Sunday, October 28, 2012

Little Boys and the Magic of Butt Jokes

I would like to think I’m a pretty funny guy. I’ve contributed many articles to MAD Magazine, I wrote a regular humor column for the Arizona Republic for several years, and when I’m walking around in the mall people often point at me and laugh. True, in high school I lost my bid for “Class Comedian” to Vinny Conenna, but I think that’s largely because his main campaign pitch was, “Vote for me or I’ll beat you to a bloody pulp.” Nonetheless, I think that most people find me somewhat amusing. (Especially at the mall, it seems.)

Yet, despite my finely honed humor skills I have come to learn that nothing can make my 6-year­-old and 3-year-old sons laugh like the word “butt.” In fact, all I have to do is insert the word “butt” randomly into any sentence and I can guarantee uproarious laughter from my kids. If I were particularly ambitious and inserted the word twice into the same sentence, it would result in the two of them rolling around the floor laughing and clutching their sides. I would never even attempt three times in the same sentence for fear of having to take one or both of them to the hospital in respiratory distress.

Why my boys find the word “butt” so hysterically funny I can’t quite say. It’s not as though my wife and I have gone out of our way to raise them on a diet of butt jokes and Cheerios. But I have noticed that this phenomenon is not unique to them. It seems that all boys in this age range are similarly amused by the mere mention of the “B-word.”

A few months back we took my older son to his Kindergarten orientation. While the teacher spoke to the parents about what she would be teaching her students, the kids were in the play area getting to know each other. My son is a bit shy and at first he was playing by himself, but after a little while he was playing with another boy. When it was time to go, I went over to collect my son and he and the other boy were laughing and pointing at a stuffed animal while simultaneously saying, “Look at his butt!” Yes, they bonded over the word “butt.”

The incident above raises another interesting point. Perhaps the only thing funnier to a young boy than the word “butt” is the sight of a butt—on a stuffed animal, an action figure, or especially in a TV show or movie. I’ve noticed that some studios pander to this more than others. DreamWorks, in particular, is not at all shy about getting butt-laughs. In fact, I’ve never sat down and done the math on this, but I’m pretty sure at least 30% of the laughs in the “Shrek” movies come from the title character’s butt. My kids are more into the “Madagascar” movies and nothing makes them laugh harder than when King Julien—the flamboyant lemur voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen—dances around and shakes his butt at the screen. To them it’s comedy gold.

Over the past few years I have done what I can to resist resorting to butt jokes with my kids, but I think they’re slowly breaking me down. After all, you have to give the audience what they want. This morning while playing super heroes with the kids I picked up an Iron Man action figure and said, “Look, the bad guy is going to throw Iron Man into the recycle bin, but that’s the one for paper and plastic only.” No reaction. I went to Plan B. “Look, the bad guy made Iron Man fall on his butt.” Uncontrollable laughter.

Maybe I’ll send in an application to DreamWorks.