Story & Screenplay by J. F. Lawton
Based on a character created by Howard Stern
Superheroes come with all different powers, but there was a time when we almost had a costumed avenger with a most unusual power- super flatulence. That hero was Fartman, created by one of the most recognized name in the entertainment industry- Howard Stern.
At the end of the 1980s, Stern was on a meteoric rise in his career. His reputation had already spread beyond the small number of markets his show was syndicated into and even outside the radio industry itself. The general public was quickly becoming acquainted with him through his numerous appearances on NBC’s Late Night With David Letterman as well as on such daytime fare ranging from Hollywood Squares to Donahue. Most importantly, though, his show began airing in Los Angeles in 1991. Hollywood executives began tuning in on their commute from their Malibu homes to their respective film studios started to become acquainted with Stern.
It wasn’t long before his agent began receiving calls from the West Coast with film offers. And Howard was ready for them, with the idea of bringing one of his radio show’s recurring characters to the silver screen- Fartman.
Stern created Fartman back in March 1989 with a bit in which the flatulent superhero called the Iranian Embassy in New York. Listeners loved the character and he soon made many repeat appearances, culminating in Stern’s appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards in September, 1992 as Fartman. When Stern had signed a deal with New Line Cinema, he had no concrete plan for what his first movie would be. However, when announcing the deal on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, Stern joked that his feature film debut would be The Adventures Of Fartman. J. F. Lawton, who had already written Pretty Woman and Under Siege, was watching Leno that night and Stern’s off-hand joke sparked his imagination. Feeling that Fartman would be a natural for a raunchy comedy vehicle, the writer lobbied New Line Cinema for the job to script the feature. Just two months after Stern’s VMA appearance, Variety was announcing that Fartman was headed to the big screen.
Not just a comedy, Lawton’s script for The Adventures Of Fartman reads as a parody of the superhero film genre at that point, opening with spoofs of perhaps the most recognizable superheroes in the media- Batman and Superman.
Fartman fades in from black on a riff of the recent blockbuster Batman. Where Tim Burton’s film opens with a family being mugged in a Gotham City alley and the muggers in turn being caught by Batman, the script starts off with a hooker in the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan being mugged and then the attackers being subdued by the flatulent superhero. Of course, there’s the Stern spin on things, so the hooker is actually a transvestite named Bruno.
The script then segues into a quick recap of who Fartman is via a voice over reminiscent of the old George Reeves 1950s Superman television series. “Faster than a hurricane! More powerful than an atomic blast! Able to fly through the air propelled by his own gas!” intones an announcer. Through the voice over we learn that Fartman is really “mild mannered pornographer Clyde Flatiron,” and that his secret identity is known only to “his trusted colonic therapist, Heather Green.” A montage follows showing Fartman as a media darling, receiving the key to New York City from Mayor David Dinkins and being interviewed by Larry King, Jay Leno and Barbara Walters, while newspaper headlines report Kim Bassinger leaving her then husband Alec Baldwin for the superhero. On a newscast, the secretary general of the United Nations intones “All that is good about mankind is symbolized in one man: Fartman.”
At the end of the montage, the movie flashback’s to give us Fartman’s origins. Clyde Flatiron is editor of the weekly smut tabloid the New York Butt. Although he works long hours, he longs to be working for a more reputable paper as a real journalist. His stress levels send him out for frequent colonics from Heather, who often lends a sympathetic ear to his troubles. He’s so depressed and wrapped up in his work that he doesn’t even seem to take notice of the advances from his buxom twin secretaries, both named Sally.
One afternoon, while ruminating on his miserable life, the hot news story Clyde has always been looking for walks into his office on the gorgeous, shapely legs of Mercedes Sterling. The beautiful Mercedes tells him that the successful New York real estate developer Mr. Complex has been hiring criminals to overrun Central Park in order to have the city shut it down so he can purchase the land cheap. An infatuated Clyde doesn’t believer her, but runs the story anyway.
As fate would have it, Mercedes story is true, and Complex – a very short man whose first name is Napoleon – is not happy that it was published, even if it was in something as disreputable as the New York Butt. Complex’s land grab of Central Park is only the first half of his plan. The second involves the building he wants to place on the land- a large tower, “ten times higher than the World Trade Center” with a rounded top with two large globes at its base. Yes, he wants to build a giant phallic high rise.
Complex pays a threatening visit to Clyde at his office, but the plucky newspaper man won’t back down. Realizing that Mercedes wasn’t crazy, he launches his staff into a full investigation, which they tackle with unorthodox methods but surprisingly good results. As Clyde continues to publish new information on the story, even the more legitimate press begins to notice. This is something Complex can not have, so he orders Clyde killed. Complex’s thugs follow Clyde to his regular appointment with Heather and try to kill him by substituting toxic waste with the water normally used for the colonic.
