When it comes to humor, we generally think comics should be allowed to say what they want in order to get a laugh. But we also think that they ought to expect a certain amount of backlash if others think they've gone too far. So when we saw the first trailer for "Tower Heist," we actually caught ourselves thinking, "Hmmm ... that epileptic joke ... that's probably gonna cause a problem." And sure enough it has: Director Brett Ratner has issued an apology and asked that it be removed from all ads for the movie.
For those of us out living life over Labor Day, The Hollywood Reporter informs us that on Thursday "Heroes" star Greg Grunberg tweeted his displeasure with the "Tower Heist" trailer, which includes a bit in which Eddie Murphy calls Ben Stiller "seizure boy." "Making fun @ people w/ seizures is NOT FUNNY & WRONG!," wrote Grunberg, who has a 15-year-old epileptic son and started a nonprofit to raise awareness about the condition.
Grunberg encouraged his Twitter followers to boycott the film, which wouldn't seem a big deal until you realize that he's got about 1.4 million followers. That's a lot of folks, and clearly it was enough to scare Ratner and Universal, which had had problems earlier this year with "The Dilemma" because of a joke calling electric cars "gay." Ratner reached out to Grunberg to apologize and asked that the bit be cut from trailers and TV spots. It appears it's going to stay in the movie, though.
This opens up a huge can of worms, of course, about what kinds of humor are "appropriate." In the case of "The Dilemma," director Ron Howard actually made a good case for keeping the "gay" joke in the movie (although they removed it from the advertising), arguing that the Vince Vaughn character is supposed to be a loudmouthed oaf. "It is a slight moment in THE DILEMMA meant to demonstrate an aspect of our lead character's personality," Howard wrote the Los Angeles Times, "and we never expected it to represent our intentions or the point of view of the movie or those of us who made it." We don't live in a bubble, however, and the problem comes when people watching it laugh because they think the slur is funny for bigoted reasons.
Likewise, it appears that the Murphy character in "Tower Heist" is meant to be a bad apple. Plus, the point of the joke is supposed to be that the Stiller character actually isn't epileptic; the Murphy character is such a mean, dumb bully that he doesn't even know the difference between epileptic and asthmatic. But Ratner and Universal probably don't want to engage in that sort of public debate right now: "Tower Heist" is expected to be a major hit, and if this "Murphy hosts the Oscars" business is true, Murphy and Oscar producer Ratner don't want this to be a distraction. In the meantime, here's the offending trailer. Let's hope Wall Street fat cats don't complain next about how the Alan Alda character is portrayed.
'Tower Heist' Director Brett Ratner Apologizes for Epilepsy Joke in Movie's Trailer (Video) [The Hollywood Reporter]