It can be embarrassing to talk about poop, but the simple truth remains: We all do it. For comedians Jason and Randy Sklar, the shyness and disgust that surround defecation were the perfect reason to gravitate toward the topic. For their new film, the not-so-subtly named Poop Talk, they gathered dozens of their friends and colleagues to talk about all things poop. Doing so cut to the core of what is arguably humanity’s only universal truth.
“It’s the only thing that we can agree on that everyone does,” comedian Paul Scheer says in the film.
Poop humor is often dismissed as juvenile — and much of it is — but as Poop Talk shows, it can also be an effective vehicle for dismantling social taboos. Poop anxiety and stress-related bowel problems are documented health issues that, because of those taboos, aren’t talked about all that much. As someone with those issues, Jason Sklar tells Inverse that being able to joke about poop in the movie was actually quite therapeutic.
“It’s changed a lot of my approach to pooping,” Jason tells Inverse. “I used to not be able to poop in public at all. I would hold it for unhealthy periods of time, I’d wait until I could get home, I would wait until I was in a bathroom where no one was around. Now I just understand that that’s incredibly unhealthy to do, and if I have to go somewhere, I just go and don’t worry about it as much.”
Director Aaron Feldman initially approached the Sklars to ask if they wanted to make a serious documentary about the history of poop, and they were hesitant.
“We said ‘no,’” Randy tells Inverse. They didn’t think it fit their style, but the brothers deliberated over a weekend and came back to Feldman with their idea: a movie about poop that’s thoughtful and funny, with lots of funny people getting honest about this taboo topic. “We’ve eliminated taboos for so many other things in our society except this,” says Randy, who describes the role of the comedian as that of an amateur anthropologist.
The movie does start out with some solid information about the origin of poop and the science of disgust, but that soon gives way to the humorous heart of the film. Through interviews with Kumail Nanjiani, Aisha Tyler, Eric Stonestreet, Rob Corddry, Dr. Drew Pinsky, Nicole Schreiber, Pete Holmes, Nikki Glaser, Nick Swardson, the film deploys humor to unite the audience around a common experience, and in doing so, diminish the shame the comes with it.
“As soon as you have life, you have a membrane around something, stuff goes in, stuff comes out: You’ve got shit,” says David Walter-Toews, epidemiologist and author of The Origin of Feces, in an on-screen interview. “So life and excrement started at exactly the same time.” Zooming along to today, celebrity health expert Dr. Drew Pinsky arrives to discuss disgust, that familiar impulse that tells us poop is to be avoided.
“Poo was a source of infectious disease and all sorts of nasty things,” Pinsky tells the audience. “And so when it comes to things that trigger our brain to disgust feelings, usually there’s some strong evolutionary purpose for that.”
For better or worse, those feelings of disgust persisted through evolutionary time, seeping into human culture and ultimately leading to the creation of this film. Understanding how our poop taboo came to be forces us to re-evaluate the way we respond to it, and that can only be a good thing: The Sklars say that talking about poop without shame or judgment with so many people they respect broke down barriers among them and helped chisel away at some of the society-induced shame that surrounds the act. Poop Talk, ultimately, is not an educational documentary per se, but you’ll certainly come out knowing more about yourself.
Poop Talk, which is being distributed by Comedy Dynamics, opens in 10+ cities in the U.S. and Canada, as well as video on-demand, on February 16.