Comedy as a genre doesn’t often get the respect it deserves. Many talented people have said that it’s harder to make someone laugh than cry and I believe that. Looking back at the history of comedy, it’s interesting to see its evolution and its many different styles. You have slapstick and physical comedy which are the grandfathers of the genre, at least in film. This sub-genre of comedy evolved over the years and styles such as satire, dark comedy, character comedy and more helped round out the genre. In more recent years, comedy has taken a turn towards more cultural observations and “blue humor” but once upon a time, smart and silly was the industry leader. That era seems to be gone though and the lineage of silly arguably ended with Dumb and Dumber.
Although the film was released in December of 1994, I didn’t see Dumb and Dumber until mid-1995 when it was released for home video. Remember when we had to wait a significant amount of time for a film to leave theaters before you could rent it at your local video store? Feels like a lifetime ago. I remember being 10 years old, almost 11, when my stepdad and one of my older brothers said they were going to rent a movie. My stepdad is now dead and my brother an on-again-off-again heroin user who lives in a homeless shelter near my office. I see him from time to time, briefly. On that day, I didn’t know what the future held for my brother. I didn’t know that my stepdad was a racist alcoholic who would cheat on my mother and leave her for another woman just a few years later. Those were more innocent times and that includes Dumb and Dumber, a type of comedy that doesn’t exist anymore.
Before The Jerry Springer Show, Tom Green, and the wave of “shock humor” became part of the cultural lexicon, Jim Carrey was the king of comedy. Much like this film, Carrey’s style was innocent compared to what was to come. Physical comedy, over the top expressions, silly yet smart, Carrey appeared to be the heir apparent to comedy icons such as Steve Martin before him. Dumb and Dumber was classic Jim Carrey in the sense that the film had heart in between the laughs and gags, a tale of friendship and good people joining forces against bad people, with Ex-Lax and worm jokes mixed in for good measure.
For people my age, Dumb and Dumber was a film we quoted in school and watched on countless Friday nights with a room full of friends. Before girls, before parties, before all of the teenage experiences so many of us have in common, this film was a gathering, a connection we had that looking back on it, was innocent and the end of innocence at that.
Something was happening culturally that seemed to align perfectly with me entering the teen years. The internet was gaining relevance. Cable TV was now something most households had. The boundaries of acceptability were being pushed with language, innuendo and violence to name a few ways. It was almost as if the internet age removed a cork from a bottle and censorship of forms was eliminated as a result. It was good and it was bad, a true shade of gray like all things in life. People felt liberated to say what was really on their mind, to make the jokes they made privately now to a larger audience and to some, it was shocking. Silly humor, like seen in Dumb and Dumber, didn’t quite fit the way it previously had.
It’s interesting to look at the film now, nearly 25 years later. It still holds up really well but it feels like it exists in a time capsule. Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the brothers who wrote and directed the film, stayed the course with comedy, eventually creating There’s Something About Mary, a modern classic of a comedy in its own right, showing that the brothers were able to adapt with the genre’s evolution. Neither Jim Carrey or Jeff Daniels would be done with comedy but as performers and people, have drifted towards more towards the political and social over the years, using their celebrity status to make their voices heard on things they feel strongly about.
The world feels so much different since the first time I saw Dumb and Dumber. There’s a level of comfort watching the film and appreciating it for what it was; a tale of friendship during simpler times. The world didn’t feel so big and overwhelming back then. I didn’t know what the future held for my family that day as we gathered around to watch the film. All I knew was my brother was home and he said it looked funny. I didn’t know that some years later, I would wear a powder blue tux to my senior prom or that I would be watching Jeff Daniels on cable news speaking out about how America needs people to stand up and put their country first while we have a tyrannical leader in office. The world felt innocent, comedy felt more innocent and my life especially felt more innocent back then.
It’s still a lot of fun to go back and laugh at the adventures of Lloyd and Harry. The sequel, the prequel, and the animated series were all flops and for good reason. The time had passed. Dumb and Dumber came at exactly the right time and has earned its place in the lineage of comedy but that style is now bygone, like the more innocent times we lived in then. That being said, putting on the film, laughing at lines like, “John Denver is full of shit” and allowing yourself to enjoy some escapist entertainment during these turbulent times can be exactly what we need sometimes.