While most of it is my fault, I like to take comfort in the idea that I was doomed from the get-go:
• Blame a Depression-era father who forced me to clean my plate through shame and guilt.
• Blame a public school free-lunch system that taught gravy as a food group.
• Blame cable television for being so much better than going outside to play.
• But, most of all, blame old-school hip-hoppers The Fat Boys for having the time of their lives, getting laid while getting paid, and making fat look, well, phat.
Their 1985 hit “All You Can Eat”? For far too long, that was a personal anthem. Just ask that manager of the Golden Corral who once asked me to leave.
Seriously, though: What is the deal with America’s longtime obsession with portly rappers? It’s an odd musical fetish that, with the exception of Blues Traveler’s John Popper and maybe the dude from Crowbar, you never really see in any other genre. Hip-hop has always had a home for MCs with weight problems, from that guy in The Sugarhill Gang Heavy D, Chunky A, Big Pun, and — may he rest in peace (of pie) — The Notorious B.I.G., who recently had a biopic made which, crazily enough, didn’t end with him having a coronary on the toilet.
However, none of those rotund rappers made a mainstream impact the way The Fat Boys did. Built upon Prince Markie Dee, Kool Rock-Ski, and the late Human Beatbox Buff Love, the tubby trio was all about the good times, with the Nightmare on Elm Street 4 theme song, “Are You Ready for Freddy,” about as hardcore as they got. They were three confident and enterprising young men who wouldn’t let something like a couple of pounds get in the way of chart domination … until you gaze into their bloodshot eyes, that is.
Take a good look at any promotional still: Behind all the laughs, I suspect massive amounts of sadness, depression and self-loathing. When the concert was over, when the groupies were gone and there you are, lying on the floor, chili in your hair, trying to use a Big Mac wrapper as a blanket, struggling to breathe … you kinda realize that the only way out of this prison of lard is with a handful of pills, the same ones you use to dull the constant knee and back pain.
But, sadly, those aren’t pills — they’re SweeTarts and you just end up substituting this want to die with another sausage calzone, another Pepsi ThirstBuster and another streaming face of deliciously salty tears. It’s the story of my life and I’m willing to bet it’s the story of theirs. Cue strings.
But, hey, at least they got a movie out of it, right? That’s something! A comedic documentation of their sorrows for the entire world to enjoy! Clowns gotta eat too, you know.
In their big-screen outing, 1987’s Disorderlies, the Titans of Thickness (I just made that up; I should’ve written for Word Up! magazine!) basically play very unsubtle versions of themselves: grossly obese, inner-city ne’er-do-wells who share not only a downright-dangerous obsession with mass-gorging, but an interest in late-term eldercare. It’s too bad this obvious love of healing the aged is overshadowed by the fact they are the “worst orderlies in the history of medicine” (the film’s description of them, by the way).
Before I go further, I can’t help but wonder: How did these guys get the schooling necessary in order to get jobs in such a specialized medical industry? They not only show a total lack of medical knowledge, but a lack of the attention and seriousness one would need just to get to class on time, let alone pass the required tests. For the sake of enjoying the film, in order to create a suspension of disbelief to help me move forward, I mentally fabricated a backstory that they made it through with a mixture of pulling pranks on an overworked but scheming dean who just wanted them and their offbeat ways kicked off campus … and away from his plans to sell the college to an evil oil company from Texas. (Hey! These early years in college would actually be a great idea for a straight-to-video prequel: Disorderlies: The First Course!)
That being said, The Fat Boys are hired by scheming villain Anthony Geary (TV’s General Hospital) — who desperately wants to be Rene Auberjonois — to take care of his ailing millionaire uncle (Ralph Bellamy, Trading Places) because, as any rational thinking human could see, a few hours in the care of these bulging buffoons and that poor old man’s heart rate would be flatter than the week-old Meat Lover’s pizza in the backseat of my car.
Miraculously, after a trip to a roller rink where, after a skate train and a barely dressed chanteuse sings a song called, I think, “Work Me Down There,” the gruff old-timer gets a total boner (complete with a “Boing!” sound effect) and his joie de vivre returns. He doesn’t want to die. He refuses to die. He wants to live life to the fullest and do all the things that have been passing him by! It’s like The Bucket List, only this bucket is filled with original-recipe fried chicken.
This, as you would guess, complicates the sniveling Geary’s plan, which, of course, was to have his then-feeble uncle die and then leave him his entire fortune, all of which would be used to cover his mounting gambling debts. Plots are foiled; schemes are brought to light; and the Miami elite drop their collective monocles into champagne glasses while exclaiming in unison, “I never!” as Uncle Gramps and his corpulent crew turn the upper crust into the stuffed-crust, showing those starched shirts how to get fresh and/or def. It’s the snobs vs. the blobs, and there is never any doubt what the outcome would be, besides diabetes and heart disease, of course.
Now available on MOD DVD from Warner Archive, Disorderlies is essentially one 90-minute fat joke, but it’s a funny 90-minute fat joke. It’s directed by Michael Schultz, the guy behind Krush Groove, The Last Dragon, Car Wash and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Like those films, as entertaining as they are, there’s absolutely no artistic style present in Disorderlies; most times, it seems made up on the fly.
For example, when two of The Fat Boys dress up like cops to commandeer a car, their hit song — “Wipeout,” which featured the bastardized, late-era Beach Boys — is playing in the background. Now, when they stop the car and pull out the driver, you know there’s gonna be a cameo. Probably Mike Love or Al Jardine, right? Nope! It’s Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick fame. Was he just there on the set and they threw him on camera? (To be fair though, The Beach Boys do make a cameo at the very end. As does Helen Reddy. Why? I don’t know.) With an already threadbare premise, maybe making it up on the fly was the only way to go to make a more entertaining flick. Either way, it worked.
Please, let’s not forget the music. The centerpiece is a fantastic rap cover of The Beatles’ “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” that, sure, misses the entire point of the original, but manages to be funky as all get-out. Listening to the fun, frivolous music of The Fat Boys is both uplifting and disheartening: uplifting because it’s a positive, fun, simple good time and disheartening because they may never get the respect they so richly deserved. Let’s come out and admit it right now: How many of us were turned on to hip-hop because of these guys? Yeah, you can be cool and say it was Public Enemy or something equally pretentious, but that cassette tape of Crushin’ you’ve got stored in the closet will tell a different story. The truth shall set you free, son.
More than 25 years later (!), Disorderlies is a total relic of its time, one that would — could — never be duplicated today. The fat rappers of today are all angry and sullen, and have to really up the macho facade in order to blanket their serious self-esteem issues. Am I right, Fat Joe? Just once I’d like that dude to spit out a tune about how many tacos he can eat in one sitting. I’m betting at least 12.
With no one willing to reclaim that mantle, I guess it’s a job left to the original Fat Boys, isn’t it? With Buff Love sadly passed away, how about a search for the newest Fat Boy? A reality show, maybe? Like Celebrity Fit Club only, you know, the opposite! And how about a comeback album produced by Kanye? I’ve even got a song called “Stroke-In’ It” that would be great for you guys!
C’mon, Fat Boys, this country needs you now more than ever! —Louis Fowler