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How My Dad Corrupted Me With Comedy

Despite my various eccentricities, I consider myself to be a fairly well-adjusted person. This is a sentiment that many others in my life can verify. After all, I have a full-time job, several freelance writing gigs, pay all of my bills on time, and a spotless police record.

However, if they took a look at the kind of content my dad introduced to me well before I hit double digits, today's overprotective helicopter parents would predict a life of hard crime, drugs, abuse of every substance from alcohol to pretzels, and possibly succeeding Hitler as the World's Most Hated Person. I'm sorry, but today's children are being coddled at frightening degrees for even more frightening lengths of time. They are not only being raised to believe that they are precious snowflakes who can do no wrong, but also that they are part of a world that HAS no wrong. The KGB didn't do as much censoring as modern day parents do! How can parents consciously engage in the X-rated activity that causes procreation...but once it happens become legitimately offended by anything that is more raunchy than Shrek?

In 1988, I was a wide-eyed, 8-year-old kid who loved reading and playing with my Ninja Turtles and Legos. I also watched a popular R-rated movie enough times to have it committed to memory well before I stopped believing in Santa Claus. The movie?

Believing Airplane! to be one of the greatest comedies of all time, along with Blazing Saddles, my dad felt that exposure to such a classic did not have room for the phrase "too young." 

In case you have been living in a cave for the past half-century, Airplane! is a 1980 slapstick comedy that largely spoofs the 1950s B-movie Zero Hour. The plot revolves around Ted Striker, a former fighter pilot who, after losing most of his squadron in battle, swore off flying for life. After following his girlfriend aboard a commercial jet in an effort to salvage their relationship, he is charged with the task of actually landing the plane after the entire flight crew is sickened with food poisoning.

What truly makes the movie shine is its use of actors who, prior to Airplane!, had only done serious and dramatic roles. Stars like Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, and Leslie Nielsen deadpanned memorable comedic performances. My dad, being old, was able to appreciate this aspect a lot more than I did.

For all of its slapstick goofiness, Airplane! was still a film geared toward adults and, despite carrying a PG rating, nevertheless filled its running time with decidedly adult-oriented humor. Take, for example, Lloyd Bridges' character Steve McCroskey picking the wrong week to give up his many vices.

Or how about Peter Graves' Captain Clarence Oveur and his pedophiliac tendencies?

This is among the stuff that I was watching--almost daily--as an 8-year-old Catholic schoolboy. 

Other boys were absorbing movies like Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and Ghostbusters at this age. My younger sisters and I, on the other hand, were saying "Don't call me Shirley" and "I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue" and wondering why our peers were giving us confused looks. Who was this Marty McFly character? Don't they know who Roger Murdock is?!

It didn't end there.

Back in the 1980s, the Disney Channel was still part of cable TV's "premium" package, meaning that it was on par with HBO and Cinemax. My dad didn't want to pay the extra money so we could be exposed to the likes of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and friends, so he decided to introduce us to the children's programming that amused him as a child: Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes cartoons.

While animation is everywhere these days, back then, Warner Bros. and Disney were really the only big players in town. And while Disney cartoons aimed to keep true to Walt Disney's family-friendly, subtly racist, and opportunistic world views, Looney Tunes were different. 

They were VIOLENT.

Just take a look at how many times Daffy Duck has had his bill blasted off of his face by Elmer Fudd's rifle at close range (often thanks to Bugs Bunny).

It didn't end with Bugs and Daffy, of course. Sylvester the cat and Foghorn Leghorn were routinely skinned, Yosemite Sam also looked down the barrel of a gun on more than one occasion, sticks of TNT were everywhere, with many characters keeping them in their pockets (even if they were naked), and Wile E. Coyote was regularly smashing into boulders and falling off cliffs.

We may have gained a slightly skewed perspective on talking animals--specifically their resilience to weaponry--but at least Dad saved that extra $15 a month! In fact, he saved a lot more than that, as Bugs, Daffy, and friends weren't constantly shilling for overpriced amusement parks in California and Florida, both of which were quite far away from our usual vacation spot at the New Jersey shore.

Finally, I will never forget the night that my dad showed me The Tape.

My mom had taken my younger sisters out somewhere to do girl stuff, leaving my dad and I alone in the house. Knowing that they would be out of the house for a few hours, my dad said that he could finally introduce me to a that wasn't Airplane!  Or even Airplane II: The Sequel (bless him).

He removed the VHS tape from that special shelf in our cabinet that my sisters and I, under no circumstances, were to ever retrieve entertainment from. He popped it into the VCR.

So, what do you think was on it? Porn? Faces of Death?

Nope: an HBO Special from Andrew "Dice" Clay. Specifically, "The Diceman Cometh."

Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, Andrew "Dice" Clay was an exceptionally raunchy comedian. Adopting the persona of a stereotypical Italian bigot, he shamelessly poked fun at everyone from women to homosexuals to ethnic minorities. Graphic descriptions of sex and exceptionally naughty nursery rhymes were hallmarks of all of his routines. In fact, his material was so vile that, when he hosted Saturday Night Live in 1990, the show broadcast on a seven-second delay for only the second time in its history at that point and cast member Nora Dunn and scheduled musical guest Sinead O'Connor actually boycotted the episode. 

This is what I was watching with my dad at age 11.

While it was certainly stuff that my mom would never want me seeing, hearing, or especially repeating, it wasn't exactly groundbreaking, either. Most of what trickled out of Dice's mouth was stuff I had heard from my blue collar uncles after they had downed half a dozen cans of lite beer.

The only difference? Dice's words--insults, stereotypes, and all--were an act.

In conclusion, even though I was exposed to all seven of George Carlin's dirty words--and then some--en masse as a child, not to mention glorified violence, I nevertheless managed to grow up to be a well-adjusted member of society. Probably because my dad and mom both, in between TV viewings, actually parented. They didn't turn to Dr. Phil, fear-mongering listicles, and the like so they could create sort of a parenthood autopilot. 

While Airplane!, Looney Tunes, and Andrew "Dice" Clay may now be considered nostalgic, I seriously hope that good, smart parenting never joins them in this realm.
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Vaporman87 Posted on Jul 14, 2014 at 08:13 PM

Ooooooh. Touching on some controversial subjects here. This should be interesting and fun. LOL

Personally, I too was raised with quick and easy access to this same content at an early age. And, as you stated, I too believe I turned out alright.

On the other hand, I also harbor a feeling of disappointment over it. Many times I have thought about what I was allowed to consume on television and in games, and I now wish such wasn't the case.

Not everybody feels that way, and that's perfectly normal. But when you are being raised in a home claiming to be "Christian", it sends lots of mixed signals and creates a whole lot of confusion and inner turmoil.

Now that I am raising my children in a home ALSO claiming to be "Christian", this same content will NOT be permitted.

My kids will have their whole lives to learn to understand and live with the ugly side of society. And in my opinion, it has only gotten uglier with time.

But during this most important time in their lives, when their minds, bodies, and souls are most vulnerable and susceptible to the influences of our culture, I will be performing the duties that I should be expected to perform. Protect, teach, and show my unconditional love.

My kids are learning that there are certain things that we don't do, don't view, and don't say... and why. And I don't expect them to learn these things by simply hearing me say not to. They will see me and my wife as the living examples we should be. Unlike my own childhood.

Of course, we are not perfect. But I hope I can be as close to a perfect example as possible.

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