Twenty years ago today, on March 13, 1998, the world was bestowed with a film for the ages. A work of unparalleled idiosyncratic personality that stunned audiences, defied logic, and practically redefined our very conceptions of good and bad. It was a singular cinematic achievement, and an enduring testament to the unique comedic stylings of its star, who remains one of his era’s most memorable voices.
I’m speaking, of course, about Chairman of the Board, the abysmal 1998 comedy (no relation to Frank Sinatra) that debuted two decades ago today and, in doing so, gave cinephiles the Carrot Top vehicle they’d always dreaded. In the medium’s century-plus history, few movies have been as unwanted, and as widely reviled by audiences and critics alike, as director Alex Zamm’s film — and with good reason. The story of Edison (Top), a surfer who dreams of being an inventor and, lo and behold, fortuitously becomes the CEO of an “Ideas” company — thus sparking a rivalry with Larry Miller’s wannabe-heir to the throne, and a romance with (then-Melrose Place star) Courtney Thorne-Smith’s colleague — it unsurprisingly earned only $181,233 at the box office. And its pitiful reputation only nosedived further in ensuing years, thanks to cable TV broadcasts that subjected more viewers to its highly particular (and intolerable) brand of cornball slapstick humor, most of it revolving around its headliner’s fondness for lame prop-related gags.
It is, in short, arguably the worst big-screen comedy ever made. Which is why, on its 20th anniversary, we’ve chosen to celebrate its peerless putridness with a rundown of its 10 most excruciating moments.
10. I Hate the ’90s-isms
There’s no better way to date a comedy than by populating it with jokes about of-the-moment pop-culture figures and fads – as ably happens here, via groan-worthy references to crash test dummies, “The Club,” psychic hotlines, Fabio, Chia Pets, NYPD Blue and John Tesh. Even former “Queen of the Internet” Cindy Margolis makes an appearance.
9. Carrot Top’s Projectile Birth
Chairman of the Board opens with a view of a young Edison, in utero, playing with chemical beakers next to a portrait of his father (a sperm). He’s then violently ejected out of his mom’s womb and through the adjacent hospital wall, where he leaves a cartoony hole the shape of his body and wild red hair. Thus, a nightmare is born.
9. Estelle Harris’ Electrolarynx
One hopes Estelle Harris fired the agent who recommended she capitalize on her Seinfeld fame by co-starring in Chairman of the Board — especially given that she plays Edison’s harping landlady, who speaks using an electrolarynx (a.k.a. electronic voice box). People with throat-related conditions have rarely been treated less respectfully or amusingly.
7. Extinguishing the Eternal Flame
Shortly after befriending Edison, business bigwig Armand (Jack Warden) dies. At the man’s funeral, Carrot Top’s protagonist wrestles a necktie off a corpse in order to look presentable for the formal occasion. Then, he stumbles into the ceremony and promptly extinguishes — and then reignites, at too high a level — the eternal flame lit in Armand’s honor. Because, you know, that’s how funeral homes pay tribute to all their clients — with eternal flames.
6. Stinking up the Joint
Armand’s VHS will (replete with the man’s bed sprouting wings and flying off to heaven) names Edison as his company’s new CEO. And to begin his first day on the job, Edison promptly farts in the elevator — which he blames on other passengers. Not content with just one such gag, Chairman of the Board later returns to this flatulent well twice more, via a lie-detector shirt that, to denote untruths, emits exaggerated farting noises.
5. Cross-Dressing Carrot Top
Edison and his two pals Ty (Mystro Clark) and Zak (Jack Plotnik) are gnarly California surfer dudes who wear outlandishly bright clothes, boast absurd hairstyles, and live in a house that’s full of gadgets and gizmos straight out of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Even more unpleasant than their ’90s fashion, however, is the sight of Carrot Top in a tennis skirt — and the film’s use of his cross-dressing for a lousy joke.
4. The Humiliation of Jack Warden, M. Emmet Walsh, and Raquel Welch
The Internet Movie Database lists 164 acting credits for the always capable Jack Warden, none worse than this one, in which he actually says he’s going to “shred a few waves.”
M. Emmet Walsh’s greatness was so reliable, Roger Ebert once included him as part of the Stanton-Walsh rule, which stipulated that “no movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad” — a guideline disproved by his participation (as a grinning-idiot board member) in this irredeemable endeavor.
And as for the then-58-year-old Raquel Welch, here reduced to flashing her cleavage and long legs in an effort to seduce Larry Miller? Let’s just say it’s close to a career low point.
3. Courtney Thorne-Smith’s Burping
Far more embarrassing than Warden and Walsh’s turns in Chairman of the Board is Courtney Thorne-Smith’s performance as Natalie, Edison’s oft-exasperated right-hand woman, who rolls her eyes at her new boss’ Hawaiian-shirted clownishness before eventually falling for his “charms.” We learn that she’s the yin to Edison’s yang when, during a lunch date held inside a museum’s Great Plains diorama, she sinks to Carrot Top’s dismal level by donning a Native American headdress (seriously?) and then burping the entire alphabet (seriously).
2. Edison’s Awful Inventions
Whether at home or at the office, Edison — per Carrot Top trademark — comes up with one dismally unfunny invention after another. A fanny pack that looks like a nude behind. A baseball bat that also readjusts a player’s crotch. A hat adorned with a bug zapper. A shower helmet that shampoos and conditions. An alarm clock that sounds like sexy women and shakes one awake with prosthetic arms. A TV dinner featuring an actual mini-TV. Laughing yet?
1. Norm Macdonald’s Late Night Carrot Top Mockery
No matter how excruciating every single second of Chairman of the Board proves to be — including the sight of Edison being pooped on by a seagull — nothing is quite as mortifying as the look on Courtney Thorne-Smith’s face during her now-infamous appearance plugging the film on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. In that 1997 clip, fellow guest Norm Macdonald decides to chime in with his own impromptu thoughts about Carrot Top — thus delivering not only the perfect (pre-)review of the film itself, but providing the only laughs to be had with regards to this unrivaled fiasco.
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