By Daniel Barnes
*Dared by Frank Miller (@frankinstereo)
It is quite common in vulgar juvenile comedies for the hero, usually a socially maladjusted and borderline deranged man-child, to be found irresistible by beautiful (usually blonde) women. Whether it is the lascivious skirt-chasing of Harpo Marx, the virgin panic of Jerry Lewis, the dewy-eyed pleading of Robin Williams, or Adam Sandler’s adorable idiot shtick, there is a rich vein of sexualizing overgrown, borderline developmentally disabled male adolescents in American comedy. You’re welcome, world.
Accepting that trope is part of accepting that most movies, especially dumb comedies, are made for junior high school boys and anyone else who thinks like them. These films sell the fantasy that even the pimply-faced, boner-hiding spazzes in their target audiences can score the hot blondes. That is pure suspension of disbelief, something essential to the appreciation of a zany comedy, but when the overgrown adolescent-spazz protagonist is as vile and sub-human as Carrot Top is in Chairman of the Board, that relatively innocent horndog sexualization turns into something incredibly disgusting.
In his only starring vehicle, Scott “Carrot Top” Thompson transfers the persona forged in his inexplicably successful prop comedy act onto the lead character of Edison, a manic, ginger-maned, out-of-work inventor who looks like a rodeo clown on crystal meth, keeps a dead cat in his refrigerator, steals clothes from a corpse, admits to having sex with farm animals, forces his employees to vomit for his own amusement, and screams every single line of dialogue at full volume.
As played by Carrot Top, the character of Edison is not really even a recognizable human being, which is why it is utterly revolting when the character engages in sexual activity, spews double entendres, and slobbers over Cindy Margolis. I’m sure Carrot Top pulled plenty of tail in his day, but he was famous, successful, and relatively wealthy – Edison is just a farm animal-fucking freak with dead cats in his fridge, and women are absolutely enchanted by this guy. It is one thing to tacitly accept that the puppet-headed CEO from the Jack in the Box commercials has procreated with his human wife, but it would be another thing if Jack kept talking about it in lurid detail. That’s what we get here.
Of course, that gross dichotomy between the childishly clownish and the ribald was essential to Carrot Top’s comedy – he was basically a children’s party performer doing an act for a college-age crowd. In many respects, Chairman of the Board is the perfect cinematic expression of Carrot Top, and not just because it’s desperately unfunny. This is a kid’s movie made for a PG-13 audience, a squealing, farting, testicle-bruising, stomach-flu fever dream of fisheye lenses and garishly tilted camera angles. It is no surprise that Edison’s “love interest” Courtney Thorne-Smith looks nauseous and anxious in every scene.
When the story opens, Edison is a slacker surfer getting squeezed for money by his landlady, played at full volume by Seinfeld screecher Estelle Harris. She has allowed Edison and his two friends to live rent-free for a year, during which time they have completely trashed the property, but now believes that she should be duly compensated as per their contractual arrangement, and therefore she is evil. If you thought the self-righteous deadbeats in Rent were annoying, get a load of these guys.
In a fortuitous twist, Edison runs into a fabulously wealthy CEO played by Jack Warden, who is naturally delighted by this buffoon’s inane antics and scrapbook of invention ideas, most of which appear to be two-dimensional scribbles of theoretically complex machinery. “You’ve got a good head on your shoulders,” says Warden while flipping through the drawings. We at first assume he’s being polite and maybe a little condescending, since it looks like a baby drew them, but Warden is so impressed by Edison that he wills the entire company to him just before his death.
This comes as a shock to Warden’s last living relative Bradford (Larry Miller, doing his best), a man who, despite the undermining efforts of his flaky uncle (the guy who just willed a multinational corporation to a psychotic drifter that he met one time, remember), has slaved tirelessly to make his company a job-creating success, and is therefore evil. It is during this will-reading sequence at the funeral home that Edison tries to borrow clothes from an embalmed corpse, an act of grappling that a passerby mistakes for sexual congress. “We all have our different ways of saying goodbye,” he sighs. Side note: when you think you see someone fucking a dead body, wistful resignation at the transience of mortality is NOT the proper reaction.
Bradford has a secret plan to sell the company to a corporate pirate played by Raquel Welch, who instantly materializes whenever the story needs her, as though she were still in the world of Bedazzled. Edison “heroically” decides to save and expand the company, even though by the looks of their home office, the industrial pollution they dump into the environment makes Koch Industries look like Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. Even worse, Edison’s big idea to save the company is to create a self-microwaving TV dinner with a disposable television inside, a product that besides accelerating our planet’s E-waste to an apocalyptic pace, is a radioactive product intended for personal use that is rushed to market without a single safety test.
In the end, Edison exposes Bradford in front of the entire board, and Welch’s corporate raider switches sides, all because she wants to get in on the ground market of Edison’s latest invention: a farting, possibly radioactive shirt that publicly exposes its wearer as a liar and fraud – it sells itself! “That Bull Shirt of yours is worth millions!” she cries. Hilariously, it is assumed that there is a bottomless market for prop comedy in this universe, which considering the abysmal box office performance, thorough critical drubbing, and general unwatchability of Carrot Top’s lone movie vehicle Chairman of the Board, is an appropriately cruel irony.