CENTURY CITY, CA–The serene, awe-inspiring majesty of the lowland gorilla, one of nature's proudest and most powerful creatures, was compromised once again Tuesday, when an adult bull was "willfully and maliciously" exploited for humorous purposes, spokespersons for the Organization To Prevent The Comedic Exploitation Of Animals said.
The humiliating spectacle occurred when "Bobo," raised in captivity and trained since birth to submit to embarrassing lowbrow comedy scenarios for the amusement of humans, was strapped into humorously undersized bellboy garb on the set of the upcoming made-for-cable comedy Monkey Honeymoon, starring Carrot Top and Jennifer Tilly. The animal was then allegedly ordered by handlers to "go ape," creating slapstick disruptions and raising irreverent havoc in an otherwise stodgy and formal luxury-hotel setting.
It was the worst case of primate-degradation-based humor since the 1981 Tony Danza vehicle Going Ape!
"To debase one of these gentle giants in a gimmicky attempt at easy laughs is never funny," OPCEA spokesperson Joseph Garden said. "But to force an animal to endure the humiliation of a cheap bellboy-uniform sight gag is truly beneath the dignity of any living thing."
The producers of Monkey Honeymoon have denied any wrongdoing.
"The scene in question was not included gratuitously," a statement issued by Laff Riot Productions read in part. "The sequence was necessary to further the plot of the film, in which a bunch of escaped apes make a monkey out of Carrot Top."
The controversial incident has revived the longstanding debate over the use of animals for humor purposes.
"This innocent animal was encouraged, through the use of food and other persuasionary devices, to behave in an uncontrolled, mischief-making manner, much to the laughter and delight of his human captors," Garden said. "Such so-called 'monkeyshines'–in which the wild and crazy hijinks of another species are juxtaposed for humorous effect with the more 'civilized' behavioral norms of humans–have no place within the comedic lexicon of any decent society."
According to Garden, the use of gorillas, chimpanzees, and other primates as comedic foils in light slapstick comedy is alive and well.
"Sadly, even such esteemed artists as noted method actor Harvey Keitel have been involved in monkey-based humor ventures. In 1994, Keitel willingly starred in the ostensibly light caper-comedy Monkey Trouble, in which he played a gruff gypsy con man whose pickpocket capuchin monkey opens a veritable 'barrel of laughs,' according to the film's promotional material," Garden said. "The worst thing about such exploitative fare is that much of it is aimed at children, who are too young to understand that the humiliation of our simian cousins, no matter how silly and over-the-top the fish-out-of-water gags may seem, is nothing to laugh at."
Leading primatologists note that grave inaccuracies pervade much of what passes for ape-based humor.
"In real life, lowland gorillas are gentle, nurturing beasts who care for their young communally and maintain a peaceful, hierarchical social order," said scientist and author Jane Goodall, one of the world's foremost primate-behavior experts. "Contrary to popular belief, these wondrous creatures do not create havoc at dinner parties while dressed in formalwear, spill trays of champagne glasses on red-faced, fuming waiters, or 'give the finger' to bumbling bikers while riding in sidecars next to Clint Eastwood."
In fact, Goodall said, the standard comedic behavior attributed to apes–the act of "goin' bananas"–does not occur in the wild unless the animals are provoked by an outside threat.
"For Carrot Top or anyone else to deliberately foster such misconceptions in the minds of the comedy-viewing public does these noble animals a grave disservice," Goodall said. "In all my years spent living with and studying the species, I have never, ever seen a gorilla engage in prop-comedy antics, screwball hijinks, or 'simian shenanigans' of any kind."
"I'm all for humor," Goodall continued, "but some things, like a chimpanzee snatching a toupee off a stuffy maître d', then swinging wildly from a chandelier as the enraged, bald owner tries to grab it back, are just not funny."
The debate over ape exploitation in Hollywood is far from new. In the controversial 1946 case Hope, Crosby v. Gorilla, a federal judge ruled that a movie scene involving a wacky mix-up between pith-helmeted explorers and an outraged gorilla was "within the bounds of common decency," citing the filmmakers' use of an actor in a gorilla costume, which meant that "no actual gorilla's dignity was compromised."
In recent years, some filmmakers have employed more modern versions of this same legal dodge, using animatronics (1996's Ed, starring Friends star Matt LeBlanc) or a midget actor in latex facial prosthetics (1987's Going Bananas, starring Dom DeLuise and Jimmie Walker) to sidestep potential public outcry. However, activists point out, even when such mockery is aimed at an ersatz ape, it is still hurtful and reflects poorly on the species as a whole.
"The real issue is the way we as a society look at apes," Garden said. "Do we see them as infantile, lesser versions of ourselves to be mocked, or as proud creatures deserving of our respect as fellow citizens of this planet? Considering the amount of zany, humiliation-based primate humor flooding our nation's airwaves, TBS's The Chimp Channel being only one example, one thing is clear: When it comes to the type of comedy homo sapiens appreciate, we as a species still have a great deal of evolving to do."