Brothers from Another Planet

Whether or not you think fat jokes or French-kissing terriers are funny, you have to respect the Farrelly brothers.

A decade ago, Peter, 48, and Bobby, 46, resurrected the genre of slapstick humor with their film Dumb and Dumber, taking broad comedy to a new level, since copied, but never matched. They pushed taboo topics such as physical handicaps, mental illness, and sexual imbroglios to squirm-in-your-seat levels, all the while tempering the blush factor with their sentimental treatment of such classic themes as love, redemption, and triumph over adversity. In the Farrelly brothers' world, losers become winners, women are a little bit mysterious and a little too one-dimensional, and there are always friends to lean on. It's the brothers' friends and relatives, in fact, who largely populate each film as extras and bit players, lending their salty New England humor to one-liners. Cast members number in the dozens, with everyone from the Farrellys' siblings, dogs, and kids, to their stars' parents (Matt Damon's mother as a customer at Quickee Burger in Stuck on You, Cameron Diaz's dad as a prison inmate in There's Something about Mary ) making cameos.

This month, the brothers from Cumberland, Rhode Island, release the American adaptation of British novelist Nick Hornby's sports memoir, Fever Pitch, substituting baseball for soccer, Boston for London. Jimmy Fallon plays Ben to Drew Barrymore's Lindsay, a couple tortured by Ben's love for the Red Sox. The film promises to be another zany, unpredictable journey into the Farrellys' universe, a universe best entered with the help of a guide. So here, from Bobby and Peter Farrelly themselves, their relatives, colleagues, friends, and the actors in their films, is the ultimate guide to the crazy, off-the-wall, offensive, endearing universe of the Farrelly brothers.

Jim Shay (Farrelly friend, extra) “I give a lot of credit to their folks. They raised kids who are very down-to-earth and very loyal, and they don't forget their roots. They are really the same guys as they were before they were successful. Their parents laid the groundwork. If you go out with the entire family you are going to laugh.”

Cindy Farrelly Gesner (Peter and Bobby's sister) “My dad is a jokester. Mom is gentler. Dad is the root of Pete and Bobby's humor. Their humor is different from his, but derived from him. My dad puts on a tough-guy act and teases people only if he likes them. For my brothers, teasing is always good-natured, but not always gentle. But the teasing comes from a place of kindness. Neither of them has a mean bone in their body.”

Zen Gesner (actor, Peter and Bobby's brother-in-law) “When Peter was younger, he got a label maker, where you type in letters and numbers. He went around the house labeling everything. His mother, Mariann, went to play bridge that night. Late in the evening, someone at the bridge tournament went up to her and finally told her about the label on her back. It said, 'I just pooped.' She'd been walking around all night with the label on her back. So lots of their humor comes from their parents and their siblings. A lot of their humor comes out of real-life experiences they had growing up. When something funny in our everyday lives happens, we immediately call up Bobby and Peter and tell them about it.”

Cindy Farrelly Gesner “As children they slept in twin beds in the same room. Peter always took care of Bobby. We had a pond where we would all go skating. We have lots of pictures of Peter and Bobby together, and Peter was always holding Bobby's hand, helping him off the ice if he had fallen. In all my life, I don't think I've ever seen them have a fight. I've seen each of them fight with other people, but never with each other.”

Peter Farrelly “We think alike. There are times when you're making a movie where you have self-doubt, and during those times I just look at him, like, are we out of our minds? If he looks the same way, there's something wrong. There are a lot of brother filmmaking teams right now — the Coens, the Wachowskis, the Farrellys, the Zuckers, the Hugheses. There's a reason for that. When you have a brother, you're twice as strong. A great example is Something about Mary. It would have been very easy to soften that project. How can you have semen hanging off a guy's ear in a mainstream movie? What seems funny on paper to us, seemed to people who had money invested like it was going to make the movie a flop.”

Cindy Farrelly Gesner “Some of the movies are controversial, about someone with schizophrenia, some about overweight women, conjoined twins. But if you really watch the movies, you see that their humor still comes from a place of goodness and kindness.”

