The critical reception to They’re All Gonna Laugh at You!, insofar as one existed, agreed on one thing: Sandler’s sketches were “terminally unfunny,” he went on “ad nauseam about bodily functions and the futile pursuit of kinky sex,” and it was all “embarrassingly adolescent.” “This man needs help—not a microphone,” concluded one newspaper columnist, who went on to contrast Sandler’s album unfavorably to the recently released Jeff Foxworthy tract, “You Might Be a Redneck If…” Another summed up the appeal even more succinctly: “Stupid, but young boys like it.”
Stupid, but young boys like it. Even if young boys as a purchasing bloc were largely unacquainted with the opinions of local newspaper columnists, we nonetheless reveled in our awareness that Sandler’s humor struck many sentient beings north of 15 as indefensible, mystifying, barely classifiable even as “humor.” Indeed, it was central to its appeal. Sandler was our guy, someone whose very introduction onscreen on SNL seemed to contain an apology, and a tacit acknowledgment that someone more talented, with better ideas, should almost certainly be in his place.
He had distinguished himself on SNL with a series of “bits” that redefined just how slight something could be and still make it to air. If an older generation of comics like Steve Martin or Andy Kaufman embodied something of the punk-rock promise—that even without honing your chops, you could get onstage and express yourself to a willing audience—then middle and elementary school kids saw something similar in Sandler, a big brother to us and a little brother to the cast who was somehow allowed to go on national television, squish his face together, and yell “gimme some candy” to laughter and adulation. In actor Jim Downy’s famous speech delivered two years later in Billy Madison—“What you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard…. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul”—kids sensed the shocked proxy of every adult in our vicinity, and we giggled in delight. We knew this stuff was ruthlessly, remorselessly dumb, and that its very existence in the public sphere was an affront, a burp on the intercom during the morning announcements.
And yet, even in comedy swamps as choked and fetid as this one, peculiar ideas could take shape and linger. “The Longest Pee” might be the stupidest two minutes of audio to which I’ve ever purposefully listened—it’s just the sound of a pee that goes on longer than it’s supposed to, that’s it—but the mounting concern in Sandler’s voice (“Oh man,” he wails, as the sound, supervised by super-producer Arthur—in whose studio Bruce Springsteen recorded his first three albums—grows to impossible levels of water pressure and velocity) is funny, goddamn it. There is something lurking in his voice—despair tinged with hysteria, or maybe the other way around—that makes it oddly more discomfiting than, say, the roughly contemporaneous bathroom scene in Dumb and Dumber. If Sandler’s comedy has aggravated so many critics so profoundly, perhaps it’s because his detractors, too, sensed that there was something deeper, and not entirely dismissable, swimming around in the bowels of his work. “Adam doesn’t have much interest in being cool or hipper than the room,” Judd Apatow told Spin in an oral history of the album. “He’s not a smartass. He’s not cynical. He just loves being funny. He’s a Rodney Dangerfield guy.”