Being a lucky guy, I've only been kicked in the balls once. How did it rate on the comedy scale? Well, it was funnier than a monologue by Chelsea Handler, but not quite as hilarious as my last screening for colorectal cancer. Yet despite the fact that this act hurts like hell, Hollywood still thinks ball-bashing is the height of hilarity. Just recently, Billy Crystal got kneed in the nards in Parental Guidance. And in the new Stand Up Guys Al Pacino gets an injection of Viagra in that sacred area of his vitals. Talk about having a good reason to shout "Hooah!" Understandably disturbed by this testicle trend that wouldn't die, I asked experts why American comedies must feature a scene in which a dude gets hammered in his yam bag, punched in the plums, kicked in the cojones.
The classy trend of kneeing a man in his coin purse once seemed fresh. Like Paul Newman kicking that baddie in the nuts in Butch Cassidy. Still, as with any questionable film innovation, like VistaVision, or Adam Sandler's "funny" accents, overkill inevitably followed. Meaning, we went from the funny sight of Marion ("Mrs. C.") Ross punching a cop in his cherries in Ron Howard's drive-in classic Grand Theft Auto to Rodney Dangerfield driving a golf ball into Ted Knight's yogurt factory in Caddyshack. Good stuff. Flash-forward, though, and there's the unbearable sight of Mini Me biting Austin Powers' walnuts in Goldmember. And then there's that three-way penie punch in Bad Santa.
"The knee-jerk laughter," Howard tells me, "all boils down to the undeniable hilarity of underscoring the vulnerability all males share. That, no matter how cool or badass or brilliant they are up to that moment of abject pain and humiliation. When a lucky or vicious shot to the gonads doubles him over, it tickles funny bones everywhere."
A sage take, indeed, on what happens to a guy when he gets hit in his little johnny jewels. Howard is actually hoping to pull off this stunt again sometime. Provided it's organic to the plot.
"I've been searching twenty-plus movies for another good nut-cracking opportunity. Would it have cost us nominations if I'd put one in Frost/Nixon? I kind of think it would have."
Harry Knowles, founder of Ain't It Cool News, says to forget Paul Newman. This trend started long ago.
"It's pretty much because of Walt Disney," says the Austin-based pioneer of online geek culture. "Check out the early film era and watch those Mickey Mouse cartoons, and you'll see injury-to-groin humor. It's the physical humor of choice, and it's rampant. It happened to Donald Duck, it happened to Goofy. You see Mickey come into contact with a picket fence and get hit in the groin — repeatedly. And people in the 1930s would laugh their butts off."
Knowles says, "The only person who doesn't laugh when someone is getting kicked in the balls is the guy getting kicked in the balls. I'd like to talk to the stunt coordinator on these films and see what kind of boner damage actually occurs. Like, what is the cup made of? People are slamming stuff all up in there, and yet at the premiere, these actors walk fine."
Even though getting kicked in the castanets isn't intrinsically funny, at least it's not usually hazardous to your health. However, as WebMD puts it, a "blunt trauma" to the testicles can cause symptoms as minor as "nausea," "bruising" or "swelling," or it can result in "difficulty urinating," "contusion" and, ick, "degloving." That sounds gentle, like what the champ does after a boxing match, but it actually means "the scrotum can be torn away." So if a guy sustains such an injury, he should see his doctor.
But let's let a woman have the last word.
Cintra Wilson is a well-known cultural critic, novelist and movie lover. Her take on all these shots at a guy's man-tonsils?
"Why do you think there are so many American films where women get punched in the tits? I mean, are topless? Both are pretty effective ways of humanizing a person — reducing them to their sex parts and their vulnerabilities."
OK, a positive spin. So what does Wilson wish to see someday in the cinema, regarding all this genitalia grappling?
"In the future," she says, "I'd like to see it happen every time a female character meets a male character. Just socko, right in the yarbles, out of nowhere, for no reason. I want this to be a pan-genre phenomenon."