dir. Louis CK
I used to have strict comedy rules: not only were there certain things I did and did not find funny, I was adamant (to myself mostly; I didn’t have friends as a young’un) that certain things were inherently funny and others completely devoid of comedic potential. Invariably, most of these rules—because, in addition to being friendless, I was a pretentious goddamn teen—rested on the level of the intended humor’s sophistication, wit, what-have-you. I looked down on scatological humor, on silly humor, on dumb humor; this shit was too lowest common denominator for my tastes (man, my younger self is so punchable). Even when presented with examples of funny low-brow humor I would contort my face beyond recognition, trying to hold back the laughter. No, that’s not funny; it can’t be because it violates one of my comedy rules.
Who knows why I was such a comedy prick? Maybe I was just over-compensating for my lower class background. I couldn’t find low-brow humor funny because I had to rise above my social station. Who knows what kind of over-compensation for an inferiority complex caused this? It just was what it was.
As I aged, however, those imaginary rules got thrown out the goddamn window. I realized, who gives a shit? If something makes me laugh, it makes me laugh. Who knows why? Who cares why? No need trying to justify it. It just hit the giggle center in my brain: that’s all that matters—no need to try to understand it, either. So, I’m always slightly reluctant to review comedies here. Dissecting funny seems rather pointless. In examining and trying to intellectualize what I find funny and why it makes me laugh, don’t I risk turning it not funny? (Jesus, this might be one of my douchiest intros ever.)
Possibly. But let’s do it, anyway.
With Louis CK’s Pootie Tang, a movie my younger self would have found far too dumb to enjoy, I think I might be setting myself up for failure. There’s no real way to write about this movie and still produce an entertaining review. Not that I don’t like the movie. Far from it—CK’s debut feature is one of the funniest movies I’ve seen; and not in spite of its dumb humor but because of it. And make no mistake about it, Pootie Tang is dumb—purposefully, proudly dumb, dumb in a way only a comedic genius could concoct. Of course, it should be noted that though comedic genius Louis CK may be billed as the creative driving force of this movie, he was unceremoniously let go during post-production, studio hacks finishing the editing of the picture.
(Incidentally, I’d love to see a director’s cut of this picture. Pootie Tang as CK originally intended is no doubt an inspired masterpiece, and not just a damn funny picture. Also, most of the following backstory on the film is merely speculation from me based on half-remembered things I think I once heard about the production of this film. So take everything with a grain of salt.)
Though the studio’s inability to get behind CK’s vision was no doubt frustrating for the young comedian, it was at least understandable. You see, one of Pootie Tang’s chief conceits is that its main character—a magic-belt wielding, cartoon amalgam of every glorious Blaxploitation cliché—speaks in a mutated, indecipherable slang that all those around him inexplicably understand (a dialogue technique, incidentally, Louis would revisit and use to great effect on his inspired show Louie). When CK presented the film to the studio, they felt a voice-over was necessary to explain to the audience the hows and whys of this. You can’t just have a character speak gibberish and not explain why everyone can understand him. Also, how will audiences know what Pootie is saying if it’s indecipherable?
But, of course, that’s one of the genius points of this movie: you don’t really need to know his exact words, because these clichéd situations are so familiar, the context clues of others’ responses so informative, and general chit-chat so predictable and empty of meaning that you can get the idea of the non-things people are saying even when you can’t hear what they’re not saying (huh?).
So, since Louis was required to dumb down the movie for the masses he went overboard. He employed voice-over to not only explain the dialogue, but everything else. And by everything else, I mean everything else. When a character is introduced, the voiceover explains who the hell that bitch is; when that character reappears in the next scene, the voiceover explains that it’s the character we were just introduced to in the previous scene; when characters laugh, the voiceover explains that the characters found the situation funny. In one scene, the voiceover even repeats every line of dialogue the characters are saying, just in case we didn’t hear it the first time. Grating at first, this purposefully obtrusive, over-explanatory narration becomes funny through repetition. It is almost an experiment in audience abuse, wherein we eventually have no choice but to relent to its will.
Such is the movie as a whole. I really couldn’t explain to you why the image of a lithe, pimped-out urban superhero using his belt to beat evil-doers into submission is funny, but it sure makes me happy.