R-rated comedies can be a tough sell, especially in the '90s when most comedies were either PG or PG-13 to cater to a broader audience. There’s Something About Mary behind-the-scenes stories prove, however, there were production companies willing to risk adult humor.
Peter and Bobby Farrelly were not scared to push the envelope. In making There’s Something About Mary, the Farrelly brothers wanted to pay homage to one of their favorite comedies from the '70s, National Lampoon's Animal House. They were able to compile raunchy, politically incorrect, adult humor into a film that balances over-the-top gags with plenty of heart. At its core, the Farrelly brothers' 1998 film is a sweet romantic comedy - once you get past the hair gel scene and the franks and beans incident - and what happened behind the scenes of There’s Something About Mary could almost be its own film.
The scene of poor Ted getting his "franks and beans" stuck in his zipper on the biggest social night of his teenage years actually happened in real life.
Bobby Farrelly admitted the scene worked because it was based in reality. He said, "The things that actually do happen are funnier to us. Pete and I said, 'What could happen that could embarrass this kid?'"
Bobby further explained that when his sister was in eighth grade, she had a group of friends over to their house. One of her friends went to the bathroom, and just like Ted, got his stuff stuck in his zipper. When he did not come out of the restroom for a long time, their father, who was a doctor, went in to check on him. Years later the Farrelly parents finally told their kids what happened.
The Farrelly brothers based the character Warren on a boy who lived down the street from them growing up. In a 2014 interview with The Telegraph, Peter Farrelly explained how important it was to them in how they depicted Warren and the overall positive reaction to their approach. They said:
[Warren is] based on a guy we grew up with named Warren who lived in our street who was intellectually challenged. He hung around because he was our friend’s older brother... nobody who knew Warren in our group would ever in a million years think that there was anything insulting about [the character].
The people who complain about this sort of thing are the people who would rather never see [intellectually challenged characters]. We’re like, "Well they’re real people, why not put them out there?" And in fact, I’ve read things in the press about how people were offended, but we never, ever got one letter from anybody that was offended by it, in fact all we got were letters saying, "Hey, I have a brother who’s intellectually challenged and I saw your movie and it made me want to hang with him more."
Mary's older, much tanner, neighbor Magda (Lin Shaye) and her dog Puffy have a close relationship. In one scene, the two get very intimate with the pooch performing some heavy licking all over Magda's face.
Turns out the scene was improvised. Shaye explained her relationship with Slammer saying:
We started the scene and Pete came out and says, "Come on guys, let's get this cooking." To elevate the energy, I picked up Slammer and held him up in the air above me. And the dog just started kissing me. My job was to stay in the scene so I stuck with it. When Pete yelled cut, he called it a fantastic moment. Slammer did love me; he would come look at me, look at his trainer, and then crawl over into my lap.
The cast and crew loved the scene as well, and it got laughs from just about everyone. The scene where Puffy flies out of the apartment window, however, was not getting the type of shocked reaction from Shaye and Diaz the brothers were looking for. In order to provoke the reactions he wanted, Bobby took dramatic measures. "There was this big butt staring at us," Shaye said. "Bobby loves showing people his butt."
The hair gel bit from There's Something About Mary is another memorable scene. In order to get just the right consistency of "hair gel" for Mary to take from Ted's ear, the prop department showed the Farrelly brothers about 20 different samples, and the scene almost didn't happen.
At the time, Cameron Diaz was an up-and-coming actor. She was having second thoughts about how the film's humor would affect her career. She described how she finally came to the conclusion to do the scene saying:
At first, I had questions because you never know how something like that can go since it had never been done before. I trusted Bobby and Peter, obviously, because they are so hilarious, but when we came up with the visual to the joke, it made me realize how right they were.
Bobby Farrelly explained the precariousness of Diaz's decision to leave the scene in the movie:
As we do with every movie, we ask the actors upfront if they are cool with everything. It could have been a career-defining moment, and we didn’t want to strong-arm her into doing it. We said, "Cameron, if the audience is going, 'Eww,' we'll take it out." We let her decide. When we tested the movie and she saw the audience laughing, she said, "Okay, I'm cool."