Monday, April 27, 2015

Adam Sandler's 'Ridiculous Six' Incidents Reminds Us Comedy is Offensive But Also Should be Funny


Adam Sandler movies aren't really known for their sensitivity and progressiveness. To be fair, I almost always subscribe to the theory that almost any joke isn't offensive if it is actually funny. The problem is that funny isn't the right word to describe Sandler "comedies" from the last several years. Though the counter-argument was that they at least had a huge paying audience, but the Sandler fans willing to pay to see him in the cinemas have dwindled. This could be one of the reasons that motivated Sandler to ink the four movie Netflix deal (the service claims his movies are still hits) that provides very similar budgets to his cinematic movies.

It appears Sandler's first Netflix movie The Ridiculous Six is following more than just a similar budget of his past movies but also staying true to his movie tradition of poking fun at other cultures and people. But this time around he has gleefully dived far enough into the offensiveness pool that it has led to several Native American actors threaten to walk off the set.

I'm sure this is yet another incident that allows the usual suspects to once again moan the rise of "political correctness" and how humourless the "P.C. Crusaders" can be. You can go a long way back to many classic comedies that contain jokes that play on racial stereotypes or contain very risqué jokes. Mickey Rooney in yellowface is an offensive and awful joke that some are able to give a pass and can still praise the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's with a "it was a different time." The really great Walter Matthau thriller (with strong comedic elements), The Taking Pelham 123, has a really uncomfortable scene near the beginning with Matthau dealing with some bewildered Japanese businessmen, but I can accept it as an artifact from the past. This isn't necessarily to defend those movies, because offensive and racist is always going to be offensive and racist. The perceptions at the time were different. I'm left wondering why a 2015 production would think that tired stereotypes and offensive caricatures was the road to comedy gold.


Ridiculous Six isn't even the first western comedy that has risqué and politically incorrect humour. Blazing Saddles is long held up as a comedy classic and I believe also likely the reason we even have movies like this or A Million Ways to Die in the West. Saddles does have what can be described as tasteless humour and does play on some stereotypes, but it also has an African American lead and was created with the intention to skewer various elements of classic Westerns including the inherent racism that exists in many of them (like the depiction of Native Americans).

I'm well aware that racial jokes haven't suddenly evaporated from modern culture. Russell Peters and Chris Rock have established themselves as stand-up comedian superstars with a huge portion of their jokes playing on stereotypes and racial humour. I'm not claiming that white people can't make offensive joked either because Louis C.K. as made his name on controversial jokes and even has an entire routine over disgusting racist slang. The big thing about Blazing Saddles and these comedians are they are almost always funny. You might think to yourself, "I can't believe they went there" but you're laughing too hard to take umbrage.

The key thing in all of this is that if one is going to be controversial and insensitive and offensive, then you better make sure you're actually funny. Saddles, Louis, Peters and Rock have their detractors, but for the most part they avoid mass backlash because their jokes are brilliant and hilarious. Brilliant and hilarious aren't words often associated with modern Sandler.

Vanilla Ice is apparently cast in The Ridiculous Six, and has defended the movie by saying they aren't trying to make Dances with Wolves but rather a comedy. Yet I've read some of the material that has been considered offensive or is causing the actors to walk out, and I'm left questioning if it is really a comedy. Comedies are still supposed to be funny, right?

There is potential this could be the funniest Sandler movie of all time and that I've incorrectly judged the movie before seeing it. I'll happily gobble up crow if this turns out to be a classic (though remember I eagerly want to cheer for Sandler). I have a hard time thinking we're dealing with genius comedy when the name Beaver Breath is apparently such a crucial and golden joke that the producers refuse to remove it from the script despite it offending some of the cast. If that is the top shelf must not remove material then I'm really scared to see what is the filler stuff. It is a third-rate Grade 7 joke at best and something that should be easy to discard if it means keeping it will lose a huge part of the cast. I have fears the writers were high-fiving themselves over the brilliance of the gag.

The golden Native American jokes don't end, as there are such wonders liker another character called Sits-On Face, a gag with an Apache women squatting and peeing while smoking a peace pipe, a sure to be legendary comic line in ""Say honey: how about after this, we go someplace and I put my peepee in your teepee?", and feathers inappropriately placed on a teepee to look like genitals. If you're going to offend the Navajo nation and many other Native Americans then you'd at least hope you had jokes at least a bit witty and could garner a chuckle. The jokes in this movie are more offensive because this is what is being passed as comedy. The Ridiculous Six might even be a much better and funnier movie if they are forced to give into some demands, so this time around the outrage might also improve the movie (if the producers stop trying to argue it isn't mean to insult anyone in front of many insulted actors).

After the last few movies not called Grown-Ups 2 turned out to be financial disappointments, I had believed and hoped Sandler had been motivated to create more ambitious pictures. At least, he seemed to be working in more ensemble feature with both Pixels and The Ridiculous Six. Both movies are melding comedies with other genres as Pixels has obvious sci-fi elements and Six being a Western. The movies are trying to be something different than the past. Except not having a typical Sandler movie plot isn't the same as avoiding doing a typical Sandler movie. We'll find out about Pixels this summer, but at this point, Six seems the same juvenile and unfunny jokes that have diminished the Sandler name.

Hopefully, Sandler or a producer wakes up and realizes the reality of comedy. Yes, most comedy is playing around with offensive subjects. Comedy is abrasive and risqué. Most comedy is about playing around with dark thoughts and tackling material that is perceived as too-hot to handle. But it seems The Ridiculous Six is forgetting the most important part, it has to be funny.

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