Thursday, June 27, 2013

Doll Abuse

In Superman III (1983), a young mother enters a park pushing a baby carriage.  She lifts a toddler out of the carriage and sets him down on a see-saw.  Suddenly, a stolen money bag drops from a scaffold and lands full force on the upended end of the see-saw, causing the other end to fly upwards and humorously catapult the toddler into a tree.  Do not fret, though, as the toddler is represented by a blatantly obvious doll.  For years, comedians have tossed, kicked, dumped and stomped baby dolls for laughs.  No comic prop has been more maltreated than the baby doll.  Is this a little sick?  I do my best in The Funny Parts to explain the routine and describe the many gleeful ways in which comedians have roughed up these faux infants.  Evidently, this business never gets old.  Take a look at this clip from a recent episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm ("Mister Softee," 2011).

Bill Buckner, a former first baseman best known for a fielding error that cost the Red Sox the 1986 World Series, has been redeemed.  A happy ending for all even though the doll got shaken up in the process.

Jerry Seinfeld said, "The comedy universe is a swamp of madness."  He expressed this opinion to David Letterman during an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee ("I Like Kettlecorn," 2013).  Letterman agreed with Seinfeld, stating that funny routines often come from "guys. . . [with] personality disorders."  He brought up, as an example, spastic standup comedian Lenny Schultz.  He recalled a night in the 1970s when he was at the Comedy Store and saw Schultz running around on stage with a baby doll.  Letterman said, smiling, "[He] has a little toy whip and he's whipping the baby. . . [Y]ou hear the sound effects of a crying baby."  Letterman could not have looked more pleased as he finished the story.  Yes, whipping a baby doll is great fun.  It's madness, but fun.  

The ultimate example of this routine was featured in a devilish 1915 Vitagraph comedy called Boobley's Baby.  The plot is simple.  Sydney Drew is pretending that a baby doll is a real baby so that he can get a seat on a trolley.  A woman who Drew has been romancing sees Drew with his "baby" and, assuming that he is a married man, becomes furious with him.  Drew is upset that his romance has come to an end and he takes his frustration out on the doll.  Steve Massa wrote in Lame Brains and Lunatics, "[W]e see Sydney throttle and tear the arms and legs off the doll (which really looks like he's murdering a baby)."

A baby doll suffers a similar fate in a 2011 episode of The Middle called "The Big Chill."  Laziness and selfishness cause high school sophomore Axl to grow hostile towards a baby doll placed under his care as part of a health class project.  The unwanted doll, which falls victim to increasingly abusive treatment from its impatient caretaker, ends up being decapitated and dismembered.

 A practice baby doll is not entirely safe even in the hands of a well-intentioned expectant mother.

 I Love Lucy ("Pregnant Women are Unpredictable," 1952)

More doll-catapulting can be found in this scene from Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994).

As I said before when discussing the "wedding attack" routine, sometimes dark currents of human psychology are the reason for the enduring popularity of a routine.

You can read more about this perverse phenomena of baby doll thrashing in The Funny Parts, which is available at

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