Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A surprisingly thoughtful defense of the humble fart joke

An example of farting from South Park featured in The Fart Is A Lonely Hunter (Screenshot: YouTube)

Farts are funny. Thomas Edison knew it. Mel Brooks knows it. And countless millions, perhaps even billions, of people around the world know it. And yet, flatulence is considered a staple of tasteless, lowbrow comedy, purely the domain of the uncouth and unrefined. When will this snobbery end? Perhaps now, since there is a well-produced, analytical, and evidence-heavy documentary short about this unusual subject. A mysterious YouTube channel called FartHouse Cinema (whose proprietors have dubiously adopted “Jerry Seinfeld” as an alias) has posted a provocative eight-minute film entitled The Fart Is A Lonely Hunter: Are Farts Funny? The titular question is answered in the affirmative, but the probing minds at FartHouse Cinema are not content to end the discussion there. This film aims to explain exactly why flatulence is so funny and how this kind of comedy came into being.

The short film begins with a bit of history. Chaucer, Dante, and Shakespeare all apparently made fart jokes, and Edison even filmed the famed French performer Le Petomane farting into some kind of giant cone-shaped apparatus in 1900. But flatulence was largely absent from TV and film until 1974, when Brooks’ Blazing Saddles featured a group farting scene that was considered shockingly crude at the time. But Saddles was a box office smash, and from then on, farting was fair game. Fart jokes became an accepted and, in some circles, beloved part of film and TV humor. This video includes clips from South Park, Broad City, and Parks And Recreation. As for the question of why farts are funny, the short posits two main theories: superiority and incongruity. Audiences enjoy the misfortunes of others and unexpected events in general. Farts can be both.

The most eloquent defender of farts may be comedian Louis CK, whose FX series Louie featured what amounts to a referendum on flatulence humor when the title character candidly debated comedy with Jim Florentine. CK also discussed flatulence during an appearance on The Daily Show. “You don’t have to be smart to laugh at farts,” he says to Jon Stewart, “but you have to be stupid not to.”

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