How Kurt Vonnegut Gave Us The Worst Movie Comedy Of All-Time

How Kurt Vonnegut Gave Us The Worst Movie Comedy Of All-Time

There have been a lot of lousy movie comedies over the years – several of which involve a mall cop with a surname that rhymes with “fart.” However, one of the most brain-meltingly awful comedies ever made is a forgotten film from 1984 called Slapstick of Another Kind, starring the legendary Jerry Lewis and the magnificent Madeline Kahn. It sucks. Hard.

The bizarre plot involves an attractive rich couple (played by Lewis and Kahn) whose twin babies are deformed mutants (also played by Lewis and Kahn with some Spirit Halloween quality prosthetics glued to their faces). The twins are later revealed to be super-geniuses who possess telepathic powers and are also, incidentally, aliens. Oh, and there’s some wildly racist stuff featuring Pat Morita as the evil Chinese Ambassador “Ah Fong,” complete with a flying saucer-shaped like a fortune cookie. Overall, this movie is about as fun as a root canal performed by Rob Schneider. 

What makes all of this extra-egregious is that Slapstick of Another Kind was based on a novel by one of America’s literary greats: Kurt Vonnegut. Sure, Hollywood’s history of adapting Vonnegut’s work has been uneven at best; Slaughterhouse-Five was fine, but remember how we once got a Breakfast of Champions movie inexplicably starring Bruce Willis?

But this adaptation of Vonnegut’s 1976 novel Slapstick, which Vonnegut intended as a tribute to his late sister Alice, with whom he shared a “deep real-life bond,” is a goddamn nightmare. How did Vonnegut let his book fall into the hands of random folks with less filmmaking insight than an amateur porn director?

Apparently, the writer-director obtained the rights to the book when he was barely old enough to see an R-rated movie. The film was helmed by a guy named Steven Paul, who had a connection with Vonnegut after appearing in the Broadway production of his play Happy Birthday Wanda June when he was only 12. Reportedly the young actor “impressed” Vonnegut, who “suggested they collaborate on a future project.” A few years later, Paul bought the rights to Slapstick for $250,000 at the age of 17. 

Paul raised the money to make the movie through “a consortium of doctors,” and the limited means led to a mostly non-union shoot. Those janky prosthetics, for example, were the handiwork of a makeup artist who was a former circus clown with “little experience on film sets.” Watching the making-of documentary leaves you with the feeling of watching hundreds of car crashes in slow motion, except the victims are all wearing goofy rubber foreheads.

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this). 

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