Wild Ride

To answer your first question: yes, their parents are very proud. Peter and Bobby Farrelly's scandalous but pure-of-heart movies--namely the low-budget hits "Dumb and Dumber" and "There's Something About Mary"--reinvigorated comedy, shocking audiences with a melee of pranks and bodily fluids and spawning imitations like "American Pie" and "Road Trip." The directors' latest, "Me, Myself & Irene," should be another smash. Jim Carrey plays a schizophrenic cop whose cuddly and menacing sides duke it out for Renee Zellweger, while various outrages take place, such as a chicken's being lodged up somebody's backside (see review). Says Carrey, "The Farrellys are probably the only people on this earth who can actually embarrass me."

Peter, 43, moonlights as a novelist, having written the coming-of-age novel "Outside Providence"--later a Michael Corrente movie--and the splendid L.A. story "The Comedy Writer." In person, he is voluble, antsy--and almost compulsively generous and welcoming. During the reporting of this story, he offered me a piece of candy, a signed poster, nightclub tickets, a round of golf, a free babysitter and cash. Brother Bobby, 42, is also warm and unpretentious, but he's far more private. Well, he's as private as a guy can be and still go on "Letterman" in white Jockey shorts, hitch them up--way up--and then stomp around like a sumo wrestler. "I just adore those guys," says Cameron Diaz, who became a superstar with "Mary." "Bobby's a little more shy. He doesn't pull his penis out as much. Actually, I don't think I've ever seen Bobby pull out his dingy. That's a Peter behavior. Bobby moons." What follows is an oral history of the Farrellys' life, based on interviews with 20 or so people who've seen the dingy, the moon and more.

Chapter 1

PETER FARRELLY: Actors put their trust in us, and we're thankful for it. Jeff Daniels set the tone when we hired him for "Dumb and Dumber." We wanted him really badly, but our big concern was, "Hey, this guy's a real actor. He's done some fancy stuff. When the day comes [for the diarrhea scene] and he's sitting on the toilet and he has to grunt, he may balk--and then what?" So we sat down with Jeff before the movie, and we said, "Jeff, we really admire you. Our one concern is this: Are you gonna grunt?" He said, "I understand what this movie is. I'm gonna do whatever you want." And if Jeff Daniels can do it--and it obviously didn't hurt him-- then other actors can, too.

JEFF DANIELS:Peter really had to pump me up for that scene. He was all but rolling out a red carpet between where we were standing and the toilet bowl. We did it in three or four takes. And he just kept saying, "More, man! More!" It got to the point where so much blood was rushing to my head from the straining that I almost passed out. I blacked out for just half a second, pulled myself out of it and, sure enough, it's in the film.

I thought "Dumb and Dumber" would play to the adolescents, but even now I've got people in their 50s and 60s coming up and saying it's their favorite movie. One time Clint Eastwood came up to me. He followed me across a room and I'm thinking, "Oh, man, Dirty Harry--here he comes." But he came up and he goes, "I just gotta tell you: that toilet scene has happened to me." Pete and Bobby are very funny guys. They know how to write and they know how to put movies together, but they're kind of like lottery winners cut loose in Hollywood. The thought of them being treated as royalty at Spago--it's just hysterical. They're a couple of guys from Rhode Island in Converse sneakers.

Chapter 2

PETER: We grew up in Cumberland, which was tremendous. Beautiful little country town. Great people. Our father's a product of Rhode Island. Every other word out of his mouth is f--k. "I don't give a f--k what the f---ing f--k did!" He's not a typical doctor, I'll tell you that. They used to call him Dr. Dirty Mouth. Our mother's a nurse. She's a softie. We had this thing at our dinner table for years... Bobby and I have three sisters, and when we were little--7, 8, 9, 10, 11 years old--if one of the kids said something that wasn't interesting, the other kids would boo.

BOBBY FARRELLY: My mother would say, "Stop that! It doesn't have to be exciting!" My father would say, "Let them work it out! If it's boring, it's boring, for Christ's sake!"

MARIANN FARRELLY (mom): Growing up,Peter and Bobby had squabbles, but I never saw them have a fight. They were always ganging up against the girls and playing jokes. When they were 11 or 12, I went off to a bridge tournament one night. They had this gun that printed labels. Well, they put something on me, and halfway through the bridge tournament this friend of mine came up and said, "Mariann, you've got something on your back." I took it off, and it was a big label that said i just pooped. Well, I got home at 11:30, and I came flying up the stairs with the fly swatter and woke them up. They said, "What? What's going on?" They had forgotten. "I said, 'You did this!' " And they kind of smirked a bit. "Sorry, Mom."

