Everyone knows that falling down sucks. It’s embarrassing, you can get hurt, and even if you’re able to turn it into some sort of “I meant to do that” moment, there’s still a nagging part of your brain that thinks, “God, that was stupid.”
So why, then, do we love to watch other people fall down? As Albert Brooks could tell you, physical comedy is almost a universal language. People all around the world love pratfalls. For about as long as time has existed, we’ve loved to watch others take spills—on purpose or not—for the purpose of our own entertainment. In entertainment, that’s manifested itself over the years through Shakespeare’s fools, vaudeville routines, and The Three Stooges, with more recent entries into the pratfall canon coming from physical performers like Jim Carrey and Melissa McCarthy.
For The A.V. Club’s latest entry in our Why We Love series, we looked at why we love physical comedy, from head-over-heels tumbles to a Stooge-style poke in the eye. Why do shows like Wipeout and Floor Is Lava thrill while the idea of dear old grandma taking a header invokes chills? What makes a well-timed baseball bat to the crotch really sing, and why have Chris Farley-as-Matt Foley’s coffee table antics endured as long as they have?
For answers, we went to some experts in the field, from Peter Seely, an academic who edited a book about The Three Stooges to Rutledge Wood, host of Floor Is Lava. We consulted Saturday Night Live alums Jason Sudeikis and Rob Riggle—who also hosts the very prat-filled Holey Moley, and actor, director, and Buster Keaton aficionado Natalie Morales. We went to stuntwoman Zoë Bell to find out what makes a fall funny, and to Peter McGraw, director of the Humor Research Lab and author of Shtick To Business for a lesson on “benign violations.” We even sat down with Jackass icon Steve-O to talk about 20 years of falling down, and to frequent Jackass collaborator Lance Bangs for some insight into the group’s commitment to truth in comedy.