The Fine Line Between Praise and Insult by Erec Smith

It seems like Adam Sandler may join Daniel Tosh as the latest comedian to poke fun at images of fat people that are deemed positive within the fat acceptance movement. Or maybe not. I’m not sure.

Last week, a friend won tickets to see a pre-release showing of Sandler’s new movie, That’s My Boy, which is not slated to open until June 15th. I reluctantly accompanied my friend to the theater, which was a block away from my house, and sat through yet another intentionally sophomoric effort by Sandler and his production company, full of gross-out humor, sex gags (no pun intended), and, of course, fat jokes. For the purposes of this blog, I am most interested in the fat jokes, but unlike other jokes made at the collective expense of fat people, these struck a chord that would resonate for a while afterward. Sandler managed, whether inadvertently or not, to play in the gray area between praise and insult, celebration and ridicule.

Let me explain. (Spoiler Alert)

The first of two main fat jokes comes via a fat, African-American stripper named Champale (played by the comedienne Luenell Campbell) who Sandler’s character, Donny, considers a friend and confidante. As Donny vents to her about his estranged son, she performs as a typical stripper: hanging off the pole with only her legs, then only her arms, then elegantly twirling down the poll into a split, etc. Of course, the thought of a stripper having such a serious conversation while dancing is funny in and of itself. However, based on the timing of the theater audience’s laughter, the oddly timed conversation was not the true punch line. What I saw as an attractive stripper “working it” was implicitly hilarious to most of the audience.