, you won’t believe how much bladder control is lost when you see that canister of anti-theft dye explode in the car. Quirky soundtrack includes yodeling, whistling, harmonicas, banjos, and—improbably—Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony performed entirely on the banjo.

Scene from Airplane Airplane; 1980. The greatest send-up comedy of all-time, Airplane made great sport of the 1970s penchant for disaster flicks, especially those dozens set in the skies. So funny is this movie even now, 35 years after its release, it is still frequently voted Number One Comedy of All Time in many reader polls and by many critics. The team of Jim Abrams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker compressed every comedic trick known into this farce: sight gags, slapstick humor, violent pratfalls, heavy-handed physical humor, background visual gags, wordplay, and some of the most famous puns ever delivered in a movie, including deadpan verbal puns by the straight-faced Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges and Robert Stack. The plot is ingeniously simple: former twin-engine military pilot Ted Striker (played by Robert Hays) must take on the job of flying a crowded modern airliner after the pilot Clarence Oveur (Graves) and co-pilot Roger Murdock (played by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) both fall ill due to food poisoning. Stryker is assisted by his former love interest—now flight attendant—Elaine (played by Julie Hagerty), and a doctor who happens to be on board, played by Leslie Nielsen. Nielsen’s lines are so memorable that some consider him the real star of the movie; but there are dozens of other standouts in key roles, including Bridges and Stack, who help to talk Stryker through his ordeal from their air traffic control center on the ground in Chicago. The film is somewhat unique in that it was the first time that actors Nielsen, Stack and Bridges had ever attempted comedy—and all but Nielsen were originally skeptical of the script. Graves and his agent both rejected it outright as tasteless. In the end, however, the casting proved to be an act of genius. What could be funnier than a plane filled with food poisoning sufferers and the threat that they might all crash and die in a fiery explosion? In truth, not much; this movie has more laughs packed into any given ten minutes than most movies have in 90 minutes.

Scene from Brother, Where Art Thou? O Brother, Where Art Thou?; 2000. Normally I wouldn’t crowd a list this short with back-to-back writer-director teams, but the Coen Brothers are one of my favorites, as you can see. Their quirky vision of life, their gift for unusual and original visuals, and their uncanny sense of timing give them a unique place in the contemporary comedy film. The movie features George Clooney as Ulysses “Everett” McGill, John Turturro as Pete Hogwallop, and Tim Blake Nelson as Delmar O’Donnell, convicted felons and prisoners who manage to escape from a chain gain in rural Mississippi in the 1930s. They intend to locate hidden treasure, a cash stash which Everett says he has hidden in the valley soon to be flooded because of the construction of a dam. What follows is a journey and adventure tale infused with so much deadpan comedy and dry irony that it is hard not to watch.

A few moviegoers may be put off by the film within minutes and never recover, but most people are sucked in as if by hypnotism, for the atmospheric settings and dazzling visuals are hard to escape—as is Clooney’s remarkable gift for comic timing. If our three protagonists—and the colorful characters they encounter along their complex, sometimes painful journey—seem familiar, it’s because the story is built upon Homer’s The Odyssey, complete with blind savants, one-eyed ogres and seductive sirens. Our trio get to meet the governor, the infamous bank robber Charles “Baby Face” Nelson, and later narrowly escape death several times—including a KKK lynching in a remote wooded area. Co-stars Holly Hunter, John Goodman, Charles Durning and Michael Badalucco add to a colorful cast. Many of the characters have parallels in The Odyssey: John Goodman’s “Big Dan” Teague is the character of Polyphemus from the ancient text; Durning’s portrayal of Governor Pappy O’Daniel, while a close parallel to a Texas governor of the same name, is meant to serve as Menelaus from Homerian stories; blind radio station manager and commentator Mr. Lund, played by Stephen Root, is the voice of Homer, the storyteller; Holly Hunter is Penelope; and so forth. Other characters do not share the mythical Homerian connection, such as Tommy Johnson (played by Chris Thomas King), the African-American hitchhiker who tells the trio that he has traded his soul to Satan in exchange for skill on the blues guitar—an instantly recognizable parallel to the real-life Robert Johnson, for whom it was also said—according to old school blues legends—to have obtained guitar prowess in a deal with the Devil. Like “Hi” in Raising Arizona, our chief protagonist (Clooney) is also a bit of a philosopher, though a gabbier, self-affecting poet—constantly trying to explain the events of the day to his hapless comrades as they move from one setback to the next. Though the film has its share of slapstick moments, along with substantial physical humor, it is not the pratfalls that keep it funny, but instead the combination of scripting, timing, and even music which make it land in my top six.

Disagree with my list? Have an opinion of your own? Sue me. Or, better still—and much less costly—send us your own list of your favorite laugh-a-minute films. We’ll print it here. You say “surely you’re joking?” Well, I never joke, and don’t call me Shirley.

Image credits for this article: Animal House images courtesy Universal Pictures/Oregon Film Factory; Dumb & Dumber, photo courtesy of New Line Cinema/Motion Picture Corp of America; The Front Page, image courtesy of Universal Pictures; Raising Arizona, image courtesy of Circle Films/20th Century Fox; Airplane image courtesy of Paramount Pictures/Paramount Home Video; O Brother Where Art Thou? image courtesy of Touchstone Pictures/Universal Pictures/StudioCanal.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Top Five Most Rewatchable Movies; Lori Garrett; Thursday Review; May 19, 2015.

The Breakfast Club’s Missing Script; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; April 22, 2015.