BOB (DOCKY) FARRELLY (dad): Pete and Bobby were a couple of screw-offs. A+ screw-offs. But the family is so close. Mariann and I both tried hard, and I think the word is love. L-O-V-E.

BOBBY: Pete never, ever pulled big-brother s--t on me. "I'm gonna kick your ass!"--that kind of stuff. When we were in the seventh and eighth grade, my dad came home and he had two tickets--a friend of his gave him two tickets to the World Series. None of us had ever been to the World Series. Pittsburgh versus Baltimore, 1971. It was one of the last years Roberto Clemente ever played. My father says, "You guys are going to have to flip or something." Pete was like, "Take Bobby. He'd love to go." I was like, "Damn right! I would love to go. You got that right!" I just went. I didn't even think about what Pete had done. A number of years later, I thought, "Holy cow. That was really something for a 12-year-old kid to do."

PETER: Due to the fact that we were horrible students, we ended up going to a lot of different high schools. My parents were afraid for us. "What the hell's gonna happen to you?!" Senior year in high school, I had a mad love affair with a girl that was extremely important to me. Until I met my wife, I thought she was the one. Her name was Cordo. She was on every level a tremendous girl: gorgeous, kind, athletic, cool. And then I broke her heart in half the next year. It was too intense. I was a s---ty boyfriend. I did all the bad things. I was just scared. We didn't talk for a year, and then right when we were thinking about getting back together, she fell out of a car and died. I certainly don't want to use her as some, like, romantic thing that happened to me in my childhood, but she never knew how crazy I was about her, and her death really affected me.

Bobby and I both started out as salesmen. Bob was selling round beach towels. He invented them. The theory was that, as the sun moves--rather than move your towel--you just move your body. But it turns out that people don't mind moving their towel. They like to stretch now and then.

BOBBY: Sun Spot was the name of the towel. We lost a lot of other people's money on it.

PETER: I was selling cargo space for a shipping line called US Lines, which went Chapter 11--not because of me alone. I would always think of Cordo. I thought she would really be kind of disappointed. She'd really believed in me, and I hadn't remotely lived up to her expectations. When I became a writer it was really to write something about her.

BENNETT YELLIN (co-screenwriter, "Dumb and Dumber"): I met Pete in graduate school on my first day at the University of Massachusetts. I don't know if I can say this, but our teacher... He had a rather large behind. His first assignment was to bring in the first page of a short story. The teacher read somebody's first page, and said, "I like this page, but--and I have one very big but..." Pete and I looked across the table at each other and exploded. We knew that we had the same sick sense of humor, and so we started writing scripts together.

Peter has always kept notebooks. If anybody says anything remotely funny, he immediately goes and writes it down. At the beginning of a script, he'd take out the notebooks and say, "Here are 10 jokes--now let's write the script around these." Literally, this was the technique. I'd be yelling, "Pete, you can't veer off the plot just because it's a funny gag!" And he'd go, "Why not?" Pete and Bobby have proved me wrong. They have redefined how you write a script.

PETER: Bob used to give Bennett and me a lot of great ideas, and I started feeling guilty. He started writing with us on "Dragnet II," which died. We gave Bob a fifth of the money because he was a rookie. But that was probably, like, 10 grand, which was more than he'd made in five years.

NANCY FARRELLY (Bobby's wife): Bobby and I met at a party for Peter when Pete's first book, "Outside Providence," came out. He was just the cutest, nicest, funniest guy that I'd ever met. When I first went to his apartment--he'd kill me for saying this--but all he had was one old sofa. Nothing in the refrigerator. A huge bag of golf clubs by the door. And a bed on the floor with round beach towels as a comforter.

Chapter 3

PETER: We went nine years in Hollywood without getting a movie made, from '85 to '94. But we had a good attitude. We could be passed on by 50 different actors and production companies and still feel that they were wrong. "They're idiots! Why can't they see it?!" We wrote "Dumb and Dumber" in 1990. It was finally made in 1994, thanks to a producer named Charlie Wessler who refused to give up. We thought that getting a director would complicate things. So when the studio asked who was going to direct it, we said, "We are." We hadn't ever directed anything. We hadn't directed a video, a commercial. We'd never really been on a set except for the, like, two minutes I was on "Naked Gun." But nobody ever questioned it. "Dumb and Dumber" was passed on by every actor in town. Then one day the studio said, "Jim Carrey's interested." We said, "Who's that?" They said, "The white guy on 'In Living Color'." Suddenly, it was the night before the movie was to begin, and I had a serious panic attack. We were in Aspen, at 9,600 feet, and I couldn't breathe. I was curled up in a ball on my bed.

