Sometime in early 2006 Producer and long time collaborator, Dean Murphy, asked me if I’d ever heard of Little Johnny Jokes. I confessed that I am probably the world’s worst Joke teller but I am, indeed, a good joke listener! So he told me one and it went something like this.
Little Johnny’s parents are talking at the breakfast table about how fed-up they are with Little Johnny and his brother swearing all the time. They decide the next time the children swear, that they are going to administer a bloody good spanking. At that moment, Little Johnny’s younger brother enters. His mother smiles, “Good morning darling, what would you like for breakfast?” “Fucking cornflakes!” comes the reply. “That’s it!” Little Johnny’s father grabs him, puts him over his knee and gives him a spanking before sitting him back at the kitchen table. Little Johnny who has observed the commotion from the top of the stairs heads down into the kitchen. His mother smiles at him, “Now, Johnny, what would you like for breakfast?” Little Johnny thinks for a moment then looks up with big innocent eyes, “Well, not fucking cornflakes!”
After giggling like idiots he mentioned in passing that it would be cool to do a movie based on those jokes. However, before diving in the deep end and devoting 5 years in developing the project as it often does we decided we’d do a little in-depth, journalistic investigation.
We Googled it.
7 billion entries, give or take a couple, led us to believe we had stumbled onto something. The jokes were indeed ‘classics’ told in well over a hundred languages and Little Johnny goes by many different names (Brazil: Joãozinho, Croatia: Perica, France: Toto, Germany: Fritzchen). But the trick was how to format a story as they are inconsistent in setting and characters. Sometimes Little Johnny’s at school. Sometime He’s on a farm sometime he’s in town. Sometimes he’s father is strict sometimes he’s not and other times he’s influenced by a wayward uncle. The other problem was how to overcome the fact that some of the most popular jokes were really offensive and would most certainly be worse if they were depicted visually!
To get around this problem we took a 3 day writing excursion to a beach property down on the coast and together with another of our long time colleagues, actor and Writer, Stewart Faichney. We began to arrange our favourite jokes and edit as we went. It became a laughter fest and we had a ball stringing these gags into some sort of coherent structure which became the basic framework of the screenplay.
The problem of stringing a bunch of jokes together is that no matter which way you skin it, it is still just a bunch of jokes, strung together.
So we went away and turned to the masters of filmmaking comedy to reacquaint ourselves with some of the favourites. The Zucker brothers films like ‘Airplane!‘ (aka ‘Flying High’) and ‘The Naked Gun‘ series of movies, The Coen Brothers with ‘Raising Arizona,’ Some John Hughes 80′s comedies like ‘Uncle Buck‘ a bundle of Pixar stuff which is always an inspiration, and of course we watched a mountain of the old 2D animated cartoons. I have always been a ‘Merie Melodies‘ fan and , in my book you can’t beat Bugs, Daffy and Elmer in the “Duck Season trilogy” 1951, 1952 & 1953! or another Chuck Jones classic Daffy Duck in the all time classic, ‘Duck Amuck‘ 1953.
The overall sensibility of the Chuck Jones cartoons struck a chord immediately. They were slightly subversive, didn’t pander to obvious marketing strategies and did not underestimate their audience or patronise the viewer. They also hold up to multiple viewings as the layering of the stories is fiendishly clever yet deceptively simple.
So it was obvious from the outset that I need to develop a story that could glue all the jokes and one-liners together into some sort of cohesive narrative, kind of like building a car by starting with the chrome and paint and working backwards. With that sort of back engineering it became readily apparent to keep the beats and story arc clean and simple. And thus the journey of Little Johnny was well on it’s way and it was already exhausting.