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Fat Chances

A brief history of fatsuits in honor of Big Momma


Since the dawn of cinema, fat has equaled funny, and a long line of rotund stars have thrown their weight around Hollywood, from Fatty Arbuckle, W.C Fields, Jackie Gleason, Dom DeLuise and John Candy, right through to today's comedic chubsters, such as Kevin James and Jonah Hill, all using girth to generate giggles.

Yet, in recent years, there've been a host of usurpers not naturally blessed with a tubby frame, and unwilling to put in the hard work at the buffet line that it takes to be a plus-sized king of comedy. This week's release of the third installment of Martin Lawrence's epic Big Momma's House trilogy, which was shockingly kept far away from critics, offers an opportunity to look back at the many great show-biz moments in latex obesity.

1989: Chunky A: Large and in Charge. Fist-pumping, Dogpound-leading brief talk show phenomenon (late-'80s) Arsenio Hall mocks oversized hip-hop pioneers such as the Fat Boys, with a brutally unfunny "parody" album and dons pillows and immense red leather outfits in the music videos. Overshadowed by Weird Al's earlier, funnier "Fat," and like much of Hall's gone-in-a-flash career, this cheap embarrassment is quickly forgotten.

1993 Mrs. Doubtfire: The grandmother of them all, Robin Williams ups the ante on Dustin Hoffman's Tootsie model by bulking up the tonnage to play an estranged father posing as an obnoxious plus-sized nanny in order to spend time with his kids. In keeping with Williams' shameful history of thieving, the act is "borrowed" from Dame Edna, then later brilliantly spoofed by David Cross on the cult classic show Arrested Development.

2001 Shallow Hal: In a bit of gender role reversal, elegant starlet Gwenyth Paltrow straps on a mountain of plastic paunch to play the portly dream date of fat dude Jack Black. Black has been hypnotized to see her inner beauty beyond the flab. Obesity advocates are not amused at skinny bitch fronting in the name of laughs — though, oddly, at the same time, memberships at Curves spike rapidly.

2004 Fat Albert: Already portly SNL regular Kenan Thompson slips an enormous red sweater over an artificially enhanced bulk to play the Cosby-created cartoon hero and to besmirch the cherished childhood memories of a generation. Amazingly, the movie was even more tepid and brain-dead than mid-'70s Saturday morning TV, a truly terrible achievement.

2005 Diary of a Mad Black Woman: The first big-screen appearance of Tyler Perry's neo-chitin' circuit creation Madea: a brassy, foul-mouthed, pistol-packing Southern granny prone to outrageous outbursts. An empire is born, a billion barber shop bootlegs are sold, and race and gender relations are set back 50 years in a clogged heartbeat.

2007 Norbit: In a desperate attempt to recapture the magic of The Nutty Professor, Eddie Murphy layers on the appliances and plays multiple roles, each more sexist, racist and dumber than the last. A tour de force of crap so horrific that it squashes all the good will earned from his Golden Globes for a Dreamgirls win and sends Murphy's career into a hopeless spiral.

Corey Hall jokes about film history sometimes. Send comments to


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