But since this is a superhero story, toxic waste doesn’t kill, it grants super powers. In this case, Clyde’s bowels are now supercharged – in part due to the atomic waste and in part due to the chili dogs Clyde is constantly eating – his farts are mighty blasts. With Heather helping him to harness this power, after making him pledge to not use his power for evil, Clyde decides to fight back at Complex under an alias that “will strike fear in their hearts at the very sound of it!” Fartman! He dons a yellow spandex costume complete with over-stuffed cod piece and cut out buttocks so his might power doesn’t de-pants him the first time he lets loose.
Of course, as Fartman becomes more popular throughout the city, he becomes a danger to Complex’s plans. Searching for a weakness, he discovers one- Beano. Will Complex defeat Fartman? Will Clyde find true love with Mercedes?
While this draft is undated, it is very strong and feels ready to go in front of cameras. The jokes are good and don’t all revolve around sex, though there are plenty that do. During a meeting where Complex spells out his master plan to a group of investors, one objects saying, “My bank can’t support an enterprise that is not only illegal and immoral, but is financially unsound. I mean, this isn’t the eighties.” There is also comedy potential of the six foot plus Stern matching wits with the barely five foot Complex. The Sally twins are also a source of constant surprises, with the story revealing them to more than just bimbos at various junctures.
The script also has plenty of great comic moments that turn superhero conventions on their head. While trying to change into his superhero outfit in a small bathroom to rescue an elderly woman from muggers, he gets tangled up in his clothes. As he tries to untangle himself, the muggers slowly loose their enthusiasm for the beating they’re giving the old woman. Fartman finally shows up as they began to walk away bored. Fartman is a bit quicker to respond to another mugging, but still arrives in time to see the potential victim shoot the mugger in the head with a .357 Magnum. While his assistance is unneeded, the potential victim is still courteous enough to thank Fartman for at least bothering to stop and help. During his training sessions with Heather, we see Fartman in a gym, shooting blasts at a boxer’s speed bag and practicing “target shooting.” After Fartman rescues Mercedes from Complex, the two take a romantic flight similar to the one Lois Lane and Superman took, right down to Mercedes reciting in voiceover a song called “Can You Smell Love?”.
The script ends with a teaser for a sequel, Fartman 2: Air Assault, which would introduce Fartman’s sidekick Booger Boy, The Nose Wonder, Fartgirl, Fartdog, the flatulent canine, the Fartcave and the Fartmobile. It ends with Fartman bursting into the dressing room of Radio City Music Hall’s Rockettes exclaiming to the dozen scantily clad women- “Listen carefully… It sounds crazy, but I must make love with every woman in this room, or the world as we know it will be destroyed!” Now who doesn’t want to see that movie?
Interestingly, after the film’s opening moments, Fartman doesn’t even appear until well past the halfway point, but Lawton keeps the story moving so well that it doesn’t become immediately apparent. Granted, perhaps another polish would have fleshed out a few things. I’m surprised that there wasn’t a fake commercial for Clyde’s paper featuring a catchphrase like “Have you seen what’s in the Butt this week?”
And of course, there is the question of whether any of Howard’s radio cohorts would have parts in the film. While it is hard to match a majority of his crew to specific parts, there is the small role of Clyde’s assistant editor Sam, who stutters when stressed, that seems like a fit for Stern’s celebrity interviewer “Stuttering” John Melendez. Having done the voiceover work on so many of the Stern show’s comedy bits over the years, it is hard to not hear Fred Norris’s voice reading the screenplay’s voiceover announcer’s lines. Lawton later admitted that he wrote the role of colonic technician Heather for Stern’s newswoman/co-host Robin Quivers.
Unfortunately, the script would never go before the cameras. Stern had decided to pull the plug, though not over any concerns or problems with the screenplay. Instead, it was over the deal that New Line wanted Stern to sign. The studio had recently lost millions when they failed to tie up the merchandising rights for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who in the wake of the release of their live action movie in 1990 had become a veritable goldmine of tie-in products. Stern, however, had always voiced the concern of not taking advantage of his audience by putting out substandard products for them to buy. Without control of the merchandising of the film, he was concerned that his fans would be turned off by cheap products designed more for a quick cash grab than anything else. Sticking to his guns and with New Line unwilling to budge, Stern walked away from the project rather than give up the control that he has been accustomed to.
But Fartman lived on. The character continued to make appearances on the radio show. Stern talked about the struggle to make the movie in his book Private Parts, and the film version of the book opened with a recreation of his Video Music Awards appearance. The first few pages of Lawton’s Fartman script were adapted into comic book format for the Private Parts book. Stern has mentioned that he would like to return to the idea of making a Fartman movie on occasion, but no serious movement has ever been made. (Pun intended.) Rather than take a payday of close to $600,000.00, Lawton instead held on to the rights of his script on the chance that one day the project could be revived at another studio.
Perhaps, though, someday Stern will team with a director and get Fartman on to the Cineplex screens around the country. Superhero movies are certainly in vogue right now, with many big name directors looking at various comic book based projects. Perhaps John Waters would like to revisit his Smell-O-Vision concept? It seems like the perfect match.