‘Poop Talk’ Needs No Courtesy Flush

by Warren Cantrell on February 14, 2018

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Solid Rock Fist Up]

When taking a comedic swing at a topic, reaching for scat humor isn’t much of a stretch, and is broadly considered the lowest of humor’s low-hanging fruit. After all, babies play with poop, as do primates and other beasts bereft of the civility of modern man, so working it into a script or standup set does not paint the author in the best intellectual light. Yet the fact remains: poop and stories about poop are weirdly endearing, and can entertain if done just right.

Poop Talk is a documentary that explores humanity’s relationship with fecal matter using the best vessel one could hope for: professional comedians. In just under 70 minutes, Poop Talk humorously skims the surface of what people talk about when they talk about shit, and looks at the different ways people of all walks of life connect with one of the irreplaceable functions of existence. And while the documentary doesn’t tackle any great truths or challenging notions about how we live with or manage our solid waste, it does rub off the veneer of a somewhat taboo topic in a humorous way.

Structure-wise, Poop Talk doesn’t have much of a thru-line as it concerns the tackling of its topic, and instead floats between about a dozen talking heads to touch on several poop-related topics. This includes personal fecal preferences, for as Modern Family star Eric Stonestreet relates, he’s an at-home shitter, and doesn’t crap in public spaces. This stands in stark contrast to comedian Nicole Byer, who talks at length about how she will take a dump on any toilet at any time if the mood strikes her (even if in mid-cheeseburger consumption).

Later, Dr. Drew Pinsky makes an appearance to discuss the medical and psychological connections humans have to fecal matter, and why people seem to have such a strong, visceral response to even the mention of it. Other comedians cycle in to discuss the professional implications of bringing shit up during a set, and how it must be done with exacting precision so as not to slide into the inappropriate or crass. As already mentioned, comedians look at poop jokes as bottom-tier material, so to work it into a routine is a dicey proposition to say the least.

Yet it can be done, and done well. Actor/comedian Nick Swardson tells a rip-roaring tale about how he took a mean shit in a friend’s kitchen, then blamed it on the dog. Writer Nicole Aimée Schreiber relays a fantastic story about how she took a naked dump at a friend’s house, clogged the toilet, flooded the bathroom, and caused an unspeakable abomination which is too good to spoil here.

All of this serves to break down the walls society has put up around the weirdly taboo topic of crapping, and does a good job introducing the audience into the flow of this conversation. Because at the end of the day, regardless of how rich or poor a person is, where they come from or what they do: everyone shits. In all of this, director Aaron Feldman seems to be making a point about the shared human experience, and how people can always connect over the absurd practice of having to crap, regardless of whatever else separates them.

And maybe that’s good enough for a documentary about poop: to connect everyone to a shared experience that can unite people in an age of stark divisions (and to make people laugh while doing it). Much like The Aristocrats, another documentary that relied on talking head comedian interviews to tackle just one thing (a legendary joke in that case), Poop Talk doesn’t strive for much except to make its audience laugh, and maybe start a casual conversation. This is aided in no small part by the talent assembled for this effort, which includes those already mentioned, along with Kumail NanjianiRob Corddry, Aisha Tyler, Nikki Glaser, Pete Holmes, Vijal Patel, Bobby Lee, and a handful of others.

Feldman’s documentary and his stable of extremely funny people aren’t blowing the lid off of anything, nor are they leading the audience through a prearranged lesson to push a narrative; they just want to talk honestly about poop, and how people deal with it in their lives. The pacing of the whole thing is crisp and quick, and never lingers on any person, topic, or theme for too long. How these writers, actors, and comedians came to understand the process of going #2, and what they see now as adults with kids of their own, offers its own insight, and is a surprisingly charming portion.

Opening this Friday in limited theatrical release and simultaneously on VOD, Poop Talk is a funny exploration of what it means to be a functioning creature on planet Earth that has to excrete something for everything it takes in. Although it doesn’t plumb any profound depths, and seems content to merely touch on the history of waste management and disposal in human history, it does cast a wide cultural net to explore how people from around the world live with shit (literally). Easy, breezy, and not too cheesy, Poop Talk is well worth the hour or so it will take you to laugh your way through it. Sit back, relax, unclench, and just let it happen.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and his own site, 10rant.com. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing. Mr. Cantrell is happily unmarried, and without any children, pets, or plants.

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