Peter Farrelly “Each movie has its own battles. Honestly, I wish I didn't have to direct; I like writing. But you direct to protect your material. Because someone else won't see it the way you will, and they'll change it. If you're timid, you will not fight those fights because you start getting tired of them. If our movies have done well, it's because we fought the battles.”

Steve Sweeney (comedian, Farrelly friend, extra) “Their humor, it can be so dark and so slapstick. You wouldn't picture them as what they are, which is totally family guys.”

Brad Blank (sports agent, Farrelly friend, extra) “Very early on when I knew these guys, I went to a wedding with Peter in Boston. In a cab on our way to the reception, we saw a homeless woman begging for change, and we both remarked that she was reasonably attractive. Right away, Peter said, 'What about a story where you meet a homeless woman and eventually propose to her, and you want her to move in with you, but she wants you to move out with her?' It was instantaneous. That's how his mind works.”

Sean Moynihan (writer, Shallow Hal ) “In that circle, if they aren't giving you a hard time, it's a bit of an insult. I'm legally blind. The first movie set I was ever on was when we were shooting up at Mount Wachusett. We were filming a scene, and I leaned in to look at a monitor. Peter whispered, 'Hey Sean, you're staring at a refrigerator.' It was really a monitor. Peter was pulling my leg. But it was a good icebreaker. Some blind people might not think that's funny. I did.”

Brad Blank “Once they made Dumb and Dumber, it got to be a cottage industry to put their friends in their movies. Now there might be 600 or 700 people in one of their movies. You have to watch the credits. It's really grown exponentially.”

Bobby Farrelly “In the town we grew up in, there's this really nice family. Every Christmas Eve, they had a big party at their house. One year they got tired of cleaning up on Christmas Day, and they said, 'We've gotta stop this!' But they couldn't. So they decided they were going to go away on vacation. A bunch of guys from the town just showed up, broke into the house, had the party, and most of the town showed up anyway. I feel like that's where Pete and I are in having friends and family in our movies. They just show up. They want to get in, and there's nothing we can do to stop it at this point.”

Zen Gesner “They'll have family and friends come in and audition like anyone else. If the role fits, there is a good chance you'll get it. But if it doesn't fit, then it goes to someone more experienced or more appropriate. Some worked for me, some didn't. There is just no pressure. The part goes to the right person.”

Steve Sweeney “These [movie] openings, they're crawling with Farrellys. Almost too many, actually. They should get rid of a few of them. They should have a two-Farrelly limit.”

Brad Blank “My claim to fame in the Farrelly brothers' kingdom is There's Something about Mary. I scream the line 'We got a bleeder!' when Stiller gets his you-know-what caught in his zipper and the paramedics have to come and help him out. For weeks after that, I couldn't do my dry cleaning without somebody yelling, 'We got a bleeder!' Believe it or not, I got recognized on the street all the time.”

Bobby Farrelly “In Dumb and Dumber we were trying to cast the character Sea Bass, and we wanted a Cam Neely type. We did that five or six times, and we thought, Why don't we get Cam Neely? It was a lot of fun, exciting, and sort of became a tradition. It was fun for us to bring the guys in. We're big sports fans, and we like having the guys on the set.”

Cam Neely (hockey legend, Farrelly friend, extra) “They gave me a signed poster from Dumb and Dumber. On it they wrote, 'It's a rare thing when a bit player gives the most inspired and believable performance in the whole movie. In fact, it doesn't happen. But, thanks for trying.'”

Zen Gesner “The life behind the camera is almost as humorous as the movie being produced. Between takes, Peter and Bobby will play quarters. Not the drinking game. They toss quarters and try to get them as close to the wall or curb as they can, and that person wins the game. Everyone gets involved. Sound people, lighting, actors.”

Isabella Fink ( actress, Fever Pitch ) “We were sitting in an old baby-blue VW bug that's on top of a truck, and we were driving around downtown Toronto at rush hour. In between takes, we were well entertained by Jimmy, as always, but every now and then, from the speaker in the trunk, Peter would pipe up with impressions of Mister Ed, or a parrot. That always made the waiting easier.”

