Huge Hollywood money-makers like Big Momma’s House and The Nutty Professor, both so popular that they had sequels, tell us that fat comedy works. Big Momma’s enormous, jiggling bottom covered in cellulite is actually the main focus of the trailer for Big Momma’s House 2. Eddie Murphy was considered so hilarious in a fat-suit, he was multiplied in The Klumps (sequel to The Nutty Professor) into many different characters who were grossly obese, excluding the granny who got to be very old and horny instead
Obviously, a lot of viewers find fat people screamingly funny. In fact, Fat Actress, a sitcom riddled with fat jokes broke the record on American cable TV channel Showtime for most viewers on the opening episode of a show. The world of cartoons is no different. Homer Simpson of The Simpsons and Peter Griffin of Family Guy are examples of the funny fat guy, and even South Park has its token fat kid. In spite of all this evidence suggesting that the fatter the funnier, it is still considered rude and uncivilised to make fun of people who have a large frame. On a personal basis, that is. It is quite all right to laugh at fictional characters, but not real-life fat people. You don’t see pictures Queen Latifah in the papers with the caption “What a tub of lard!” That would be plain distasteful.
When it comes to being thin, the tables are turned. Being thin isn’t funny in showbiz. You don’t see Skinny Momma’s House or The Chickenlegs at the movies. On a personal basis, however, it’s okay to make fun of skinny people. Paparazzi pictures of waif-like actresses regularly appear in tabloids, followed with a humorous caption like “Eat a sandwich, Lindsay!” or “If she stands sideways, Lara Flynn Boyle disappears!” These very same tabloids also suggest regularly that both of the aforementioned actresses suffer from anorexia, which happens to be the deadliest of all mental illnesses. Imagine a picture of Ronald Reagan, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, with a random car in the background. Very few tabloids would sink as low as to print the caption “That’s not yours, Ronald. Don’t you remember what your car looks like?” For some strange reason, some illnesses, however deadly they may be, are considered safe joking material, while others aren’t.
I recently wrote and staged a play in which the leading lady weighs approximately 200 kilos because she suffers from compulsive binge-eating, which is classified as an eating disorder. The fat lady in my script wasn’t written as a comedic role, but a complex, tragic role. Much to my surprise, the audience roared with laughter when the leading lady of my play carried out the simplest of tasks, such as walking, eating or carrying on a conversation with her lover. Even in scenes that would have been dramatic and disturbing had they revolved around a thin character, people laughed at the fat lady. One critic even suggested that the play’s message is that it’s acceptable to make fun of fat people. I am still clueless as to why today’s audience finds fat hilarious even under tragic circumstances, and how anyone could think that I was sending out that message by writing this play.
In my opinion, a sense of humour is one of the most important things in life. We ought to be able to recognise the absurdities of being human, including poking fun at our bodies. Although I don’t find body-type jokes funny myself, I understand their importance in taking ourselves less seriously. After all, very few people look like Calvin Klein models. It’s the hypocrisy regarding what’s funny and what’s not that gets me. Out of all the things that make us laughable, is simply being fat reason enough?