Danny DeVito is a genius or, barring that, at least one of the bravest men in Hollywood. Let me explain. Over the holidays, the g.f. and I made the annual journey to the ancestral family home in Richmond, Va. ‘Twas an intimate gathering, attended by the usual surfeit of warm feelings, high spirits, and all around good cheer. Of course, somewhere along the line I decided I needed to seriously jeopardize all of that. It seems I’m a slave to what Poe called “the imp of the perverse,” that strange, ineffable impulse that compels one to do the most ornery of things. In this instance, I decided it would be a hot idea to gather the whole family around to watch not A Christmas Story or It’s a Wonderful Life for the umpteenth time, but rather the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Christmas Special, a.k.a. A Very Sunny Christmas.
If you don’t already know the show, well, that’s unfortunate, as it’s truly, often daringly funny. The g.f. and I are very enthusiastic fans and had been looking forward to the holiday special for long enough that I’d become impatient and thus willing to chance it on an older (ages 65-88), rather conservative, and heretofore uninitiated audience—viz., my family. I slapped it in the dvd player (which sees so little use that my father still relies on a set of hand-written instructions to get it up and running) and settled in for what I hoped would be a shared forty minutes of family fun and hilarity. Woops.
It only took a few minutes for the language to kick in. This being a dvd release only, the IASIP gang was liberated from the usual broadcast standards and took every advantage. “Fuck-fuckity-fuck-fuck,” they seemed to be saying at five-second intervals. Now, normally this wouldn’t register with me at all, but with the fam in attendance I was suddenly hyper-aware of any and all billingsgate. Not that the story was any less offensive. Watching Charlie Day bite off Snata’s ear was a bit much for them too. No one objected per se, but all seemed very much at a loss. Was this really a tv sitcom? Why were the characters so mean to one another? Was this supposed to be funny?. There was much shifting in chairs, furrowing of brows, and a generally awkward silence broken only occasionally by my now-very-much-toned-down laughter. Nothing makes comedy less enjoyable than the knowledge that someone else in the room is having a reaction completely antithetical to your own.
Twenty-some-odd minutes in, I got to thinking the whole thing was just a classic blunder on my part. Then something happened. I’ll not bother with context, but rather just come out and say that Danny DeVito crawled, buck naked and sweaty, out of a black leather couch. Instantly, the vibe in the room changed. There were smiles and guffaws, and I’m pretty sure some knees were slapped. Even my grandfather (who thinks tattoos are the devil’s badges) was wracked with all-over, breath-depriving belly laughter. Why this change in attitudes all of a moment? Like I said, DeVito is a genius.
DeVito’s career is too well know to warrant a re-cap here, so I’ll just focus on his portrayal of Frank Reynolds on It’s Always Sunny…, with a special emphasis on this season, during which Frank’s gone off the fucking rails. He’s frequently drunk, has an appetite for drugs, and is unapologetically priapic. There’s lots of drooling, ugliness, and now, nudity, all of which is daring, daring stuff for an actor of DeVito’s age. What other 60 + actor would have the stones to really go there the way he does? I’m so thoroughly involved in and seduced by this performance that I’ve more than once wondered if DeVito himself isn’t also going through an off-screen crisis. It’s that kind of good.
So good, in fact, that he made my family enjoy themselves in spite of themselves. Perhaps a fat sweaty naked man crawling out of a couch is the kind of funny that transcends all barriers of age, taste, and discretion. Whatever the case, thank you Mr. DeVito. Thank you so fuck-fuck-fucking much!