Bobby Farrelly “When we heard [ Fever Pitch ] had been adapted to the Red Sox, we thought, 'Oh my god! This is right up our alley.' We're lifelong Red Sox fans, and we didn't want anyone who didn't have anything to do with the team making this story.”

zen gesner “They love New England. The Farrellys have this deep, deep rooted love for New England. They love the people, they love the Patriots, they love the Red Sox with a passion. They always pay homage to their roots in every film.”

Bobby Farrelly “New England is a funny place. People embrace a character. They like people who are outside the norm. A guy like Whitey Bulger, I mean, people are fascinated. He's such an unusual and larger-than-life character. On a comedic scale, there are a ton of people like that.”

Peter Farrelly “There are two very funny places in North America. For some reason there are a lot of very funny people coming out of Toronto. I don't know why that is, but there are. And New England. From New York up. When I moved to L.A., everybody I met was from New York, New Jersey, Boston. A lot of it I think has to do with the ethnicity of the area. We have pockets of Irish people, Italian people, Jewish, we have everything. There's something about ethnicity that allows people to be individuals. There's something about that old blood that's funny.”

Sean Moynihan “Long before working with the Farrellys, I went out to L.A. to visit my friend Jimmy Shay, who was then Pete's roommate. When I arrived, Peter was a very gracious host showing me around the apartment. He warned me that the carpets were new and the lint could be a real problem, so don't leave things around on the floor. 'I mean, jeez, look at this,' he said, as he lifted his T-shirt, where he had packed a week's worth of dryer lint into his belly button. That was funny, but more interesting was that it required some thought prior to my arrival. That's typical. Pete and Bob are constantly working some gag or joke, trying to perfect it.”

Brad Blank “You've probably heard the melanoma story by now. It's a Peter-Bobby joke. A lot of their [practical jokes] are rehearsed, you have to know that. And sometimes you play along, and sometimes they get you. Bobby comes up to me and says, 'Did you hear the bad news? Peter has a growth. It may be cancerous, and he's really concerned, and I know you're not a doctor, but he's hoping you'll take a look at it and let him know if you think it's something he should get checked out.' Anyway, it ends up so that they draw your face into Peter's crotch, and what you're really looking at is his penis. Only he has it stretched out so it looks like it's coming out of his belly button. This was at their sister's rehearsal dinner. But I've heard they've done this to Penny Marshall and Steven Spielberg. So they don't really discriminate.”

Peter Farrelly ” Something about Mary was on cable. And I found myself cackling, just howling. I'd forgotten so much stuff. I'd have to say that scene where he gets his zipper stuck works on very many levels. It really is an old-fashioned, Marx brothers, slapstick, anything-can-happen scene. And it's coming at you from so many angles. There's the parents, there's the firemen, there's the policemen, there's this girl, there's this mentally challenged brother, and of course there's Ben. All experiencing different things.”

Bobby Farrelly “When we were doing Dumb and Dumber and Something about Mary, we were really going out there for the laughs. I think that as a result of that, there were a bunch of other movies that went out there, and I think it became a little tired. Right now, we're pulling back. A good romantic comedy, a nice story that's funny, but not outrageous. That's what's selling right now. That's what the tone of Fever Pitch is. It's a good romantic comedy.”

Peter Farrelly “We've had a lot of trouble making [ The Three Stooges, a future project], and along the way things like Fever Pitch have popped up. But that movie will get made. Mark my words. I want to make that movie, I love that script. It'll all fall together one of these days. We develop projects all the time. We have this thing we really like called Alcoholics Unanimous. It's about a couple of alcoholics who break out of rehab. One of the guy's ex-girlfriends is getting married, and he has to stop it, and along the way they have to stay sober. Turns out she's getting married at Mardi Gras. But we're always leaning toward the Stooges. Shallow Hal and Stuck on You were different from what we've done. They were more heartfelt. And Fever Pitch is certainly different. It's way more sophisticated. So it would be nice to just go back to a slapstick comedy.”