Is Poop Funny in Movies?

There are a lot of things that divide the movie-going populace. Just a few weeks back, I talked about Inception (2010) and touched briefly on the drastically different views that two groups have of that film. Recently, Jessica at the Velvet Café tackled the different (and divisive) ways that movie-goers use the word “pretentious”. And then, there’s poop. Modern film history is littered with fecal references. A large part of audiences will wince, or flat-out avoid films that are likely to have poop references. Still others will actively seek out these kinds of films. Let’s take a small look at whether or not poop in movies is funny.

Thanks to the wonderful site /Film, the topic of feces on film has been researched a little bit already. As /Film notes, Alfred Hitchcock was likely the first filmmaker to put a flushing toilet on screen in Psycho (1960). As near as I can tell, feces- or references to feces- didn’t start showing up on the screen until the 1970s, and only sporadically even then. As the /Film article points out, 1972 saw Divine eat dog feces in Pink Flamingos. Two years later, Luis Buñuel used defecation for humor in The Phantom of Liberty. Poop humor really exploded in the 1980s, and it has appeared many times ever since. Before determining whether or not it’s funny, let’s take a look at the kinds of poop jokes that are out there in movies.

Indirect/Animal Feces: This is when a character inadvertently steps in animal poop, or a bird takes a dump on their head. This will occasionally lead to another character pointing out that it’s “good luck”.

Noises: The noise brand of poop jokes involves a character taking an outrageously loud dump, or making ridiculous noises. It’s one of the most commonly used versions.

Consumption: There are quite a few movies that involve characters consuming feces. And in one very famous case- Caddyshack (1980)- consuming items that merely look like feces. To this day, I won’t eat a Baby Ruth candy bar.

The “Pie in the Face”: This particular brand doesn’t have to actually hit the face, though it’s been done. The general idea here is that poop is thrown at someone.

The Golgothan from Dogma.

Poop Monsters: These actually exist on celluloid. Three examples off the top of my head: Dogma (1999), Weird Science (1985), and Monsturd (2003).

That’s No Place to Poop!: The Phantom of Liberty is a prime example, with characters defecating at toilets set up at a dining table. This category also includes the number of times characters have crapped their pants. In South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (1999), the boys witness a German guy (on an adult website) defecating on a woman.

Now that we’ve established some ground rules about the kinds of poop jokes in movies, we must ask, “Is poop funny in movies?” It’s a very difficult question to answer. For me, the answer is “sometimes”. Obviously, humor is extremely subjective to begin with, so your results may vary. Here are some rules that I think apply to making poop funny.

-Like any good comedy, fecal or otherwise, there should be a proper setup. The Caddyshack sequence works so well because it’s so protracted, with the kid dropping the candy bar and the theme from Jaws playing.

-Caddyshack also works because it provides the unexpected. Seeing Bill Murray eat the candy bar, and the reaction from Mrs. Smails, was completely unexpected. Catching the audience off guard makes it work on some level. Honestly, I think the Caddyshack poop joke sequence is the best movie poop joke out there.

-The third aspect that can make a poop joke work is the degree of outrageousness. There’s a really fine line there, and I’ll touch on this more in a second. The more outrageous you can make it, the more likely it is to succeed no matter the setup. The Golgothan in Dogma works for that reason. It’s a giant monster made out of feces. However, one must be careful, because…

-You shouldn’t gross out your audience too much. There’s going to be a level of gross out, regardless of anything else you do. But push it too far and you’re going to lose the audience. Austin Powers drinking Fat Bastard’s stool sample is a perfect example. That didn’t make me laugh. It made my stomach turn. The fecal puns were ok, but not nearly enough to compensate for the fact that I wanted to vomit.

-Subtlety can work. The Phantom of Liberty scene is great because the joke isn’t “Hahaha, poop!”, but rather a play on concepts and language. There were two poop jokes in rapid-fire succession in A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas. One worked, the other didn’t. The first- the one that didn’t make me laugh- was when a giant pile of feces was flung at the driver’s side window of their car. But later, we see the same car at the drive-thru (of White Castle, where else?) and the window is partially down. The dookie is plainly visible but nobody even acknowledges it. Harold and Todd carry on an entire conversation with a giant glob of poop in plain view, but don’t even act like it’s there. And I thought that was hilarious.

-A lack of subtlety will sink it for me. If you make it really outrageous but there’s no other purpose or setup than “Someone is going to shit really loudly”, I don’t think that’s funny. It’s an attempt at making something outrageous, but not going far enough. I’ll probably make some people mad, but I’d put the Dumb and Dumber scene in here. But I’ll give a caveat. It didn’t work for me because it wasn’t subtle and it wasn’t outrageous enough to make it funny, but I completely understand if you’re one of the folks who happened to find it perfectly outrageous. More power to you, because laughter is a good thing.

