Four Pop-Culture Classics That Went Right Over the Heads of the People Who Made Them
Storytelling is our society’s primary vehicle for conveying meaning, so whether it’s the spinning top at the end of Inception or just someone trying to unload some brand-new baby shoes, we see messages everywhere. Sometimes, we’re wrong about them, which is either a failure of the creator to communicate their vision or a failure of us to not be a stupid piece of a shit.
Occasionally, though, not even the people involved have any idea what they meant when they made something, even when it’s as obvious as a homemade bomb.
Shannen Doherty Ran Out Crying When She Found Out ‘Heathers’ Was a Comedy
In Hollywood, people won’t usually publicly discuss a difficult colleague, so it’s telling that just about everyone on the set of 1989’s Heathers is willing to call Shannen Doherty, in the words of director Michael Lehmann, “a bit of a handful,” and in the words of co-star Carrie Lynn, “just so bitchy.” Doherty was only 16 years old and navigating newfound TV stardom, so it’s perhaps understandable that she was a little high-maintenance — and a little too serious. Co-star Lisanne Falk said that “Shannen didn’t have much of a sense of humor,” and producer Denise Di Novi said, “I don’t think (Shannen) at the time quite got what Heathers was,” but “that actually worked for us. She made that character real.” She really thought a movie about framing murdered teens as participants in a suicide sensation that was sweeping the nation was a prestige drama.
It became all too clear once the movie was finished and the cast sat down to watch it all together. Doherty said that, although she “was definitely a little bit in shock,” she found the movie “so dark and so funny,” if admittedly “maybe a little over my head.” But that’s not how her co-stars remember it. Falk recalled, “Shannen just kind of going, like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ She didn’t realize it was a comedy, or maybe know what a dark comedy meant.” Winona Ryder called out Doherty for later saying “how dark and funny and cool it was. You can’t blame her. She doesn’t want to be remembered as the one who ran out sobbing, ‘No one told me it was a comedy!’”
Jeremy Strong Doesn’t Know Why People Think ‘Succession’ Is Funny
At least Doherty figured it out eventually. Succession’s Jeremy Strong still doesn’t understand what’s so funny about his character, Kendall Roy, a man whose primary mode of communication is projectile vomiting buzzwords. In an interview that went viral because no one on the internet knows what to do with earnestness, Strong invoked Dostoyevsky and spoke of Kendall’s “monstrous pain” in response to a question about an embarrassing rap he performed and seemed puzzled by the idea that a show featuring embarrassing raps might be funny.
According to costar Kieran Culkin, “After the first season, he said something to me like, ‘I’m worried that people might think that the show is a comedy.’ And I said, ‘I think the show is a comedy.’ He thought I was kidding.” When the interviewer revealed that he thought it was a comedy, too, Strong only had questions and more 19th-century literary names to drop. As producer Adam McKay pointed out, though, that’s kind of the genius of his performance. Someone with even a shred of self-awareness might not be able to pull off Kendall’s complete lack of it. “That’s exactly why we cast Jeremy in that role,” McKay said. “Because he’s not playing it like a comedy. He’s playing it like he’s Hamlet.”
You know what? Maybe we have Succession wrong.
Paul Simon Doesn’t Understand (But Is Here to Ruin) ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’
Samuel Beckett famously said, “If I knew who Godot was, I would have said so in the play,” and that’s fine. A writer doesn’t have to have their entire universe mapped out for their story to resonate despite what George R.R. Martin keeps insisting. In 1972, Paul Simon admitted he didn’t know what crime he and Julio committed down by the schoolyard that got them sent to the house of detention, and we’re all good with that. Knowing Simon, it was probably some light drugs and medium vandalism.
But Simon had to go and guess. “Something sexual is what I imagine,” he told Rolling Stone. Not to sex-shame, but keep in mind that whatever it was was against the law, so fully to sex-crime-shame. Simon immediately qualified his statement that “when I say ‘something,’ I never bothered to figure out what it was,” so he just pulled out the worst possible interpretation of a lighthearted little ditty for no reason.
He goes on to explain that he only wrote the song because he thought the name Julio was funny, he “started to laugh, and that’s when I decided to make the song called ‘Me and Julio,’ otherwise I wouldn’t have made it that. I like the line about the radical priest. I think that’s funny to have in a song.”
Then he just starts talking about a different song. It just goes to show that even 30-year-old geniuses are just 30-year-old idiots.
One of the Writers of ‘YMCA’ Doesn’t Think It’s a Gay Song
Have a seat, because we’re not sure how to break this to you: There’s a straight Village Person. There were two, actually, in the classic lineup, but for our purposes, let’s focus on Victor Willis, aka the cop. (Obviously, he was the cop.)
Willis left the group in 1980 and was seldom heard from again until 2014, when activists wanted to play “YMCA” at the Olympics as a gay rights protest. As one of the song’s two writers, Willis voiced his disapproval because, according to him, it’s not a gay song. Per his publicist, “Victor Willis wrote about the YMCA and having fun there, but the type of fun he was talking about was straight fun,” which sounds like something your church camp counselor would tell you after catching you reaching out and touching faith.
If anyone other than the songwriter had said it, it would sound hilariously naive, but Willis wasn’t the only songwriter. Producer Jacques Morali masterminded the Village People as a “statement of his own gay pride, as well as an exercise in double entendre,” and he must have been aware of the YMCA’s reputation as a gay hookup spot. The album was called Cruisin’, you guys. Willis might have thought he was writing about “urban youths having fun at the YMCA,” but if he really looked around at his team of occupationally diverse disco dancers singing about hanging out with the boys and thought “Nothing gay about this,” we’ve got some cryptocurrency to sell him.