BOBBY: Pete's prone to panic attacks--not that I'm not, but I pick and choose when to have them. He had the shivers. I said, "Come on, man, cut the crap! Knock it off! You're making me panicky!"

PETER: That night we called David Zucker, who we'd written a script for, and we said, "We're in a nightmare situation. We're beginning a major motion picture, and we don't know what we're doing." He said, "Relax. Just be honest with your crew. If you pretend you know what you're doing and you don't, they'll let you drown." So we worked out a signal with [our first assistant director], J. B. Rogers. When I was supposed to yell "Action," he'd signal me, and then Bobby would yell "Cut!"

TOM ROTHMAN (president of production, 20th Century Fox): Don't let them fool you. They're extremely proficient filmmakers.

DANIELS:They knew how to put on their headphones. That they knew how to do. Everything else they left to highly trained, paid professionals. But they do know what's funny.

Chapter 4

PETER: "Dumb and Dumber" came out, and did well right out of the gate. We loved "Kingpin," and we thought it was gonna do great, too. It didn't. We made it at MGM, and the marketing campaign was disappointing. There's no one in particular to blame--except for, uh, the marketing department, distribution, the president and the chairman. It was very painful.

"Kingpin" was PG-13. For "Mary," we went to Fox and said, "F--k PG-13. Let's do an R-rated comedy." "Animal House" was R. When I was a kid and I saw "Animal House," I thought, "Wow, I didn't think you could do that!" And then they didn't do it again for 20 years. There were a lot of R-rated comedies in the '70s, but then the studios got it into their heads that you have to have a PG-13 to get everyone in. In the '80s, movies were big softballs. The religious right was forming, and PG-13 got stricter and stricter. We said, "Look, we can't do what we want to do anymore at PG-13." We had nowhere to go unless we went to R.

TONY GARDNER (makeup effects and animatronics): "Something About Mary" was my big intro into the way the Farrellys' brains work. I had a normal effects life until I met them. I got the script for "Mary," and what you normally do is a listing of all the effects. So I read the script, and the listing was: "Old lady exposes boobs. Semen on ear. Dog gets electrocuted. Guy gets testicles in zipper and fishhook in mouth." Then you have to call the director, and get their input so you can budget accurately. You're asking questions like, "OK, which ear do you want it on? How long do you want it? Do you want it clear or milky?" I'm used to having business calls at home. But my wife, Cindy, and I have three kids and any time I get on the phone with the Farrellys it's pretty much guaranteed that I have to talk in another room. The "hair gel" was a plasticized silicone that was glued to Ben Stiller's ear with a medical adhesive. I had my doubts, to be honest with you, that it would ever see the light of day on film.

CAMERON DIAZ: When I first met Peter and Bobby, we went into this empty diner in L.A., and just sat around cracking up. We were in this pleather booth. I was in between the two of them, which is a peculiar place to be on your first date. It's, like, a round booth, and so I'm getting it from both sides from the Farrelly brothers. They kept saying, "Mary's gotta be hot!" I said, "You guys, the one thing we have to keep is Mary's credibility. You don't want her to look like a numskull." The hair gel, I thought, might go too far--this girl doesn't realize that her hair is standing straight up? She's going to catch a reflection somewhere. But Peter and Bobby were like, "Naw, naw, this is gonna be the funniest thing anybody's ever seen! You gotta do it!" I said, "OK, but let's try it a few different ways--like with the hair just crusty to the side." They humored me, but we all knew as soon as we did it straight up that there was only one way to go.

ROTHMAN (Fox): "Mary" was groundbreaking in a lot of ways. The audience wasn't just young boys and teenagers. One of the most gratifying surprises was that it played very well to women in their 20s and 30s.

J. B. ROGERS(first assistant director): After "Mary," people started ripping the Farrellys off right and left. But I'll tell you what a lot of them miss: there's a heart to what these guys do. You care about the characters.