-It helps if poop and poop alone isn’t the only joke. Again, Caddyshack was great because there were also the reactions from the swimmers and Mrs. Smails, and the inside joke that Murray was actually eating a candy bar.

-Juxtaposition helps. Poop is kind of gross, even if it is natural. But if it’s a small child, or a dainty person, we wouldn’t ordinarily associate poop with these groups. Or at least, when babies and small children poop, people understand.

There you have it. There’s no definitive answer, because poop can be both funny and awful, even at the same time. But I think there are some solid guidelines you can follow if you want to make poop work in a movie.


21 Comments

Filed under Humor, Movies

21 responses to “Is Poop Funny in Movies?

  1. Haha, from pretentious to poop, that’s a wonderful jump. :)
    I’m personally not a big fan of poop humour, so I tend to stay away from the kind of movies where it’s abundant.

    Loved your take on it though!

    • That’s an interesting point. There are some movies that are much more likely to have a poop joke. And if you know it’s going to be in there, it robs it of a chance for success.

  2. When you have kids in the age group 5-7 all you have to do is say poop and they laugh…. I haven’t progressed much farther

  3. I think it is really how the joke is structured and putting poop there just because it’s poop then it shouldn’t been. I prefer when there’s a set-up and like you said the Austin Powers reference is just disgusting. The Bunuel is keener and well handled. It is the difference. The same with the American Pie 1 joke. they just go too far with it… But there’s a set-up. Interesting and strange discussion you have here John.

    • The way I see it, someone had to do it. The Harold and Kumar thing is what really set it off because there were two poop jokes back to back and they were done so differently.

  4. Ha, this was a very interesting post. I’d say “barely.” It’s rare that I find a poop joke funny these days.

  5. eldub12

    Holy shit, nice post. My 1 year old is proof that there is nothing funnier than a fart…He already giggles.

  6. Fun post. The one thing I cannot stand is a fart joke (or fart noises). I just don’t find them funny, and it seems like the writers are really desperate for jokes if they go to that level.

    • Yeah, fart jokes are a whole different thing. You’ll never quite get the gross-out level you do with poop jokes (or at least, I don’t) because there’s no visual. In that sense, they’re safer. But they’re also, as you say, not done very well in film and TV.

  7. Is poop funny? You’re goddamn right it is. I wish I had more to add here. I just like poop humor.

  8. Sometimes shit jokes work, like in The Phantom of Liberty and Caddyshack, as you mentioned. Another film (albeit a slightly obvious one) that employs shit as a key plot point and thematic enhancement but not a source of humour is Pasolini’s Salo. I am one of the people that defend that film, but the shit-eating sequence lasts too long and while Pasolini gives fair grounds for why it’s included (a metaphor for junk food), I don’t think an entire section of the movie needed to be devoted to it (as much as I love the scene title “Circle of Shit”). The scene where the girl is forced to eat it is powerful and I would not exclude it, but we didn’t need the dinner sequence where everyone is served shit and one character gives the film’s famous “shit-eating grin”.

    Speaking of shit-eating grins, have you seen Pink Flamingos? A terrible film built on unparalleled awfulness, but decent gross out fun. The famous “epilogue” sequence features the lead actress Divine actually eating a real dog turd. True story. It’s not a fake one, it’s real, and she does actually eat it. Here’s the scene on YouTube, if you can stomach it. The choice of music by John Waters is perfect:

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  10. The guy who met Kevin Meany

    I typically hate poop humor, but I agree that Caddyshack works because of how it was set up. I also think Dumb and Dumber was done well. Sure, it wasn’t subtle, but the humor was the situation that has probably happened to everyone at some time or another coupled with the fact that the toilet wasn’t working.

  11. Stu

    Poop is always funny. There are the days when you let yourself giggle and the ones where your adult self denies in doing so. For me, a big part of whether toilet humor makes an impact is the context: If a nasty poop joke crops up in an otherwise slick and smart comedy, and I’ve long ago given over to laughter, crude humor is likely to elicit more laughter. If I’m already put off by how childish and amateur a film is, I’ll take the feces-related material as more evidence for my viewpoint and become even more stuffy.

  12. Castor

    I once pooped in the middle of the woods in the middle of the night during Land Navigation II at Marine Corps OCS. The pitch dark setting and lack of TP certainly made it fun. But that wasn’t a movie.

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  14. Dude

    New favorite poop joke. Toy Story 3. Potato Head get put in “the box” overnight. When he comes back his response was “It was dark, nothing in there but sand and a couple of Lincoln Logs.”

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