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Sept 12, 2006 Ode to the Butt Joke
September 12th, 2006

I rise to speak in praise of one of the easiest, most effective, if little respected gags in animation history, namely the Butt Joke. In the 1930s they were called Fanny Gags. I think the earliest one was in Emile Cohl's Fantasmagorie in 1908. A rather rotund swordsman poked an unsuspecting victim in his derriere with his rapier, causing great mirth. In the Revolutionary War Battle of Saratoga (1777) Polish volunteer General Kozciusko was shot in the ass while inspecting his fortifications, which caused great merriment among the Minutemen. The British commander of Fort Ticonderoga was surprised at night and captured by Colonial hero Ethan Allen in his underwear, which was considered quite funny.

Following the tradition of the great silent comedians like Chaplin and Keaton, almost all major Hollywood cartoon characters have shot, stabbed, or otherwise poked one another in the keister.
courtesy of Dreamworks Animation.

In the classic Tom & Jerry MGM shorts someone was always getting poked or shot in the tuckus. In Disney's Fantasia, in the Beethoven Pastorale Sequence, a flock of giggling cherubim gather to peek at two lovers and their collected keisters form the shape of a heart. In 101 Dalmatians, Jasper the hoodlum gets bitten by Pongo on his butt. You could all list hundreds of cases. When I was at Disney, I became a sort of butt-joke specialist. In Aladdin when the Geni is singing "you gotta list that's three miles long, no doubt, well all you gotta go is rub like soooo.." He took Aladdin's list and rubbed his butt like a towel. I interpreted this gag by turning the Genii's backside into camera and enlarging his butt to leviathan proportions.

Critic Richard Schickel, in his 1967 book the Disney Version, was over-analytical, in my opinion, when he attributed Walt Disney's obsession with butt jokes to some subconscious private fetish. But as Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. The fact is, butt-jokes are not only an easy laugh getter; they are a laugh all around the world. Much of modern comedy doesn't travel well. Some cultures don't understand self-deprecating humor or some colloquialisms just fall flat on a different culture. Jay Leno and David Letterman failed when broadcast in Europe and Gringo Americans scratch their heads when confronted on TV with a over-the-top Latin American clown or wacky Japanese game show.

When we did Beauty and the Beast 1991 it was translated and seen in a hundred languages in a hundred countries. When some of our animators who were born in other countries went home to see the picture, they all came back with the same story. Cogsworth the Clock, who was very funny in English, was very dull in other languages. Most of his humor came from puns like If it's not Baroque, don't fix it!". They all reported the same phenomena- that the biggest laugh in Spanish, German, Polish and Mandarin was when Maurice the father was going to save Belle and his pants kept falling down!
Quick Leopold, put in more Butt Jokes! courtesy

All over the world, from Austria to Zimbabwe, underwear is funny. Poking someone in the tush is funny. I guess sociologists could do a study, but lets say a common denominator of Mankind is a mutual embarrassed recognition of the more ridiculous part of our anatomy.

So cartoonists everywhere, honor the lowly butt joke! Long may it wave!

------------------------------------------------- History for 9/12/2006
Birthdays: Piero 'the Fatuous' DeMedici, King Francis Ist of France-1494, H.L. Mencken, Maurice Chevalier, Ben Blue, Jesse Owens, Barry White, Alfred A. Knopf, Ian Holm, Hans Zimmer, Rachael Ward, Michael Odaatje-author of The English Patient, Margaret Hamilton -"I'm mellllttinnng,,oooohh.." Joe Pantoliano

1866-Theater producer Fred Niblo got stuck with a French ballet troupe stranded and broke after the New York Academy of Music burned down. So he combined the dancers with a rather mundane melodrama and created" The Black Crook" and invented the first true Broadway Musical. It ran for twenty years and was continually revived until 1925.

1940- In southern France near Montignac a pet dog fell through a crack in the ground into an underground chamber. When four boys follow in to retrieve the dog they discover the Lascaux Caves Ice-Age paintings, where, a Stone Age man traced his handprint in chalk is considered the world’s oldest signature.

1941-THE WALT DISNEY STRIKE ENDS- Everyone goes back to work after the NLRB, with a lot of behind the scenes pressure from the Bank of America, settled the dispute. Walt Disney had to recognize the cartoonists guild, give screen credits, double the salaries of low
paid workers retroactive to May 29th and re-hire animator Art Babbitt. Disney immediately got on a train to Washington to try and convince the feds to reverse the decision or get an injunction in court. He failed. Ironically within a few months the war would break out and artists who had been bitter foes would be compelled to work side by side in the U.S. Army Picture Unit.

1945- Young Captain Ronald Reagan was discharged from the US Army Signal Corps. He never left Hollywood but starred in movies, training films and USO benefits. Yet in his old age he acted the great war hero. Some annoyed veterans told me Marlena Deitrich in fishnet stockings and pumps got closer to the fighting than Captain Reagan ever did.

1954- Television comedian Ernie Kovacs married Edie Adams, the Muriel Cigar Girl. They married in Mexico and at the insistence of Kovacs used a priest who read the entire service in Spanish, a language neither of them understood.

1953- THE RED REDHEAD-? McCarthy investigators accuse top t.v. star Lucille Ball of being a communist. She and husband Desi Arnez immediately went and testified that Lucy’s grandfather was an old Socialist who routinely enrolled all his grandkids in the Communist Party as a birthday present. America wouldn’t stand to see their favorite t.v. family go down, so the matter quickly blew over. Years later Desi would condescendingly joke/:" Lucy didn’t even know who the mayor of L.A. was. The only thing that was red about Lucy was her hair, and even that wasn’t real !"

1957- Market researcher James M.Vicary explains at a press conference the theory of Subliminal Advertising. His company proposed to unconsciously compel people to buy products by flashing messages at 1/24th of a second during movies. Even though the concept was discredited (givetomsitomoney) by the American Psychiatric Association (givetomsitomoney) a national panic ensued as people feared brainwashing.

1965- The Beatles release 'Yesterday'.

1966-"Gee Mr. French..." Family Affair premieres on t.v.

1966- The Monkees t.v. show premiered. Two young television executives Bert Schneider and Sam Rafaelson convince their network to make "A Hard Day's Night" for American television. Of the four kids in the make-believe band Mike Nesmith was the only real musician. Micky Dolenz had to be taught how to play the drums the first day of shooting. Insiders nicknamed them "The Pre-Fab Four". Still, the show was a major hit, won Emmy Awards and all their albums went gold. The producers took that success and used it to finance the hit film "Easy Rider". Mike Nesmith later married into the Liquid Paper Company and used his fortune to help start MTV. I confess I had my own Monkees shirt, double row of buttons, puffed sleeves, cobalt blue with tiny red polka dots. Last Train to Clarkesville!

1992- Anthony Perkins, the star of Hitchcock’s Psycho, died of HIV/AIDS. His widow, Berry Berensen the sister of actress Marisa Berensen, died in one of the hijacked airliners that plunged into the World Trade Center on 9-11.

2005- Disneyland Hong Kong opened.