MIKE CERRONE (childhood friend and co-screenwriter, "Me, Myself & Irene"): There's no malice in Pete and Bobby's movies, because there's none in them

Chapter 5

MELINDA FARRELLY (Peter's wife): Peter and Bobby's dad was sick last winter. He had colon cancer. He had surgery, and they removed it, but then there were complications from the surgery. It was really bad. I was pregnant. The day I gave birth to our son, Peter's father was read his last rites.

DOCKY: The night they told my kids that I was going to die was the night before Easter. Jim Carrey called Peter earlier that day to say that he'd do "Me, Myself & Irene," and Peter's wife went into labor. So that was quite a day for Peter.

PETER: My father had been in a coma for about a week. He looked bad--he'd lost 40 or 50 pounds. He was on life support, breathing machine, all that stuff... When they went in for his last surgery, I figured they'd come out and say, "I'm sorry--he passed away." I'd already, like, crossed that line in my heart. I thought he was going to die that night. So it's all gravy, you know? Him living. He was a three-pack-a-day smoker, by the way. He quit everything. Now he works out every day--goes to the gym for the first time since he was a teenager. He was Member of the Month in December.

JIM CARREY: Making "Irene" was like taking a trip through Peter and Bobby's life. You know that "Sesame Street" thing--"These are the people in your neighborhood"? Peter and Bobby put their friends and their family in the movies, and then they'll see somebody on the street and go, "Hey--you want to play a part?" The next thing you know, you've got the local baker doing a big scene, and he's going, "Jim, try this." I absolutely love it. It's a bit of party.

RENEE ZELLWEGER: Their parents are always around. Peter and Bobby include them in everything. And the father-son relationship is sweet to watch. You can see that their father's proud of them, and you can see that they're trying to make him proud.

DOCKY: Have you seen "Irene"? How about that chicken up Michael Cerrone's ass?!

Chapter 6

PETER: The chicken was a last-second idea. I called our effects guy on a Monday. I said, "Tony, listen, we had an idea to stick a chicken up a guy's butt, but we need it by Friday. Any chance?" He said, "Sure, yeah." Didn't miss a beat--like his whole life he'd been waiting for someone to ask.

GARDNER (f/x): At this point, I think they're actually trying to shock me. I was like, "OK, which end of the chicken is it?" This makes Peter laugh, so he puts his hand over the phone and I hear him talking to the rest of the room: "He wants to know which end!" Then they send Mike Cerrone over to our shop to be measured, but they haven't told him they want to attach an animatronic chicken to his naked body. I go into the other room and I get ahold of Peter and I'm like, "Dude, you gotta talk to this guy! He has no idea why he's here, and I don't want it to come out of my mouth." So Pete gets on the phone with Mike, and then Mike comes back and he's laughing. I say, "So Pete explained everything for you?" And Mike goes, "No. He said you would."

CERRONE (friend, screenwriter): My kids are champing at the bit to know what "special scene" I'm in, but I want it to be a surprise. My daughter is 16, and she's worried what her friends will think. She said, "Dad, please don't tell me you're naked."

Chapter 7

BRADLEY THOMAS (producer and business partner): People always want to know where in the hell Pete and Bobby's sense of humor comes from. Just about every gag has some connection to the past.
PETER: The zipper scene in "Mary" really happened. It happened to a friend of our sister's.
DOCKY:It was a Saturday night--my daughter's 12th birthday party. All the kids were in the cellar. And this kid, Al Arre, went up to the bathroom. I didn't even notice him. Half an hour later, Mariann said, "You know this kid's been in there half an hour." So I knock on the door. He says, "Everything's all right!" Another 15 minutes go by. I say, "Al, I'm coming in." He had his peanut caught in his zipper. I called my wife in and I said, "Mariann, get me some ice cubes." We froze his little donk, and I unzipped him. None of the kids knew until years later.
BOBBY: Al Arre--he was a cool kid. Moved to Connecticut, I think.
ALBERT ARRE (bartender and waiter): The who brothers? The Farrelly brothers? The name sounds familiar, but it's been a long time... I'm trying to picture what road they lived on. I remember their house now, yeah. It's coming back to me... I remember it getting caught in the zipper, that's for sure. I think the father did help me, because it was caught in there good... I think I had a buzz on. We used to raid the parents' liquor cabinets--drink sweet vermouth and get sick... So you're writing an article about the Farrelly brothers? Wow. No kidding. They became directors, those guys?